Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League

by Jonathan Odell


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, March 27

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781940210049
Publisher: Maiden Lane Press
Publication date: 02/04/2015
Pages: 460
Sales rank: 1,098,286
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Odell is the author of two novels, the critically acclaimed The Healing (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2012), which was called "required reading" by The New York Post, a "storytelling tour de force" by the Associated Press, and was compared by critics to both Toni Morrison's Beloved and Kathryn Stockett's The Help; and his debut novel, The View from Delphi (MacAdam/Cage, 2004), recently updated and republished as Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League, which is receiving glorious praise from the press and readers alike.

Odell was born and raised in Mississippi. His short stories and essay have appeared in numerous collections. A highly regarded public speaker and leadership coach, he now resides in Minnesota.

Read an Excerpt


It was up to Vida to save her boy. With Nate in her arms, she fled through the back door and toward the darkened field behind the house. If she could get Nate to the bayou beyond, into the dark stand of cypress, he would be safe.
The two white men must have heard the back screen slap shut, because the lights of their truck were now cutting across the field. She turned. It roared toward her, plowing through rows of cotton, the bumper mowing down plants half as tall as men. They were almost upon her. There was no way she could make it to the bayou. Vida dropped down between two rows, cradling Nate beneath her.
The truck braked and she heard a door open. She peeked above the row. They stood only a few yards away, listening to the night, the headlights throwing their shadows long across the field.
Nate whimpered and one stumbled off in the direction of the sound.
The old man lurched after him. “Don’t!” he shouted. “You don’t want to kill nobody, son. Specially not no little baby. Specially not yore. . .”
“Shut your goddamned mouth! He ain’t my nothing,” the other one slurred. “That boy lives, I lose it all!”
The old man called out in a panic, “Gal! Stay down. You hear me? Don’t raise up.” He reached out and tugged at the barrel of the gun.
Vida leaped up and started off again.
Moments later came the first blast, followed quickly by the second. With blinding force, the searing spray of buckshot sent Vida and her child tumbling into darkness.
As the explosions echoed throughout the quarter, the lanterns in the shanties dimmed as quickly as they had come on.

Chapter One

Hazel was busy arranging a display of Tangee beauty products at the Rexall where she had been working in Tupelo when a tall handsome man right off the bus, fresh from the Navy and still wearing his summer whites, strode confidently into the drugstore. His eyes were two dark stars.
He grinned at her and tilted his head in a way that set the butterflies in her stomach to fluttering. “Is the druggist in? I need to get me a prescription filled for a root beer float.” He spoke in a voice like a country love song, tender and true. At first Hazel couldn’t answer, she could only stare wide-mouthed at him as if she were waiting for the second verse. “Now, you wouldn’t happen to know the formula for one, would you?”
Blushing, she could only stammer, “I sure do. . .can. . .will.” By the time she got behind the fountain, she had calmed herself enough to joke, “I won’t even ask to see your doctor’s note.”
That made him laugh. It was a good laugh, gentle, seemingly incapable of meanness. Setting the glass before him, she warned with a wink, “Don’t eat it too fast or you’ll freeze your goozle.”
He said, “I’m sure not in any hurry now.”
It was his eyes that really got her attention. Like dark mirrors of polished iron, they were beautiful to look at, but they wouldn’t let Hazel in. His eyes seemed to push back on her, which made her want to come all the closer. She told him, “I bet you could stare a buzzard out of a tree.”
He blushed and said, “You got the best posture of any girl I’ve ever met.”
Hazel could tell he wanted to say more, but he didn’t need to. In his mirrored eyes she saw herself as pretty, as pretty as she’d felt the day that traveling photographer had snapped her picture.
Hazel had been twelve years old when the slick-haired, -sugar- talking man arrived one hot summer afternoon with the mysterious black box he swore would show her to be as pretty as anybody in the movies. Up until then, she had never seen a photograph of herself. While he set up his camera and posed each one of her brothers and sisters, she flirted with him, tossing back her hair and licking her lips the way she had seen Jean Harlow do. Standing out in the yard as the man took her picture, she felt her skin burn at the thought of escaping the Tombigbee Hills.
Her mother never had any patience for this full-of-feelings girl. Each time Hazel asked if the pictures had arrived, she was warned about getting her hopes up. “Hope does the plowing in Misery’s field,” her mother said. But the delicious anticipation of things hoped for had to be the best sensation Hazel knew of. She didn’t know how she could live without thinking something good was about to happen, not in the sweet by-and-by but tomorrow, if not today.
