Set in Nashville Tennessee, Bezellia Grove is a fifth generation Bezellia, and has much to live up to. Her family is what would be referred to as having old money and prestige in southern society. Her mother clearly loves having married into this status and wants her daughters to fall in line, but she also has a hard time fitting in and hides her drinking in lemonade and anything else she can find. Bezellia is a young teen in the 1960’s when we meet her and she is struggling with finding that right place her mother so desperately desires. Her father is a prominent doctor who finds multiple reasons to work late or just stay away from home. Her younger sister Adelaide is sweet and yet appears immature and more childlike than her age. Bezellia comforts her and cares for her when her mother has no time. All her life Bezellia most remembers being raised by their cook and maid, Maizelle, and she also seeks comfort from Nathaniel, who helps at the house and drives her to school. The reader is led on a bumpy ride of Bezellia’s teen years and beyond…………learning that growing up is not easy for a girl who looks like a princess on the outside.
What a wonderful story and set in such a tumultuous time period. Author Susan Gregg Gilmore was born in Nashville, and has many memories and stories from this time and I believe this is one reason this book is so real and flows. Bezellia not only has normal teen angst and questions, she is dealing with her parents crumbling marriage, a sister that doesn’t seem to grow up, and then she meets Samuel, Nathaniel’s son, and her heart is torn. In the south and in the 60’s a lovely white girl would not consider a relationship with a “colored” boy.
I love the way Gilmore weaves real history into this story, tales of Martin Luther King Jr, and the marches, music references to Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn, and later stories of Gloria Steinem and the woman’s rights movement. These are so subtly woven in it just gives it balance.
I can’t rave enough about this book, it was such a wonderful read. I completely adore books set in the south, and I love the time frame of the 6o’s and 70’s too.
I started reading this book with the Southern Lit lovers on Goodreads, I hadn’t heard about Bezellia or Susan Gregg Gilmore. I owe such a thank you to the group, because I was then able to fall in love with this book, and the author. As I wrote before I met Susan at the UCF Book Festival, and when we met we had the chance to talk about how she started writing this book. I hope she doesn’t mind if I share.
Susan had moved back to Nashville with her family after 30 years, living in LA, and DC and other places, she was home again. One day while shopping for school supplies with her daughters, a woman introduced herself, mentioned Susan must be getting supplies for the same school, based on her list, and also new in town. She invited Susan to a dinner party…wow talk about your warm Southern welcome. When she went she met a woman named Bezellia, she thought wow…and said to her, “well that’s interesting”. The woman said,” well if you think that’s interesting then you should know I’m a 5th generation Bezellia”. Susan told her that was indeed interesting, and a name and idea was born. Susan also had a profound experience looking for a home, on the same street she grew up on. While looking in the house, one where she had played as a child and had fond memories,she was surprised when the realtor showed them the basement. There were 6 cinder block bare rooms, and the basement door had a double lock, and Susan knew that the live in help had once lived in this basement. I loved these connections and how these coincidences helped her build a compelling and sensitive novel.