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Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League

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Set in pre-Civil Rights Mississippi, Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is the story of two young mothers, Hazel and Vida one wealthy and white and the other poor and black who have only two things in common: the devastating loss of their children, and a deep and abiding loathing for one another. Embittered and distrusting, Vida is harassed by Delphi's racist sheriff and haunted by the son she lost to the world. Hazel, too, has lost a son and can't keep a grip on her fractured life. After drunkenly crashing her car into a manger scene while gunning for the baby Jesus, Hazel is sedated and bed-ridden. Hazel s husband hires Vida to keep tabs on his unpredictable wife and to care for his sole surviving son. Forced to spend time together with no one else to rely on, the two women find they have more in common than they thought, and together they turn the town on its head. It is the story of a town, a people, and a culture on the verge of a great change that begins with small things, like unexpected friendship."

432 pages, Paperback

First published April 26, 2012

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About the author

Jonathan Odell

4 books189 followers
Born in Mississippi, I grew up in the Jim Crow South and became involved in the civil rights movement in college. I hold a master’s degree in counseling psychology and have been active in human resource development for over 30 years, including holding the position of Vice President of Human Resources for a Minneapolis based corporation and later founding my own consulting companies.

I am the author of the acclaimed novel The View from Delphi, which deals with the struggle for equality in pre-civil rights Mississippi, my home state. My new novel, The Healing, explores the subversive nature story plays in the healing of an oppressed people and will be published by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday early 2012. In 2015 Maiden Lane released Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League, a reimagining of my first novel

My short stories and essays have appeared in Stories from the Blue Moon Café (Macadam/Cage 2004), Men Like That (University of Chicago Press, 2001), Letters of the Twentieth Century (Dial Press, 1999), Breaking Silence (Xanthus Press, 1996), Speakeasy Literary Magazine, and the Savannah Literary Journal.

I am also putting the finishing touches on a volume of personal essays tentatively titled: Growing Up a Gay Fundamentalist Southern Baptist in Mississippi or God What Were You Thinking?

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 324 reviews
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,694 reviews14.1k followers
February 19, 2015
A perfect book to read for Black History Month. Mississippi, 1950's and Hazel, newly married is living with her husband Floyd, an up and coming man in the white community. Hazel though, is not really accepted, she is out of her depth and feels this way as well. She will lose a son, take up drinking and have to fight hard to be a mother to her remaining son. She will do this with the help of a black woman, Vida, who has been hired to watch Miss Hazel. Vida has had loses of her own, her and her father Lev, a former preacher have little left to lose.

Loved the story, loved the characters, well most of them. This is a town that wants to keep its negroes in their place, and the sheriff, has the most reason of all. There is humor, these black women were amazing, compassion and love. A final comeuppance wonderfully staged and a ending that had me teary eyed.

This is the time of Rosa Parks and yes, the women hear of her exploits in this town. The beginning of Martin Luther King and the civil rights era. The afterward is very informative and from it I found out so much I didn't know.

For me this is a memorable book about women of both colors finding a power of their own and fighting to keep it. Another winner from Odell.

ARC from publisher.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,184 reviews1,080 followers
May 12, 2015
3.5 Stars

Oh I do love a novel set in the deep south and Miss Hazel and the Rosie Parks league didn't disappoint as its a story that shows how how the power and determination of one woman can inspire and transform the lives of a town.
Set in the Delta town of Delphi, Mississippi two different but truly memorable women one white and one black form an unlikely frindship and give us an insight into the roots of the civil rights movement in the south.