When the photographs finally arrived two months later, her hands trembled as she opened the envelope. The first was of her momma and daddy sitting stiffly next to each other, the way strangers share a bench at the dentist’s office. The next was of her daddy with his arm around his mule’s neck. How much more at ease he appeared posing with a plow mule!
Finally she came to the family portrait, twelve of them in front of the paintless barn. On one end was her daddy in his white starched shirt and overalls, and on the other end was her momma, tired and worn, holding baby Jewel. Bunched between them was the brood of wooden-faced children, not a size missing between knee-high and full grown, with two spaces left empty for the boys still off to war in the Pacific.
Something wasn’t right! Hazel touched her finger to each face in the picture. She could identify her brothers and sisters, yet her own face was missing. Had the camera skipped over her?
“No!” she gasped. That photographer had played an awful trick on Hazel! In her place he had put a half-starved orphan, neglected and bound to die soon. The poor little girl was stoop-shouldered and had hair the texture of broom straw. A dingy, hand-me-down dress swallowed the rail-thin body. The face was gaunt and hollow-eyed. She had the haggard look of a woman of fifty, not of a girl of twelve.
Hazel’s shock gave way to tears. It was no trick. She should have known. Her older sisters had told her often enough. Hazel Ishee was as homely as a wart-headed chicken. No fancy man with a magic black box or a head full of hope was going to change that fact of life.
Baby Ishee noticed how her daughter moped, and tried to comfort her. “You’re pretty enough.”
Hazel was doubtful. “Enough for what?”
“Enough for any man from these parts.”
“Were you ever pretty, Momma?” Hazel asked, not meaning to offend, and biting her lip when she noticed the quick tensing of her mother’s face.
For the first time, Hazel beheld her mother clearly instead of through the clouded lens of a child’s familiarity. The hump that rose from her mother’s back. The tiny foot that had not grown since her mother was a child and had turned inward, causing the hobble Hazel had accepted as being as natural as hair color. Before this, Hazel hadn’t thought of her mother in terms of “pretty” or “not pretty.” Now the hump appeared freakish and the crippled foot grotesque.
She became aware of other things, too. Her mother’s nickname, Baby, had not been given to her out of affection or devotion, but because of a deformed foot, like one would call a person Stump or Gimp. Hazel was suddenly ashamed for her mother.
As if reading her daughter’s thoughts, Baby scowled at herself in the mirror. Then she wiped a trickle of snuff from her chin with the corner of her apron. “Pretty don’t mean much. Men are like hawgs,” she said. “Ever seen an ol’ hawg wearing spectacles?”
“No ma’am,” Hazel answered, running her toe along a crack in the floor.
“Course not.” Her mother spit into the Calumet can she always carried. “Old hawg don’t care what he gobbling up. Pretty ain’t worth doodly squat to no hawg.” With that, Baby Ishee turned and left the room, her little foot sweeping the floor as she walked.
Hazel told herself that her mother had been right. She was a fool to hope. She tried resigning herself to her ugliness, taking to her fate like a Christian martyr. As her mother had done, she would become the wife of some man who didn’t care how she looked and who was more flattered at having his picture taken with a mule than with her. She would have a brood of children, each year pushing the last baby out of her lap to make room for the next.
Her older sister, the pretty one, had little patience for Hazel’s sulking. “What’s the matter with you?” Onareen asked as she poured a bucket of water into the horse trough.
“I’m ugly!” Hazel snapped. “Ain’t you noticed?”
Her sister’s face softened to pity. “You know, Hazel, having beauty to lose is much worse a burden than never having it to begin with. God was looking out for you by making you plain.”
Hazel’s mouth dropped. “You saying He did it on purpose? You saying me being homely is God’s will?”
“That’s right, Hazel. Take it as a blessing.”
Hazel pushed Onareen into the horse trough.
Then and there Hazel decided to come down whole hog on the side of hope. She was going to be pretty if it killed her.
By thirteen, she was well on her way to becoming a self-made expert on beauty. She began by relentlessly working to change her appearance. At the risk of getting a whipping, she snatched eggs from under laying hens and concocted a hair remedy of fresh yolks and mineral oil. After everyone had gone to bed, she boiled a flour sack and wrapped it around her treated hair. In a few weeks, the texture softened.
For her arms, which were as spotted as turkey eggs, she stole pennies from the collection plate and sent away for jars of freckle cream advertised in the almanac.
The toughest challenge was her stooped shoulders. The effects of dragging a cotton sack from the time she was six, and years of hunching so as not to tower over the boys at school, could not be fixed with cosmetics. After much deliberation, Hazel hit upon the solution. Salvaging a discarded mule harness from the barn, she constructed a halter to wear. Though the straps bit into her skin, it forced her shoulders back. For hours she practiced walking like Jean Harlow, one foot directly in front of the other.
