Book Review: Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League, by Jonathan Odell

Available in bookstores nationwide.

This book was first published in 2004 as The View from Delphi. It has since cv_miss_hazel_and_the_Rosa_Parks_leaguebeen updated and revised. Jonathan Odell is the author of one other book, The Healing. which was published in 2012. He was born and raised in Mississippi, and has written short stories, appearing in numerous collections. He is also a public speaker and leadership coach. Jonathan lives in Minnesota.

This story is set in the 1950’s during the Civil Rights Movement era. This is an important novel as it encapsulates the friendship between two women – one white, Hazel Graham and a black woman Vida Snow.

Hazel was raised, dirt poor, on a farm in Delphi with no way out but to marry another farmer. She skips school to hang out at the local drug store. The owner takes a shine to her and offers her a job, which she takes. Hazel leaves home and takes a room in town, the first she didn’t have to share with five siblings. Floyd, a young man with ambition, walks into the drug store. Hazel is convinced Floyd is the answer to her prayers for a better life – he makes her believe anything is possible. They buy a former slave house in Delphi, with their sights set on one of the grander homes on the hill. They eventually buy the grander mansion, and go on to have two children, Davy and Johnny. Davy dies in an unfortunate accident, with Hazel taking solace with a nip or two to help her get through the day, until her drinking becomes a real problem.

Meanwhile in the same town, Vida is the daughter of a black preacher Levi Snow. She is loved and revered by her father, dressing her in white and calling her his Snowflake Baby. She becomes pregnant as a result of rape. Vida is harassed by the town of Delphi’s racist Sherriff and as a result of one incident, loses her son.

Vida is hired by Floyd as Hazel’s maid, to help with household chores and to help Hazel and Floyd raise their remaining son, Johnny. Floyd is worried about his unpredictable wife, worried about her behaviour and worried that she might harm their son. Drawn together by grief Hazel and Vida become unlikely friends. They have more in common than both thought possible and together, they turn the town of Delphi on its head.

The civil rights movement comes right into the town of Delphi as The Rosa Parks league is formed, spearheaded by these friends. The story that unfolds is of one of courage and a total belief in the right to be treated as equals.

Those readers that are familiar with the book The Help, written by Kathryn Stockett
(2009), will enjoy this book.

Living in New Zealand we might not have had the need for a civil rights movement per se, but we as a nation have certainly had our moments with racial inequality.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League
by Jonathan Odell
Published by Bantam
ISBN: 9780857987846

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