The characters in this novel are beautifully drawn and the reader forms an immediate bond with Hazel and Vida. The writing is vivid and I found myself drawn in by the rich dialogue and the wonderful sense of time and place
Profile Image for Dale Harcombe.
Author 14 books292 followers
July 31, 2018
Four and a half stars.
Sometimes publishers need to be careful how they label books. This one said on the cover ‘If you enjoyed THE HELP you’ll love this.’ That comment nearly stopped me from reading this book. Not because I didn’t like The Help. I did. But I hate books being compared to another. Too often the reader is left disappointed. Not in this case though. This book is not The Help, and that’s not a bad thing.
It is a story of 1950s Mississippi and the conditions and tensions that exist because of race and colour. Hazel grows up poor, always feeling inadequate and not good enough. That is until she meets Floyd. His determination and salesmanship propel them into a large house in an affluent area. Even then, she never seems to quite fit in with the other women of the area. Added to this all is not easy for Hazel as sorrow hits her life hard with disastrous effects.
Vida, whose father is a black minister has seen her life get worse as the town’s racist sheriff brings deep sorrow into her life and destroys her father’s calling and his church. Vida ends up picking cotton until Floyd hires Vida to be his wife’s maid. But Hazel and Vida don’t hit it off at all. That is, until the find the one thing they have in common. Then they end up finding more than they bargained for.
This characters and setting are well drawn, and the situation flammable at times. The dialogue is a feature, at times humorous and insightful. I found this a highly interesting and involving read, although I did feel the ending seemed a tad rushed compared to the rest of the pace of the story. It is worth reading the author’s note about Rosa Parks and the maids of Mississippi and his insights about the two main characters of Hazel and Vida as well. Without doubt a character driven story this book brings to life a turbulent period of America’s history. It is moving and well told, involving and highly readable. A recommended read.
Profile Image for Ed.
Author 39 books2,691 followers
July 14, 2020
I liked the author's voice in this ambitious, entertaining novel of the Modern South. The black and white characters are well drawn and credible. The two female protagonists dealing with their adversity won my sympathy and admiration. The Mississippi Delta setting is vividly portrayed although I've never been to the region. The racial issues then are just as relevant and important as they are today. All in all, I'm glad I read it.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,665 reviews440 followers
February 15, 2016
Interesting characters that you can care about propel this story set in 1950s Mississippi. Hazel is a wealthy white woman with poor country roots who doesn't fit in with the neighborhood ladies. Vida is a black woman who is hired to do the housework in Hazel's home. They each are grieving the loss of a young child. Hazel tries to forget by drinking and taking long drives in her car. Vida is bitter and angry about her situation in the Jim Crow South, and tries to stay under the radar of the racist sheriff. All hell breaks loose when Vida's preacher father, Levi, attempts to register to vote. A group of black domestic workers rally to support Levi, inspired by the Alabama Civil Rights heroine Rosa Parks.

The story had fabulous dialogue that sometimes was humorous, and sometimes broke your heart. Hazel reminded me a bit of Celia in The Help, although the author said he modeled her on his mother. The maids were all wonderful, colorful characters. Little Johnny was a bit of a lost soul, and was young enough to still be colorblind in a racist society. The book brings home what a long road black Americans have had to travel, but held hope for better times.
Profile Image for Suzy.
761 reviews244 followers
November 8, 2015
Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League takes place at a pivotal time and place, rural Mississippi, in the history of civil rights in the U.S. I was propelled through this story of a white woman, Hazel, and her black maid, Vida, who were thrown together by circumstance, who initially hated each other and who ultimately joined forces to tell their stories and take a step toward equality and justice. Their story is told vividly by Odell. I can see the bluffs, the Delta, the old storied white families who own the cotton fields, the "niggruhs" who work their land and in their homes, the corrupt sheriff who participates in and encourages violence against blacks, the whites like Floyd and Hazel who don't quite fit in - all these add up to an engaging and inspiring story.

