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.
This book was an amazing read. When I finished reading, I wanted to step back and just think for a long time. It's wonderfully written. The story is set during the 1950s & 60s in the South. I've always felt that the South and its culture is totally different from the rest of the US in its own unique way. It's almost like being in a different country from the traditions that must be followed, the food that is eaten and the way people act. This book gives a definite feel and flavor to the way people lived during that time period.
This book could almost be classified as a YA read due to the fact that the title character, who narrates the story, is pretty much a teenager throughout the entire book. There were so many times throughout the book where I just ached for Bezellia. Her relationship with her entire family is pretty much either non-existent or just dysfunctional. Instead she turns to her African-American servants who treat her better than her parents do. Their relationship transcends racial boundaries as Bezellia doesn't notice their color or their social status but is constantly reminded by her mother who deems it necessary to put them in their place. Bezelia's life just reached out to me from the beginning of the book. And oh did I feel for her throughout the entire story. There were so many episodes where I just wanted to yell out in frustration for her or cry with her. This is not to say that Bezellia was perfect. She was a flawed character as well. I think though that the first person narration helped the reader to empathize with her more.
During the first half of the book, I hated Bezellia's mother. Seriously, there were times when I wanted to jump into the book and start yelling back at her. I wanted to take the children away to safety and then scold their father for not defending them. Honestly, that woman got on my nerves! However, it soon comes to light that she has an addiction problem and is probably bi-polar. Then near the end of the book, her true story is finally revealed which adds an entirely new dimension to her character. Even though it didn't excuse her past behavior, suddenly I was able to look at her with a new perspective and begin to understand her. It's a shame that none of this was able to come out in the open earlier but due to the way Southern culture was at the time period, it was just something that was never spoken about.
In addition to the wonderful story, there is a good bit of historical writing in the book as well. Racial and social relations are brought up heavily throughout the book. There were times when it still felt like it was the Antebellum south with the plantations still being run with the way the whites and blacks acted towards each other. Personally, I'm really glad I didn't grow up during this time period because I don't think I could be someone that could stand back and let all that happen or even do my best to prevent it and nothing happened.
The only little qualm I had with the book is that I felt the book ends very abruptly. I don't want to spoil what happens but when I finished, I honestly felt like I was missing a chapter. I can see how everything ties up and how the way it was written adds to the effect of the story. Still, I just felt it came on rather suddenly and there were still things I wish had been wrapped up or explained. Other than this, I really found myself enjoying this book. I will admit this would have been a book I normally would have not picked up so I'm so glad that I was able to have the chance to read it. I could easily see this book being turned into a movie. The Southern ambiance is wonderful and really brings a lot of culture to the story. If you are in the mood for an excellent story, this book will definitely deliver it to you. HIGHLY recommended.
The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gregg Gilmore is published by Shaye Areheart Books (2010)
This ARC was provided by the publisher