Crooked hallelujah

Kelli Jo Ford

Book - 2020

Tells the stories of Justine--a mixed-blood Cherokee woman--and her daughter, Reney, as they move from Eastern Oklahoma's Indian Country in the hopes of starting a new, more stable life in Texas amid the oil bust of the 1980s. However, life in Texas isn't easy, and Reney feels unmoored from her family in Indian Country. Against the vivid backdrop of the Red River, we see their struggle to survive in a world--of unreliable men and near-Biblical natural forces like wildfires and tornadoes--intent on stripping away their connections to one another and their very ideas of home.

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Domestic fiction
Historical fiction
New York, NY : Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic 2020.
Main Author
Kelli Jo Ford (author)
First Grove Atlantic hardcover edition. First edition
Physical Description
vi, 288 pages ; 22 cm
"Winner of the Plimpton Prize"--Jacket.
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Ford, a Plimpton Prize--winning author and member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, tells a blistering Own Voices tale that spans generations. The novel reads like a set of interlinked short stories, yet there is a narrative thread that runs through each of them, connecting the reader to the heart of a family of Cherokee women. At its start, in 1974, 15-year-old Justine is coping with the pressures of her mother Lula's strict Christian church. She wants to reconnect with her father and to live like her friends do. But when Justine becomes pregnant through an act of assault, daughter Reney enters the picture, and the reader follows their journey as Reney grows. The sections cover different decades and are told from different perspectives, leading up to an electrifying conclusion. Ford's lyrical writing emphasizes both the hardships and the deeply connected relationships of the characters. The theme of the weather as villain illustrates the unopposable forces Cherokee women must contend with, including the tyranny of society and of men. A riveting and important read.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In Plimpton Prize--winner Ford's gritty, elegant debut novel in stories, a young Cherokee woman tries to break a generational cycle of broken families while finding strength in an enduring bond with her mother. Ford opens with "Book of the Generations," about Lula, whose husband abandoned her and her child, Justine. Justine, 15, rebels against her mother's conservative Christianity by sneaking out one night to meet a boy. After Justine is raped by the boy, she becomes pregnant with Reney. Justine's love for her daughter is all-encompassing ("I think it makes Mom proud to say I am--and always have been--perfect," Reney later reflects) while Reney grows into a life that feels far from perfect. In "Hybrid Vigor," she ends up working in a Dairy Queen in Bonita, Tex.; grieving several miscarriages; and in a dead-end marriage. When her physically abusive, unemployed husband leaves her pet mule to die, Reney takes it as the last straw. Later, Ford gives Reney opportunities to pursue a healthy relationship, an education, and a stronger understanding of the legacy of her family and heritage. Ford's storytelling is urgent, her characters achingly human and complex, and her language glittering and rugged. This is a stunner. (July)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

An intergenerational story about mothers and daughters struggling to keep their family together in the midst of poverty, illness, and natural disasters in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the Red River region of Texas. Set against landscapes where oil being sucked out of the ground sounds like crying and men are swept into dust storms to disappear forever, the novel shifts primarily between the perspectives of Justine, who got pregnant at 15, and her daughter, Reney, who is torn between loyalty to her family and her aspirations to attend college and create a life of her own. Around this pair orbits a dynamic community of characters whose lives steer the family's destiny in both direct and subtle ways, including Justine's mother, Lula, who's devoted to her Holiness church, and Jack, Reney's awkward but kind supervisor at the Dairy Queen, who envisions a better life for her. In lieu of numbered chapters, Ford organizes the novel into lyrically titled sections, including "Somewhere Listening for My Name" and "What Good Is an Ark to a Fish?" that illuminate the evolution of the characters from the 1970s to the near present. Some of the most dramatic subplots unfold within the lives of minor characters--such as a young neighbor who must defend his adopted family from a home break-in--and never fully resolve, which can feel dissatisfying. Overall, though, the dynamic relationships among the main characters carry the novel across these gaps. Ford's prose glows brightest in the quiet moments among family members, such as when Reney and Justine free a trash bag full of fish into a lake and they "[shoot] off in every direction like fireworks," and in its reflections on the fraught, redemptive bonds between mothers and daughters that can feel like "a lost itself." A tender and ambitious praise-song of a novel about a family's fight for survival, love, and home. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.