I liked the very personal lens through which this story is told, yet I also felt Odell was way too "preachy" at times when making his points through monologues or conversations between characters. But then I read the Afterword and saw that Odell's zeal for writing about this time and place and telling these stories was born out of his own experience growing up in rural Mississippi and experiencing these things first hand. (Making preachiness a little more tolerable, but not totally forgiven.) Indeed, Odell's thesis for this book is how important it is to tell ones story and how doing so and taking a step forward can change the world for future generations. The people taking these steps and leading the way are "the least of the least", the black women - maids and field hands - who stood up to injustice by claiming their freedom. Vida at one point says that she knows she has to take her freedom; she does not want it to be given to her by whites. The black maids in this book took their inspiration from "that there Rosie in Montgomery" who provided the example for what they could do in Delphi, Mississippi, to start the process of taking their freedom.

I read this 440-page book in just 5 days, a testimony to how compelling Hazel's and Vida's story was and to Odell's writing. This is from me, the world's slowest reader, so you know I'm telling the truth!

One note of complaint . . . there were many typos in this book (e.g. tying when trying was meant). Typos color my perceptions of a book, especially those published by well-regarded houses. GR friends - how do you respond when you see typos in a book?
1 review
December 6, 2014
Unfortunately for everyone in my family, I read this 400 page book in two days. I simply could not put it down. I thought the character development was really well done. There were several characters in the book, yet they were distinct from each other. There were a number of different story lines that created great pacing for the book. The storylines came together at the end in a really satisfying way. The dialogue was exceptionally well done. It captured Mississippi in a way that never seemed overdone. I loved the humor and the storytelling. Just a great book.
Profile Image for Cindi (Utah Mom’s Life).
349 reviews67 followers
January 28, 2015
Miss Hazel and her husband Floyd arrive in Delphi, Mississippi newly married and determined to make their fortune. At least Floyd is determined. Until Floyd brings home a new Lincoln for his wife, Hazel feels like she's just along for the ride. Finding a bit freedom and peace, Hazel dresses up; packs her two young boys in the back seat and becomes famous for driving through town and all over the delta.

Hazel has trouble fitting in with the well bred ladies in town who see her as tacky nouveau riche and suffers from depression. After the death of her son, she drowns her sorrows in alcohol and soon finds herself nearly a prisoner in her own home when Floyd hires Vida to be her maid and make sure she takes her medicine. Vida, a young black woman, has also lost a son and harbors a deep vendetta against the crooked sheriff. The two women form an unlikely alliance as they stir things up in the already the troubled racial climate of Delphi.

Odell's characters come to life within the pages of his novel. Hazel and Vida are troubled, complex women who experience dynamic growth and react in believable ways to the sorrows and devastation in their lives. Every person feels real and not simply type cast supporting characters. They are richly developed and all their lives blend together to create the drama, tension and history familiar to those from a small town.

The pages of Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League are filled with beautiful images and hauntingly lyrical words. Odell is a master of writing and of understanding human temperament and desires. He excels at telling inspiring stories that captivate the reader with a myriad of powerful emotions.

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is a beautiful and important novel. If it's possible, I may have loved it even more than I loved The Healing.
2 reviews
December 6, 2014
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.
Profile Image for Stacy.
838 reviews7 followers
January 12, 2016
This book reminded me of "The Help." However, the characters were not nearly as well-written. I didn't have the emotional connection to these ladies like I did for the ladies in "The Help." We have Vida, a proud maid who works for a white family. Hazel is the white woman she works for. They have both suffered great loss - Vida is much stronger than Hazel, who falls into an alcoholic stupor or a haze of pills. Somehow they become friends. With such interesting sounding characters, i should have loved this book. I was disappointed. The characters were one-dimensional and the story didn't go anywhere for a very long time. It picked up in the end but by then i just skimmed thorugh.
Profile Image for Lynn.
4 reviews
December 5, 2014
Jonathan Odell writes books that grab my heart and don't let go, long after I have finished reading them. "Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League" weaves together themes of loss, injustice, and prejudice. The characters are each flawed in ways that are achingly familiar, and this is what makes them come to life for me. Anyone interested in the interactions of people from different backgrounds will not be disappointed. Please read this book!
Profile Image for Carole.
307 reviews38 followers
February 19, 2015
4.5 stars I loved this heart felt story set in 1950s Mississippi of 2 women who find friendship despite unlikely circumstances. I loved all the characters in this story, especially all of the maids that were friends with Vida. If you like civil rights stories, this is one you will want to read.
Profile Image for Kimberly Brock.
Author 6 books434 followers
January 3, 2015
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.
2 reviews
January 5, 2015
I highly recommend Jonathan Odell’s new book, "Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League"—a stunning window into the disparate realities of white and African American women on the threshold of the Civil Rights Movement in the Deep South. The book’s uncommon insights into the oppression not only of descendants of slaves, but of women, holds a rare mirror to the oppressive cultural patterns we’ve imprinted—as well as the cumulative acts of courage it will take to disrupt them. Odell also teaches us about the resilience, strength and solidarity of African American women who took history into their own hands and redefined it. While Rosa Parks is clearly an inspiration for the women, Odell turns our perceptions on their head to see how Ms. Parks sprang from a unique time and place in history wherein her African American women peers were trained—by the excessive dependency of white families on them—to be warriors for justice and solidarity.

