Sunshine enters an unhappy child’s life in a Southern getting-of-wisdom novel as uncomplicatedly sweet as one of Oletta’s famous cinnamon rolls.
A fairy tale with streaks of psychology and social conscience, CeeCee Rose Honeycutt’s odyssey unfolds mainly in Savannah, Ga. The 12-year-old moves there in the late 1960s to live with her kindly, wealthy Great-Aunt Tootie after the death of CeeCee’s increasingly deranged mother and with the encouragement of her neglectful, distant father. Tootie’s cook Oletta—big, black and stern, but with a heart of gold—exerts a growing influence on the girl, fattening her up with delicious food while offering life lessons, reassurance and companionship. The novel’s society is almost exclusively female and generally quirky, ranging from Tootie’s eccentric elderly friends to her feuding neighbors. Male characters are rare and generally flawed: layabouts, crooks and emotional black holes. Race issues supply the strongest story line (a robbery on the beach) in a narrative more episodic than linear. Mainly, CeeCee comes to terms with her feelings of shame, guilt and loss over her mother; hears about slavery, segregation and the KKK; encounters a wide range of human behavior, from generosity to mean-spiritedness; makes a friend; and above all finds a new, all-female family.
Humor, wish-fulfillment and buckets of sentiment bulk out an innocent, innovation-free debut that would work well for teenage readers.