It took her a few years, but Hazel’s looks began to take a slow turn for the better. Her hair turned a lustrous auburn, her eyes blued brighter than robins’ eggs, and she had grown lovely, round breasts, finer even than Onareen’s. Still she wasn’t satisfied. Hazel decided she needed cosmetic assistance. Knowing of only one person who used makeup, she cornered the undertaker at church and begged a supply of lipstick, rouge, and powder.
After a week of clandestine practice, the day came when she was ready to surprise her family with the new, made-up Hazel. The reaction was swift. Her brothers called her Little Miss Sow’s Ear. Her sisters called her worse. Her father made her go wash her face in the horse trough. She might have given up out of pure humiliation if not for the dark, brooding look she caught on her mother’s face. That’s when Hazel knew she was onto something good.
It wasn’t long before Hazel discovered there were other types of men in the world besides farmers and sons of farmers. There were men with routes—men who drove automobiles from farm to farm, never getting their hands dirty on any of them, who looked you directly in the eyes and weren’t afraid to laugh at nothing at all. These were men who talked for the same reason other people sang, for the pure, simple sound of it. They looked at her with smiling eyes and told her she belonged in California. Or Jackson, maybe.
Hazel thought nothing of skipping school to make day trips into Tupelo with the Watkins Flavoring man and into Corinth with the Standard Coffee man and into Iuka with the man who had the rolling store. Hazel would catch a ride from any man with a route who was going her way.
They would drop her off and she would spend the day at the soda fountain counter studying the fashions and poses of those picture-perfect women in the movie magazines. Poring over the color photographs, enveloped by the smells emanating from the cosmetics displays, she felt more at home than she ever did on the farm. She spent so much time at the Rexall in Tupelo, the druggist took a shine to her and offered her a job. She right away took her own room in town, the first she didn’t have to share with five siblings.
From all the romance stories she had been reading in the movie magazines, Hazel gathered that finding the right man and living off true love was the key to everlasting happiness. Yet she was not foolish enough to believe that just any man would do. You needed someone special, a man you could lay your best hopes on, one who would love you enough to see you got everything you wanted, even before you knew you wanted it yourself. If you had to ask, it didn’t count. What worried Hazel the most was the impermanence of good feelings in general. From what she could tell, they tended to melt away as surely as ice cream in the bottom of a Dixie cup. Was love going to be the same way? The magazines didn’t tell her that. When she asked her mother, Baby said, “Feelings come and go like morning dew on a pasture. They ain’t anything to build a future on.”
Hazel frowned, yet her mother went on. “Hazelene, there ain’t but two kind of men in the world. Them that take care of their own, and them that don’t. Now, the first kind of man will stay on out of duty. The other?” Her mother flicked her wrist as if she were shooing a noisome insect. “Why, as soon as there’s a dry spell, the other kind has jumped the fence and is looking for fresh dew. If you know what I mean.”
Hazel hadn’t been partial to the dewy part, but she did like the piece about a man taking care of his own. That sure sounded right enough. Hazel took her mother’s advice to heart, never forgetting her words, using them to measure all comers.
And there was a host of them. Men dropped by the drugstore all the time, flirting and asking her out. Their hungry eyes and grinning, greedy mouths frightened her, and she remembered what her mother had said. Hazel could tell that all they had an appetite for was the dewy part.
But the minute Floyd walked into the store, she began hoping he was the one she’d been waiting for. She wondered, is this how true love shows itself? Can a complete stranger walk into your life on a fine Indian summer afternoon while you are stacking tubes of lipstick, and then, just like that—in the twinkle of a mirrored eye and the flash of a toothy smile—all your hoping suddenly pays off, and life is never the same? Is that the way it’s supposed to work? Can something that happens so quickly be counted on to last a lifetime?

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 67 reviews.
NickWilgus More than 1 year ago
Reading Jonathan Odell is like sitting down with an old, dear friend and reminiscing about the good old days, and even while he gently unravels those days and reveals them to be not so good after all, the stories, the company, the coffee, the pleasure of human connection is worth every minute.  Odell's writing is gorgeous. To quote MISS HAZEL AND THE ROSA PARKS LEAGUE, "He spoke in a voice like a country love song, tender and true." The rhythm, the cadence, the Southernisms, the dialect -- Odell is a master craftsman who always uses just the right words and no more. I will resist the urge to say this book is about the pre-Civil Rights era, which it is. It's so much more than that. It's about women, but also men. It's about whites, blacks, the color problem. It's about dreams and hopes and disappointments and disillusionments. Pain, but also redemption. It's about a young white boy looking at all of this and trying to make sense of it. It's about women in 1950s Mississippi trying to find their feet. It's about the experience of blacks at the hands of whites. It's the sort of engaging historical fiction that takes you into the lives and souls of those who were there. Very highly recommended. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jonathan Odell created a world that I have only seen on TV. But I could picture every place in my head. I could picture exactly what every character looked like and I felt like I knew them. When a writer can write something so real that you think it's going on right now in another part of the world, well, that's a real storyteller. He made it jump off the page. I only hope I have half the courage of Hazel and Vida.