As a white woman raised in the sixties, I was challenged by the book to face the oppressive cultural terrain in which my mother’s generation of women came of age. As with Miss Hazel, white women have often been coddled and raised to expect predictability, comfort and safety over all else—even at the expense of learning to become mature adults and citizens. In their world of learned and piteous helplessness, the white women in "Miss Hazel" often succumb to excessive behaviors, such as snooping, gossiping, drinking and even despondency to avoid responsibility. They are resentful of the men in their lives who expect so little of them. They see that the men, too, expect predictability, even as they convince themselves they are “dangerous and bold” from “the little ripples they make.” Hazel’s husband, for instance, believes he can create predictability through the power of positive thinking.

Miss Hazel’s housekeeper, Vida, offers a sharp contrast as a woman who seeks no promise of happy endings. Not only does Vida expect discomfort; she knows how to engage with it. Accepting it as a part of life, she has achieved—along with her housekeeping peers—a maturity that allows her to deal creatively with, rather than avoid, her hardships. Her learned resilience allows her to do what it takes to get her way, but to also act as an anchor and guide for her father Levi, Miss Hazel and other women. She is the women we might imagine Rosa Parks to have been.

Still, she resents the life demands that prematurely jolted her into adulthood and has to tell her own father, “And neither of us can’t pick ourselves up from no place but where we fell. We ain’t got a bushel basket of choices.” She doesn’t like it that she always has to “come out fighting” and curses herself for that in a world where the white women are “haughty and pampered.” They are “Dressed like queens in silks and satins and looping chains of gold and pearls,” while Vida runs her hand over her own dress to feel the “rough scratch of fabric.” While the white women’s privilege allows them to express their full emotions publicly, Vida has to hold back her own tears at the loss of her son and move forward with quiet conviction. She understands that she pays a high price for tending Hazel’s family and literally asks of Hazel, “What’s your price, white woman?”

"Miss Hazel" does not allow us, however, to settle in to only feeling sadness for the way African Americans are treated. The book also offers unexpected and profound lessons as to the cost to us all of segregation and oppression. As the women and other characters begin cautiously and courageously to build a bridge across the cultural divide, Odell teaches timeless lessons of how the power of the human spirit slips in through vulnerability and those willing to hold each other’s pain. Vida’s father, in an epiphany, understands deeply that God is present in dark moments too—and the realization unleashes a beautiful catharsis: “The yard was now studded with fireflies, their twinklings multiplied through the prism of his tears.”

It is precisely this vulnerability—seasoned by the courage to risk the unpredictable—that finally allows the book to teach us how to be an authentic ally to descendants of slaves. Unlike so many popular books about the era, Hazel is not depicted as a "savior"; rather, she emerges from her own oppression to “live strong” and respond to the unexpected. In Odell’s work, we understand if anyone has been saved, it is Miss Hazel. In moving together beyond the comfortable, the women find their caring for one another by choice. Finally, as readers, we can see there are aspects of each women in all of us that can be awakened at any time to access the grace of humanity.

