Goodreads ~ 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.
It's July 1955 amidst racial tensions in the southern U.S. Blacks aren't allowed in the same places as whites ... whites have washrooms in restaurants whereas blacks are given a Dixie Cup and told to go out back. Whites risk having their tires slashed, messages painted on their doors and worse if they associated with blacks. A very sad time.
Betty Jewel is black, a former jazz singer and dying of cancer. Knowing she doesn't have a lot of time left, she needs to find a home for her ten-year-old daughter, Billie. They live with Betty Jewel's elderly mom, Queen, bakes pies for a living. Cassie is white, a widow and fairly well-to-do. Needing to do something, she works part-time at a newspaper.
Betty Jewel and Cassie come together when Cassie sees an ad that Betty Jewel has placed in the newspaper looking for a mother for Billie once she's gone ... she wants to write a story about it. The women become good friends despite their differences. Each has solid support system ... Betty Jewel with her friends, Sudie and Merry Lynn, and Cassie with her late husband's family ... who are leery of their growing friendship.
This is the first book I've read by this author and I enjoyed it. I started it a few weeks ago and wasn't really getting into it (I got about about 40 pages into it) ... I put it aside for a couple weeks. I'm glad I picked it back up again because I ended up really liking it (maybe I wasn't in the mood for it at first?).
I liked the writing style ... I thought it flowed well and was well-paced. It's written in third person and the focus shifts between Cassie, Betty Jewel and Billie.
I liked the characters. Cassie was a strong woman. Even when advised she shouldn't hang out in Shakerog, a poor black area where Betty Jewel lived, she still does because her friendship with Betty Jewel is that important. Betty Jewel risked her friendships with Sudie and Merry Lynn when they are suspicious as to why a rich white woman is suddenly hanging around. Queen loves her daughter and granddaughter and turns to her faith to try and make things okay. Billie is sad that her mother is dying and has dreams of meeting her famous dad some day.
I would recommend this book.