Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE by Susan Gregg Gilmore

Final Grade: 85/B
YA Historical
252 pages
Available now
Review copy courtesy of Crown Publishing and Susan Gregg Gilmore (Thanks!)
Rated PG-13

BLURB: Nobody in Nashville has a bigger name to live up to than Bezellia Grove.  As a Grove, she belongs to one of city’s most prominent families and is expected to embrace her position in high society.  That means speaking fluent French, dancing at cotillions with boys from other important families, and mastering the art of the perfect smile. 

Also looming large is her given name Bezellia, which has been passed down for generations to the first daughter born to the eldest Grove.  The others in the long line of Bezellias shortened the ancestral name to Bee, Zee or Zell.  But Bezellia refuses all nicknames and dreams that one day she, too, will be remembered for her original namesake’s courage and passion.

Though she leads a life of privilege, being a Grove is far from easy.  Her mother hides her drinking but her alcoholism is hardly a secret.  Her father, who spends long hours at work, is distant and inaccessible.  For as long as she can remember, she’s been raised by Maizelle, the nanny, and Nathaniel, the handyman.  To Bezellia, Maizelle and Nathaniel are cherished family members.  To her parents, they will never be more than servants.  

Relationships are complicated in 1960s Nashville, where society remains neatly ordered by class, status and skin color.  Black servants aren’t supposed to eat at the same table as their white employers.  Black boys aren’t supposed to make conversation with white girls.  And they certainly aren’t supposed to fall in love.  When Bezellia has a clandestine affair with Nathaniel’s son, Samuel, their romance is met with anger and fear from both families.  In a time and place where rebelling against the rules carries a steep price, Bezellia Grove must decide which of her names will be the one that defines her.


REVIEW:  I felt like I should have read this book in a deep Southern drawl. The heat of the south permeated the story, from Bezellia's grandparents house on the lake to the tattered remnants of the Grove family estate.

When I first started this book, I wasn't sure where the story was going. It started out slowly, introducing the reader to Bezellia and her used-to-be-rich-but-lost-it family. Dad isn't around much, preferring to spend his time at the hospital (and other places). Mom hides herself in a bottle of gin and takes out her disappointment on her daughters and those who work for her. Little sister Adelaide clings to her baby dolls.

Bezellia herself seems lost. She's more of a shadow in the beginning (of course, she's just a kid), ghosting through life while trying to stay out of her mother's way. But then she meets Samuel, the son of Nathaniel. Samuel is forbidden fruit, an African American in 1960's Nashville, but Bezellia doesn't care. She falls for him. And, through that, she begins to find herself.

I liked Bezellia but I would have liked to get to know her a little more. At times, I felt like we were just skimming the surface of the story, especially with Samuel. I'm not a big fan of instant attraction/love at first sight as a plot device and there wasn't much of a connection beyond the attraction. Sure, he was a nice guy but why did she like him so much? I felt like I didn't get a good answer (though I rooted for them anyway! Hey, I'm a sucker for lost causes and star-crossed lovers.). And, while it wasn't the happiest of endings, it was not disappointing.

AUTHOR BIO: Susan Gregg Gilmore is the author of the novel Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen.  She has written for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor. Born in Nashville, she lives in Tennessee with her husband and three daughters.

Purchase this book at INDIEBOUND or AMAZON.

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