wulfsohn More than 1 year ago
Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan O’Dell In his latest searing and insightful novel, Jonathan O’Dell once again raises the bar on the tradition of great Southern writers. Mr O’Dell’s tragic depictions of Jim Crow era are at times almost unbearable to read, tempting the reader to escape to lighter fare, but at the same time finding the book impossible to put down. Mr O’Dell introduces us anew to formidable women, (his forte), and fills us with hope and renewed belief in change at the ending of this timely story. Joan Wulfsohn, author of “Stalking Carlos Castaneda”
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Beautiful Blend of History and Heart The 1950’s in the South. Our country wears its history like a mantle of shame: Bigotry, prejudice and ignorance woven together. Jonathan Odell masterfully captures the ugliness of this era with irony, mirth, bitterness and tenderness in his updated book, “Miss Hazel and The Rosa Parks League.” This is a story that unfolds with grace; rich with characters that enliven each page with their big, fully developed personas. From the very first, we are taken in by the lead protagonists, Vida, the young black woman who lives in fear of the Sheriff who raped her, and Miss Hazel, white, newly married to Floyd who sees himself as motivational guru, spouting pithy sayings, and Hazel’s son Johnnie who desperately needs a mother who notices him. Odell’s descriptive of the land; the vast flat vista along with the existing racial tension is palpable. There’s no doubt that the author himself lived this time of devout prejudice. Hazel and Vida learn through their individual stories what it takes to find courage and combat their own demons. Beyond the fact that Hazel and Vida find one another in a tumultuous state, they ultimately find themselves in each other. They find spirit and heart and the desire to fight for the life they each want. This is a book that will make your heart ache, make you laugh and bring a tear. It is infinitely readable and enjoyable. The characters evoke both delight and dismay and because you come to care, you find yourself urging them on, finding a resolve to their plight. After reading many books with similar subject matter, this one has definitely left a very special and indelible impression.
Franalysis More than 1 year ago
I was introduced to Jonathan Odell a few years back when I stumbled upon an article he wrote about growing up in Mississippi. I was immediately enraptured with his poetic writing skills. Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is the second novel of his I have read. A beautiful story of how lives are intertwined in the most peculiar way. Jonathan throws you right into the story without apology! I felt like an extra on a movie studio set, watching the story unfold before my eyes. Jonathan has such a gift -- a craft -- of developing characters that you feel like they are your neighbors from your childhood. He not only knows how to tell a story, he has either lived it himself or has done extensive research to make the story accurate to the historical time period. His language is lush. colorful, and you crave to bite into another chapter. In fact, I read the majority of Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League during an all nighter. Seriously, I could not put the book down. And when I did, when I finished, I was hoping he would write a sequel. His other novel, The Healing, is his other masterpiece. Both books are gems and should be made into movies. Just sayin'.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jonathan Odell is simply a great storyteller. Maybe it's the genes, the rich heritage of Southern literature in his blood or growing up surrounded by stories like Miss Hazel's. Whatever magic it is, Odell knows how to craft a complex tale that not only places the reader utterly in this important era with people making a difference, but also keeps us thinking about the book's message long after we turn the last page. An author who loves and knows his characters so well creates a delightful experience for the reader--a gathering of people you hate to leave when the party's over.
Natalie4 More than 1 year ago
Jonathan Odell has done a beautiful job of capturing the horrors and the complexities of race relations in Mississippi in the early years of the Civil Rights Movement. Not only does he include the abhorrent actions of the Klan and Citizens’ Council, with their grip on local government and law enforcement, but he also delves into the complicated relationships of black and white families who, to quote one of the characters in the book, “have hated and loved and killed and saved each other for three centuries.” The characters all seem very real. I can guess that somebody might say, “But there are no upper-classed, educated black characters,” that while the white characters include both upper and lower classes, the black characters are almost all maids working for white women. I do not see that as a problem. It is, after all, a novel, not a sociological survey. Trying to include every kind of person would make it impossibly cumbersome. It is a powerful novel with well-developed characters, a compelling plot, and meaningful ideas.
