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Elaine Hussey

The Sweetest Hallelujah

Elaine Hussey The Sweetest Hallelujah
$11.39 New
 
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Biographical note:

Elaine Hussey is a writer, actress, and musician who likes to describe herself as “southern to the bone.” She lives in Mississippi, where her love of blues and admiration for the unsung heroes of her state’s history served as inspiration for The Sweetest Hallelujah. Visit her at www.elainehussey.com.

Excerpt from book:


The day Billie's life changed, she was already knee deep in trouble.

She'd been playing with Lucy after her mama had said not to. Lucy's little brother, Peanut, had something that was catching, but Billie wasn't the kind of scaredy-cat who would stop seeing her best friend just because grown-ups said so.

To make sure her mama didn't know, Billie told Peanut if he opened his trap about her being over there, she'd make him sorry he was ever born. He believed her, too. Around Shakerag, the other kids knew that if they messed with Billie she'd beat the snot out of them.

Calling out, "Bye, Lucy," she set out for home. But the only way there was past dead Alice's tree.

Billie hadn't even been born when they found the body of eleven-year-old Alice Watkins up in the woods behind Gum Pond cut into six pieces. Still, she knew the stories. Everybody in Shakerag did. Somebody with a heart black as sin had snatched Alice from Tiny Jim's juke joint right out from under her daddy's nose. Then he'd done his dirty deeds and got clean away.

Alice was still hanging around like some avenging angel.

She'd warn you when something bad was about to happen. You'd hear the harmonica in Tiny Jim's Blues and Barbecue all over town, the sound so mournful you'd feel defeated. The smell coming from his barbecue pits got so strong you'd close your curtains and stuff towels under the door to keep the scent from driving you crazy. And if you were caught out in the street like Billie, at the mercy of winds that suddenly shook the trees and rattled the trash cans in the alley, you'd feel as if you were made of glass. One look from a stranger could crack you in two.

Billie started running. Everybody knew the boogie man got bad little girls first.

She ran as hard as she could past Tiny Jim's juke joint and barbecue place where Alice's arms had the longest reach. The moaning notes of the harmonica poured so loud out the door she put her hands over her ears. It wasn't any great surprise that when something awful was afoot, blues swarmed around his place like clouds of angry locusts. Tiny Jim was dead Alice's daddy.

Billie pumped her long skinny legs into double time. With the blues breathing down her neck, she rounded the street corner so fast she nearly tripped on a crack. She flailed her arms to regain her balance, but something even worse was up ahead—Alice moaning in the cedar tree by A.M. Strange Library. When she took up residence in a tree, the birds hushed singing. They'd leave nests shaded from the sun and safe from predators to perch on power lines where anything in the air could swoop down and carry them off. Even the squirrels gave up their high-wire acts when Alice was near.

It was a wonder Alice would even come to the library, dead or not. Mean old Miz Rupert laid down so many rules, you might as well stick your fingers out so the librarian could slap them as you walked through the door. She even acted like she owned the books. Billie only went when her mama made her.

Billie sped past the library toward the neighborhood park. Struck by a bright idea, she veered through the entrance so fast she fell and tore the right leg of her homemade shorts. Now she'd have genuine evidence she'd been playing in Carver Park like she'd said she would. Her mama would think she'd fallen right through the sliding board. It was rickety as all get out. Everybody fell through if they didn't mind An unforgettable story of two courageous women brought together by one extraordinary little girl  

Betty Jewel Hughes was once the hottest black jazz singer in Memphis. But when she finds herself pregnant and alone, she gives up her dream of being a star to raise her beautiful daughter, Billie, in Shakerag, Mississippi. Now, ten years later, in 1955, Betty Jewel is dying of cancer and looking for someone to care for Billie when she's gone. With no one she can count on, Betty Jewel does the unthinkable: she takes out a want ad seeking a loving mother for her daughter. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, recently widowed Cassie Malone is an outspoken housewife insulated by her wealth and privileged white society. Working part-time at a newspaper, she is drawn to Betty Jewel through her mysterious ad. With racial tension in the South brewing, the women forge a bond as deep as it is forbidden. But neither woman could have imagined the gifts they would find in each other, and in the sweet young girl they both love with all their hearts. Deeply moving and richly evocative, The Sweetest Hallelujah is a remarkable tale about finding hope in a time of turmoil, and about the transcendent and transformative power of friendship.


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