As the title suggests, Odell uses the story of Rosa Park’s resolve and courage to build the story’s suspense. He also masterfully weaves in symbolism and details from the murder of Emmet Till, along with the growing influence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Riders, to provide a historical context for the story’s masterful portrayal of our country’s historical trauma.

This book really needs to be made into a movie! Not only must it find its way to the hands of students and teachers working desperately to decode our issues with race in America; it is also a great handbook for psychologists who seek examples of the art of holding pain together. It a primer on historical trauma for historians and a guidebook on social movements for activists. With its brilliant treatment of female consciousness, it should also be a requirement for every Gender Studies course. Finally, because it was written by a man, it stands as a shining example of how white men, as they seek deeper understanding of the female and racial psyche, can never be overlooked as potential social justice allies.

Profile Image for Star Ryan.
127 reviews23 followers
April 8, 2017
I had high expectations for this book after reading O'dell's other book, The Healing. This book was originally written prior to The Healing, but revised and renamed for a more recent publication. Not having read the original edition, I still felt it was pretty clear where the revisions had taken place.

The book was engaging although I feel O'Dell tends to stumble a bit and go off a bit in other directions near the end of his books. There was also a bit if repetition with his book I read prior. But overall, Jonathan O'dell is a masterful storyteller. I believe this book (prior to revisions)was his first and you can tell how much he has grown as a writer when you read the Healing. I cant say I didn't enjoy the book. I did. However I would have wrapped up the ending in.a tone more consistent with the rest of the story, so it loses a star mostly for that.
Profile Image for Victoria Bynum.
1 review3 followers
January 22, 2015

“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.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
75 reviews24 followers
December 5, 2014
Last year a friend gave me a copy of Odell's book "The Healing" for my birthday. I had just moved back to Mississippi after being away for about 13 years. To be honest, I was busy at the time and didn't find time to read it until this past March. And, I'm glad I did.

Odell's writing style is captivating and heart-felt. The characters that he produces are illuminated by the necessary quirk that keeps them alive and human. Unspoken histories of this complex state (MS) find their way through the narrative as if finally getting the oxygen they need.

Because of my positive experience with "The Healing," I decided to read his book "Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League," as well. With the same amount of insight and familiarity, Odell took me on a important journey filled with the forgotten voices of Mississippi.

Vida and Hazel's relationship builds like a slow boil which finally culminates at the end, along with various other dynamic threads of the narrative. This book left me feeling more aware of the untold stories of Mississippi, and how many more wish to find their way home. And, with the 102nd birthday of Rosa Parks nearing, I hope this book finds its way into the hands of many.

I find it important to note that Odell is not just writing fiction for fiction's sake. He is actively pursuing something like redemption for what he did not understand as a boy with what he now understands as a man. It's a gift to us all that we are able to go on this journey with him."
Profile Image for Paulette Alden.
Author 7 books24 followers
January 7, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,789 reviews2 followers
October 24, 2015
It didn't really take me 5 days to read this. It was really two major marathons.

I was really caught up in the story, not sure where everything was going to end. I think this would be a great book for a book discussion - both from the content and especially the writing. The transitions of characters seemed very abrupt, but I really liked the book.

I felt that the last 100 pages let me down. How did a young boy who had been spending time digging in the dirt under the porch all of sudden only wear dress pants to school and refuse to wear jeans. Who put Miss Hazel in the hospital. Who was the Epilogue about?

How did this change from the original book? Questions, I have questions.

But, I still really like this book.

