Elaine Hussey’s The Sweetest Hallelujah tells the story of an unexpected friendship and a rare welcome into an unfamiliar community. The story takes place during the 1950s in the Deep South, a time of aggressive discrimination against people of color and tremendous potential for violence against neighbors who choose to go against the norm. Its main characters include a tough-minded white woman named Cassie, a widow with an open yet broken heart, and an African-American single mom named Betty Jewel, a formerly well-known jazz singer and performer who is very ill.
Betty Jewel is raising an independent young woman named Billie. Billie, in turn, is busy attempting to get to know the man she believes to be her father, also a jazz performer and an all around scoundrel. Without giving away the heart of the tale, Hussey introduces a complex relationship involving Betty Jewel, Billie, and Cassie, an outsider who quickly endears herself to the family. Although the writer discusses the challenges of a white woman spending time in a black community mostly isolated from the white community, I found it unusual that Cassie didn’t actually face more contempt from her peers, given the timing and the circumstances of life in Mississippi in 1955.
The reader quickly learns that Betty Jewel is terminally ill, and Billie will be left an orphan if she cannot identify someone to adopt her after her death. Betty Jewel’s mother is a strong and loving woman, but cannot take on Billie’s upbringing on her own. The friendship between Betty Jewel and Cassie is compelling, if a little bit hard to believe. However, themes of love, trust, and the power of female relationships take us honestly and directly to the heart wrenching end of the story.
Ms. Sara Padilla is a freelance writer and maintains a personal blog on family, health and wellness. She resides in the Pacific Northwest.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harlequin MIRA. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.