FredSmith1 More than 1 year ago
Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell is a well written very moving book   It is a story with many voices that is set at the very beginnings of the civil rights fight in Jim Crowe Mississippi.  It gives some insight into the plight of the blacks in the south of those days, their lack of value, their poor treatment, and their hopelessness in fighting back.  It also points out the dangers of being a sympathizer of blacks in those times as well.  It is the story of Miss Hazel, who is living in a world she  really doesn’t understand and struggling to find her place in the world.  It is the story of Miss Vida, who understands her world, but hates what it has done to her, her lost son and  her family.  It is the story of her father Levi, who was once considered a wise and powerful black man but has been knocked down and lost everything he thought he had.  Trying to rekindle his faith and find meaning and purpose in his life and yes, even trying  to climb back up on that pedestal he was once the king of. There are many other  voices in this story, the voice of little Jonny, struggling with much the same lack of understanding his place in life as his mother, the story of the evil Sheriff, of the typical Mississippi Delta town of the Jim Crowe era. If my discussion of the book seems depressing, don’t be fooled.  There is a lot of humor in the book.  It is primarily a story of a very unlikely friendship and the powers that friendship can turn loose.  You won’t regret reading this book.  The only thing about it that leaves you feeling bad is the fact that it ends while you would rather stick around and experience more of the story.
Spicecakes More than 1 year ago
Jonathan Odell has done it AGAIN!!!  Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League starts off with a BANG and grabs your attention without mercy.  Fully formed and relatable characters tell their stories of overcoming obstacles of every imaginable (and unimaginable - frightening, messy, complicated, birth, death, illness, over-indulgence, racism, poverty, prosperity...) curve ball that can be thrown at a person.  So much of what is faced by the characters is STILL relevant and STILL problematic and STILL brushed off by those holding the levers of power (elected, non-elected, church, state, and medical). This book and the struggles faced by the African American and Caucasian characters may be from the late 1940's and bring us to the late 1950's - but it has every element of the struggles still faced by people of color, women, and the disenfranchised of our country.  Everyone wants to feel the dignity of their lives - and by refusing to sit down, shut up, and go away - these ladies and their stories matter to me - and will matter to you. As each of us are faced with the questions of: "What can  do to make my life and the lives of my family better?"   "What can I do to heal my pain?"   "What can I do to bring justice to those who have been wronged?"   'What can I do to help others who are VERY different from me?"  By living their lives and putting one foot in front of the other these brave women and a young boy show that if enough forward steps are taken - a difference can be made. My favorite line in the book is "Can't undo a step once it's taken."
topher1961 More than 1 year ago
Confession: I was already a fan of Jonathan Odell’s writing before I read this novel, having enjoyed The Healing twice and shared my copy with many friends and co-workers. Now I’ve had the pleasure of reading Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League and have fallen in love with Mr. Odell’s storytelling, his characters, and his words all over again. I grew up in a southern family similar to Hazel’s—my father was a salesman, we had a black maid until I was 7 (1968) and my mother was every bit of a character as Mr. Odell has created in Hazel. I have often wondered what my parents thought about the way they treated African Americans during that time period, and more so, I have wondered what our maid, Rebecca, a woman I adored, actually thought and felt. It’s too late for me to ask my parents or Rebecca, but Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League provides a drama that has allowed me to see what the inner dynamics may have been like. Miss Hazel satisfied me from cover to cover. Hazel and Vida are vivid, troubled women who form an unlikely alliance. They are only part of a large cast Mr. Odell has brought to life. I have to admit that my favorite character ended up being Sweet Pea, a former prostitute whose attitude towards life just made me feel alive myself. As I ponder the state of race relations these past several months I am glad to see that Mr. Odell’s hero is not a white woman, but the Rosa Parks League, a group of African American women. My experience indicates that it is women who do most of the hard work in the world. After the novel ends, Mr. Odell included a brief history on Rosa Parks and the maids of Mississippi. Definitely worth the read and I believe it will be used by history teachers nationwide to point out the contribution of African American women to the civil rights movement.