Profile Image for Joan Wulfsohn.
3 reviews2 followers
January 28, 2015
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”
26 reviews21 followers
December 12, 2014
I did not think it possible to improve on Odell's outstanding 2005 novel THE VIEW FROM DELPHI. This updated version, however, is absolutely stunning. Odell has a keen insight into his female characters, and the mother/son dynamic is spot on. The new rendering is sure to bring a wider audience for these incredible women. Southern literature does not get any better than MISS HAZEL AND THE ROSA PARKS LEAGUE
Profile Image for Tiffany Crochet.
192 reviews23 followers
October 23, 2015
I truly enjoyed this book. I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever felt different or wanted to release their inner self but was afraid of what others would think. I also like this book because it shows the courage that two women had not caring that their skin color was different and defied the laws saying that whites and colored could not associate with each other. Read this book and let me read your review of it.
2 reviews1 follower
December 5, 2014
Beautifully written...Odell has the power to inspire through his words...if you've ever felt you weren't enough or you couldn't fit in, it's a must-read. In the end we all discover we had it in us all along.
Profile Image for Carin.
Author 1 book102 followers
January 8, 2016
This book has a very unusual backstory as it was previously published under a different title back in 2004 and then revised and republished by a different publisher. But the author and agent really believed in the book, and especially after the success of The Help and other books and movies about the Civil Rights movements, it seemed the time might be better for the book now. And it does seem to be (although also the book might have been greatly improved in the revision, we don't know.)

Hazel grew up brutally poor in the backwoods of Mississippi but she was determined to have a different life. She knew she could be pretty and get out, if she tried hard enough. She succeeded. She married a handsome and inspiring man, Floyd, and they moved to Delphi in the Mississippi Delta for Floyd to sell farm equipment. Hazel had two sons and they hired a maid, Vida. Vida and her group of maid friends eventually become the "Rosa Parks League."

I don't want to give away too much of the story so I'll leave that for plot description. It's an easy read and fast, especially given its length (440). While the author knows whereof he speaks (Hazel and Vida are based on his mother and a household maid he had growing up), it didn't feel especially Southern to me, aside from talk of the Klan, and the politics (this county is where Emmett Till was killed.) I didn't get the feel for it in the cadence of the language, I didn't feel the brutal heat of the summers, or the bugs and the humidity. These are mentioned, but they didn't come alive for me. I also felt the book could have been much shorter and not lost anything. (At one point my husband asked me about the book. I said it's about these two women, Hazel and Vida. He said, who are they to each other. I said, I don't know. I was 100 pages in but they hadn't met yet.) It's told in a strictly sequential style that actually worked great for where my headspace has been lately, but it is unusual to start when the main characters are children , instead of presenting their backstory later, in flashbacks, when it's pertinent. That said, there are a lot of great characters in the book. Many of them come alive with details and nuance that make them unique. And I really liked how the author pointed out in his afterward how much of the civil rights movement was begun by and supported by the women of the South who almost never get credit (except for Rosa Parks) and who were actively not allowed in leadership positions in the various civil rights organizations. This book is partly his tribute to those unsung women who were the true backbone of the movement. The book was inspiring and ultimately uplifting, if it did have some moments that were quite dark. If you like a rollercoaster of a story set in the 1950s and 60s and especially if you liked The Help, you should give this book a try.
Profile Image for Amy Ariel.
232 reviews8 followers
June 13, 2015
I've read that Jonathan Odell wanted to move past stereotypes and empty African American characters. He wanted to create complex women - one Black and one white - around whom to center this story. He wanted to avoid the storytelling tropes of Southern writers in telling the story of these two women and refute the notion that the Black women who worked in the homes of white families were 'family' even though no one cared to learn their last names, how many children they had or didn't, or anything in particular about them.

I think he did a pretty effective job.

I found this review more insightful than most:


I didn't read The Help. The very idea of it offended me, actually. A friend of mine also expressed offense that yet another story had become popular that centered Black women's experience in white homes instead of in their own homes and their own lives. Why aren't our lives interesting when there aren't any white people in the room? she asked.

