This is our first book of the new reading year for our Valley Book Club. It is a bitter-sweet novel of love, friendship, secrets, and coming of age.
The Sweetest Hallelujah is really about the unexpectedly intertwining lives two very different women in 1955 Mississippi: Betty Jewel, a black, single mother who is dying of cancer, and Cassie Malone, a recently widowed, childless white woman. As Betty Jewel tries to enjoy her last days on earth with her mother and her loyal girlfriends, she also is trying to decide what to do about the custody and care of her young daughter, Billie. Billie doesn't know her father, a formerly famous jazz musician, but longs to meet him and be with him should her mother die. But he is not a suitable parent, according to everyone who knows him. Then enters Cassie Malone. Cassie always wanted children with her beloved husband, Joe, but it was not to be. After his death, Cassie struggles with making her life meaningful with her job at the newspaper, and then receives some shocking news about her husband's life which links him to a jazz club near where Betty Jewel and Billie live. Cassie is forced to make a lot of decisions about how she saw her marriage and her past, and she must make some choices about her friendships, motherhood, and racism in our society.
The Sweetest Hallelujah is beautifully written and addresses a lot of issues that are still extremely relevant in today's world. It is a touching novel that those who love a real tear-jerker will not want to put down. I, myself, found the cancer element of the story very hard to read at times, as I know so many who have struggled with this horrible disease. And while the ending will be satisfying to most, it did seem quite predictable and a bit unrealistic to me. That said, it will make for some good discussion for book clubs everywhere, and I can't wait to talk to our group about it in September. Let me know what you and your book groups think of it!