ENanasi More than 1 year ago
In "Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League," Jonathan Odell has created two powerful female characters, both of whom are dealing with tragedy almost too much to bear. Hazel, desperate to escape her white trash upbringing, and Vida, an unwed teenage mother, living with her preacher father, both suffer great loss, and as they try and navigate their own sorrow-separately at first, then fiercely together-the reader is drawn into their world at a breakneck speed. The book is set in pre-Civil Rights-era Mississippi, a world Jonathan Odell knows all too well. He writes these women as if he knows them, and in many ways, he does. Odell's characters are bold and brash, while at the same time, vulnerable and often as delicate as a flower petal. When Hazel and Vida meet, thunder rolls through the skies. You know something horrible and marvelous is about to happen, and indeed it does. There are moments of anguish, moments the reader will laugh out loud, and moments when you wonder if you will remember how to exhale. "Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League" is a shining example of Southern literature at its very best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn’t wait to begin this book, but soon found myself limiting the amount of reading I did, so as not to finish the book and my relationship with its characters. Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is a very timely novel. Between the riots in Ferguson, MO, and  the killings in New York, I found myself overcome with sadness and confusion. Jonathon Odell provides some insight for me as to the  nature of racism and the cognitive dissonance these recent events have caused. In the story, Hazel’s young son, Johnny, is interacting  with an elderly black yard worker whom he refers to as Mr. Snow. Johnny is quickly reprimanded by the employer of Mr. Snow, “that only  white people get to be Misters. And one day Levi will call you Mister, but never the other way around.” This lesson for a 5 year old boy  from a respected neighbor provides the reasoning for the mistreatment and mistrust of Mr. Snow and all other black people. As white  people we look for reasons to dehumanize, criminalize black men so that we can justify the actions of law enforcement. The characters  are very three-dimensional and complex, and they all have their flaws. Somehow, Hazel and Vida are able to compliment each other  and form an unlikely friendship that pushes each of them to their greatest potential. I loved this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
 Lee Smith, who says Jonathan Odell’s MISS HAZEL AND THE ROSA PARKS LEAGUE is a “…no holds  barred Southern novel as tragic and complicated as the Jim Crow era it depicts…” has long been one of my  favorite authors. Jonathan Odell’s rhythmic cadence in language and dialect create an atmosphere that sets me  smack dab in a place I haven’t experienced since Smith’s ALL THE FAIR AND TENDER LADIES. Jonathan’s  Miss Hazel lives her girlhood in the Tombighee Hills of Appalachian Mississippi.  Smith’s stories depict a life in Eastern Appalachia. Much like Smith’s Ivy Rowe in ALL THE FAIR AND TENDER LADIES, Miss Hazel hails from  an Appalachian culture that leaves her ill equipped for the world beyond her impoverished childhood. The story  of Appalachia, then as now, is one of chronic poverty. The racial divide that exists in Mississippi is a crucial element in Odell’s story of oppression, violence, poverty and lack of personal power.  In 1950’s Mississippi, more  so than in the Northern and Eastern Appalachian communities, Black families lived in servitude to the White  as if slavery was never abolished.    Miss Hazel, a mere girl when we first meet her, carries some big dreams  as she takes the arm of smooth talking Floyd into matrimony.  Floyd, the eternal optimist who preaches an ongoing “religion of success” holds her near and shows Hazel the Whites-only kingdom on the hill overlooking  Black shantytown. Here she will learn the life lessons that first smite then ultimately heal her. MISS HAZEL  AND THE ROSA PARKS LEAGUE is a story told through the wary and witty eye of a Southern White boy, Hazel’s surviving son, Johnny, as he grapples with his own sense of basic human decency and his own claim  to the man he will ultimately become.  The boy Johnny is precocious, sassy and sensitive.  He takes people and  situations at face value, not divining the invisible lines that divide Black from White, poor from prosperous,  book-learned from ignorant and Godly from irreverent. While much will be made, and not inappropriately, of  Odell’s novel as a story of the Civil Rights Movement, it is, in fact, the story of a young, White Mississippian  boyhood.  As we see the world through the eyes of a child we are granted a pure, passionate and childlike view of the relationship between Blacks and Whites.  The child, Johnny, experiences human beings as human beings  and exposes the artificial construct of racial supremacy as indecent and inhumane.   Through Johnny’s experience we are shown a fresh view, unobstructed by an imbedded bias of White against Black.  In Johnny, Odell gives us a boy who grows up fast in an environment that demands just that.  Johnny struggles to understand all he sees and hears around him of poverty, deprivation, power, resiliency and broken spirits. Johnny seems to carry a deep- down understanding of the distinctions between generosity of spirit and the flawed and impoverished soul that eats its victims alive. MISS HAZEL AND THE ROSA PARKS LEAGUE is a story  compassionately told.  Jonathan Odell brings humor to the telling of this important story of human longing for  love and acceptance and a stable ground of dignity and equality for all. Jonathan Odell’s novel MISS HAZEL  AND THE ROSA PARKS LEAGUE is high achievement in storytelling comparable to the work of great southern  writers like Smith.  MISS HAZEL AND THE ROSA PARKS LEAGUE is a story told with charm, humor and grace  and offers a richness of hope that we will one day live in a world undivided by the color of our skin.  Deborah Padgett  
VictoriaBynum More than 1 year ago
