Women's Fiction Review: The Sweetest Hallelujah by Elaine Hussey
Release Date - August 2013
Book Review by Tracy Farnsworth
At first, I wasn't sure what to make of Elaine Hussey's The Sweetest Hallelujah. The story begins in 1955 in the Mississippi home of Queen, a strong black woman who shares her home with her daughter and granddaughter. Billie is a rambunctious, quite nosy 10 year old, who wants nothing more than to meet her father. Billie's mother, Betty Jewel is a former blues singer who is currently losing a battle against cancer. Knowing her mother is getting older and not in the best of health, Betty Jewel is desperate to find someone to care for Billie. So, she places an ad in the classifieds.
After introducing Queen's family, the story bounces to a white reporter on the other side of town. This shift led to me question where the story was heading, but soon enough the plot becomes clear and I couldn't put the book down.
Cassie Malone is a widow and reporter who has done more than her fair share of stirring up trouble. Cassie cannot understand why white people feel such anger against the black community and is often on the front lines reporting against the rampant racism in their Mississippi town. When Cassie spies the ad Betty Jewel places, she feels there is a tremendous story waiting to be told and heads to Queen's home to interview the family. There Cassie learns that she and Betty Jewel have more in common than she could ever imagine.
As much as I'd love to say that people have changed, really we haven't. Living in Vermont, one of the first states to approve same-sex unions, I've seen more rampant hatred and bigotry than most. It's sad that people seem unable to accept progress and learn from the past. That's how I felt reading The Sweetest Hallelujah. I know the times were hard back then for blacks and whites who supported their cause, and I still struggle with WHY this went on for so long. That's where I developed a deep appreciation for the story.
No matter what Cassie faces, she sticks to her guns and won't back down. I loved her character's strength and determination. Betty Jewel, despite being so sick, is just as strong and wants the very best for her daughter. As their friendship formed, I found myself rooting for both and couldn't put the book down until I knew that both would be okay in their turbulent time.