Set in a small Georgia town in the mid-twentieth century, Hosanna is a child born to an unwed, white mother and an African-American father. Scandalous as that would have been in that era, the mother, Miss Gracie, is in love with the father, Addison. Miss Margret, the grandmother, is racist. The result is a secret that everyone but Hosanna wants to keep buried.
The themes of the story are multiple. The racial issue is central to the story as the walls of segregation are beginning to fall, albeit very slowly. Hosanna grows up victimized by her white grandmother’s racism, her white mother’s silent suffering, and her bitterness at the injustices that she suffers. The depiction of racism both personal and systematic is brutally realistic and thought provoking. Beyond these darker elements, there is a message of hope about what happens when one trust in God. Without giving spoilers, the message is one of love and reconciliation.
The writing is first person with the language reflecting the local vernacular. For some that may be a minus, but to my Southern ears, it was poetry. The plot moved forward consistently with a sense of gripping suspense. The characterization was multi-dimensional Few characters were one-dimensional. Hosanna could be an infuriating character, but as a reader, I never lost my sympathy for her and desired to see her reach her goals in the end.
Some readers will find the depiction of racism deeply disturbing. (Shouldn’t it be?) The “N” word is used with all of its malice. The author depicts violence but not gratuitously.
In the novel, the local church and its pastor struggle to be either the purveyors of racial injustice or the source of its solution. Hosanna struggles throughout the story to trust God and to let go of her bitterness. The author depicts God as being interested in the oppressed and injustice. There is no complete explanation of the gospel, but faith is an important concept throughout the book, especially in the life of the character named Mother Hill. The importance of family and kindness is seen through Hosanna’s love interest, John Irvin.
Read this book. No matter your view of racial issues today, you will find it challenging.
Note to my readers in the great and most awesome state of Georgia: Katelyne Parker will be at the Decatur Book Festival on September 3, 2016, at 3:00pm for a brief talk and book signing.
(Full disclosure: I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)