“Y’all know this is crazy don’t y’all? . .  . Chances are we are going to end up dead.”  (p. 365) There is no exaggeration in Vida’s words to her four co-conspirators, three of them black maids like herself, the other a white housewife named Hazel, as the women secretly organize the Rosa Parks League of Hopalachie County, Mississippi.  Jonathan Odell’s gripping new novel takes readers right inside the homes of 1950s’ Mississippians during a time when all hell broke loose after a black woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to accommodate a white man.   Rosa Parks, of course, was very real. Many histories have been written about her fateful actions that day, a watershed in the rise of the modern Civil Rights Movement. As only a gifted novelist can do, Odell takes us inside this history to explore the hearts and minds of those who lived it. The result is a story that bristles with truth and breathes life into the important role of black maids—and sometimes even their white “mistresses,”—in building grassroots organizations that challenged segregation and vigilante violence in the Jim Crow South at great peril to their own lives. Odell places his novel within the context of the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision that led in the South to white supremacist Citizens’ Council Leagues and a resurgence of Klan terror. Juxtaposing the backgrounds of his two major characters in unexpected ways, he avoids familiar stereotypes while remaining true to societal norms. Vida, a relatively privileged black child due to her preacher father’s status as a “reach-out man” to whites, learns in one dark moment just how powerless she truly is. Hazel, the daughter of Mississippi poor whites, rises in status through the time-honored means of marriage. Within the crazily intimate household space of mistress and maid, Vida and Hazel eventually breach the great divide of race through their shared sorrows of motherhood.    The novel’s white male characters offer contrasts in manhood. Hopalachie County sheriff, Billy Dean Brister, is vulgar and corrupt.  His vicious brand of racism is countered by the genteel but no less oppressive attitude toward blacks exhibited by his father-in-law, the town patriarch reverentially called the “Senator.”  And then there is Floyd, Hazel’s husband. A genial, well-meaning fellow whose religion is the power of positive thinking, Floyd wonders why his wife can’t find happiness in the “normal” household tasks of childrearing and cleaning—cleaning that consists mainly of directing her colored maid. And why doesn’t their boy Johnny play the same games that “normal” boys do?  Mississippi has become a confusing, frustrating place for Floyd, who, despite his limits, is hopefully more representative of rank and file white Mississippians than either the sheriff or the Senator. Floyd, one senses, will adjust to the wrenching lessons he must learn. When I was growing up, journalists commonly wrote that Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat that fateful day for the simple reason that her feet were “tired”—as though no organized struggle was necessary to launch a human rights movement, just the wondrous convergence of timing with a woman’s fatigue.  Jonathan Odell emphatically rejects this trivialization of the twentieth century’s most important social and political movement through the telling of individual stories. It is the convergence of those stories—those personal histories—that empower seemingly powerless women to organize themselves against all odds. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The characters in this novel will stay with you for a long time.  Two women trying to find their place in the world, a world that is changing around them in ways that they both struggle to understand.  What can they count on and where do they belong?  They lead parallel lives of  pain, fear and self doubt until something pushes them both to break out and take a stand.  Miss Hazel tries to be the wife and mother that she knows her husband deserves.  Vida tries to be the daughter that her father loved and doted on before his fall from grace.  They both run into prejudice as they attempt to fit in to a society on the brink of great change.  They become allies and unlikely friends around the injustice they see in their community,  The cast of characters in the town are both funny and strong, damaged and terrified, determined to hold on to a way of life that is slipping away or doing everything possible to upset the status quo.  You will remember them for a long time.  As the civil rights movement was starting to grow, these women, in their own small way, stood up and broke out of their expected roles.  This book has it all, a richness of time and place, events that will make you  laugh, hold your breath and want to get into a great car and take a long drive.  How lovely to read a book that pulls you in and leaves you reluctant to say goodbye.      
HarveyZ More than 1 year ago
I am a northerner, through and through. I've never had any interest in visiting the south and I expect I will never set foot in Mississippi or Alabama. But this book, Miss Hazel and The Rosa Parks League has provided an open window for me to witness that world. And the richness of the words that author Jonathan Odell uses to describe Mississippi life and landscape creates vivid and colorful images of that time. Odell and I are clearly of the same era, but our lives were worlds apart as we were growing up in the 50s and 60s. We certainly watched some the the same TV shows in those days; he references Queen for a Day in one scene which brought me back to my childhood days. I was too young to understand what the fight for civil rights was truly about or what life was like for African Americans in the south. What I heard about it was through the news of the day and I failed to understand how other human being could be treated as second class citizens. I learned more about what led up to the struggles of the era through reading this book than I ever could have learned in school.  By reading this depiction of life in the south, I was educated and entertained at the same time. Through words, Odell's characters take life and his story weaves these characters together in an intriguing plot line that reveals how intertwined and integral the lives were of the African American and white communities, while they remained segregated and ascribed to clearly defined societal roles. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the words that Jonathan Odell has put down on paper have painted a thousand pictures in my mind of the Mississippi delta life and a world I would never have known.
PauletteAlden More than 1 year ago
Jonathan Odell has written a highly entertaining, braided yarn of two Mississippi women, one black, one white, one strong, one weak, who find their commonality and strength in one another and in confronting the Southern, white, male, society that has tried to define and limit them. Despite the racist, sexist society of the 1950s it depicts so vividly, MISS HAZEL . . . is ultimately an optimistic book about the capacity to survive and grow, and to claim one's true self. It's full of crackling Southern dialogue, technicolor writing with nary a dull line, acute psychological insight into the characters, and a page-turning, stomach-twisting plot. My only (small) quibble is that I felt a few times in the book that the author loved his characters too much to let them face some of the harsher realities of that time and place (but nevermind--I loved them too). Overall, a marvelous, memorable novel.
CherylA More than 1 year ago
I absolutely LOVED this book. This book is destined to become an American Classic. Jonathan Odell weaves us a tale of loss, love, redemption, and above all - courage. Courage like Rosa Parks had. I just could not put this book down. I read it so quickly and was sad when it ended. In fact I will read it again. I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone. How is it not on the best sellers list already?
Kimberly_Brock More than 1 year ago
Beautiful. I read many of the passages multiple times not only for the language, but also for the wisdom. Insightful and heartbreaking. This novel reminds us we are creatures with souls, meant to laugh and required to love beyond ourselves in order to truly live.
Finding-Fair-Hope More than 1 year ago
It is Mississippi in the 1950s, captured with grace and clarity by one who experienced first hand. Jonathan Odell has woven a tapestry of stories about families, black and white, in the South at the outset of the Civil Rights movement. Miss Hazel comes from a poor white farming family and doesn't know the ways of city folks and is frankly terrified of the experience of raising a family in this unwelcoming world. The black servants she hires are bemused but they have their own psychological and spiritual battles to wage, which they have been doing for a couple of hundred years. There are evil politicians, pesky children, a kindly but benighted husband--enough to drive anyone to drink, and Miss Hazel goes there until all the elements of this very readable work, including the unseen presence of a very admirable Rosa Parks--come together to make everything manageable. It's quite a trip, and one I enjoyed very much.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Vivid lively characters? ***** Immersed in the setting?***** A villian you love to hate? ***** Relevant and thought provoking?***** Entertaining?***** READ THIS BOOK! (But don't start it on a weeknight, because staying up until 2:00 am makes it really rough getting up for work the next morning!)
Locorabbit More than 1 year ago
Jonathan Odell is a world class storyteller. I learned that when I read "The Healing" and fell in love with Ms Polly Shine. "Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League" has just broadened my circle of characters to love.  It would be difficult to summarize the story line into one theme, as Odell takes you through the Jim Crow times in Mississippi, friendships developed out of respect, compassion and love, courage of character, and standing for your truth.  The writing is beautiful.  More than once, I marked a paragraph, a sentence, or a quote that I wanted to enjoy a second or third time. It's impossible to choose just one of these stories to describe this novel.  However, all of these stories combined leave you with a truly great read and characters that you will miss long after you have finished the book.  Miss Hazel, Vida, Sweet Pea, Johnny and Levi, I will be visiting you again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
VirtuousWomanKF More than 1 year ago
2 1/2 Stars.  This book was very slow and didn't pick up until 2/3's through it.  I did like the characters and their reality, black during the 1950's in Mississippi.  However, the whole side story of the Senator's daughters just seem random to me.  The entire time reading this story, I kept asking myself why white people were so cruel to other human beings despite their race.  I do not nor will ever understand hatred of others based on their race or religion.
GeorgiaAlyce More than 1 year ago
"Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League" is a must read!  Jonathan Odell brings his complicated main characters, Hazel and Vida, to life in a way that makes you love them, hate them, empathize with them, and cheer for them.  The story has the same relevance now, in all areas of this country, as it did in pre-Civil Rights Mississippi.  Mr. Odell pulls you in, entertains you, and gives you a much greater understanding of those times.  This tale helps to enlighten about disparity between opportunities in the two different cultures and yet, like Hazel and Vida found in each other, I discovered a great deal of commonality with both characters.  Add this book to your library!  You won't be disappointed.