I appreciate that Vida exists outside Hazel's sphere. Their sphere's intersect, but Vida stands alone as a person and has her own place in the world. I also appreciate that Hazel, based on Jonathan Odell's mother (so much so that on Odell's webpage there are photos of his parents), gets effectively schooled on her privilege - even though she'd never articulate the experience with that word and even though - and maybe especially because - in so many ways in the white community Hazel is treated so badly.

Now I would like to read The Help only for the sake of comparison and to either validate or refute my assumptions about it.

As I understand it, The View From Delphi - the original telling of this story - is much longer. Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is one of the tightest books I've read in a long time. Nothing feels superfluous. There was nothing to skim through. There was nothing extraneous to the core story. If it didn't drive the plot or better illuminate the main characters, it wasn't there. I'm very impressed by good editing.

I will very likely read this book again.
1 review
December 6, 2014
I discovered Jonathan Odell a few years ago when I came across an article he wrote about coming of age in the South. It was about this same time, his novel, "The Healing", was going to press. I snatched it up as soon as it hit the shelves at Barnes and Noble. Jonathan's upbringing was in the deep South in Mississippi. So, he writes from experience BUT he also researches a great deal for his historical fiction novels. He accurately portrays the times and language in his period pieces. So, not only are you getting a great story but also a history lesson.
Now with that in mind, this new novel, "Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League" immerses you into the 1950s and 1960s Civil Rights Movement and life in deep Mississippi. Jonathan likes to throw the reader right into the middle of the story. You are almost another character in the novel, sort of a bystander watching the action unfold.
When I started reading "Miss Hazel", I couldn't stop making comparisions to his other novel, "The Healing". Both take place in rural Mississippi between Whites, the ruling class, and Blacks, the laborers. At first, I thought I was reading about 1850 and not 1950 Mississippi because it seemed as though race relations had not improved in 100 years. But by the 3rd Chapter, you knew you were in the 20th Century. As the description states, it is a story about 2 lives intertwined because of culture, society, and the Civil Rights Movement. When Vida, one of the two lives, becomes a housemaid, you can't help to compare the novel to "The Help", but that comparision dissolves quickly too.
Jonathan Odell is skilled in character development and detailed in historical fact. You can't help liking both women, Hazel and Vida. I enjoyed getting involved in the lives of these 2 characters, that I read 3/4 of the novel in one all-nighter! I highly recommend this novel as an introduction to Jonathan's storytelling. Like me, you will read other works of his and demand more!
3 reviews
December 6, 2014

When Edith Wharton said, “There are two ways of spreading light: To be the candle or the mirror that reflects it,” it would seem she knew Jonathan Odell’s incandescent writing would burn in one’s mind long after reading it.
Its clear Odell himself lived the experience of prejudice in the south. His style is genuine, sensitive and beautifully crafted. He has given voice to characters that take on such a real persona; it is easy to believe he knew them. Writing in the voice of two women whose lives become inextricably linked, Odell exhibits such deep sensitivity to each of their personal crises.
The 1950’s in Mississippi echoes a time of shame in our country. The depth of blatant disrespect and intense disregard white southerners had for the African American people is etched into the history books. This is a story that peels back the layers of hatred among four people, buoyed by a supporting cast of colorful characters, who eventually reveal their deep rooted needs, fears and desires. The two protagonists are Hazel and Vida; Hazel, born and raised in the south, white, unsure of herself and newly married to Floyd who sees himself as a motivational go-getter. Vida is young, black and terrified of the Sheriff who raped her and continues to terrorize her and her Father.
With Hazel’s fear of failing as a wife and homemaker she attempts to befriend a group of so-called society women. When she realizes she is the brunt of their jokes, she takes to alcohol and begins a downward spiral. Her husband employs Vida as maid and caretaker for Hazel and their son Johnny.
Hazel, Vida and Johnny are each in their own way damaged by their circumstances. The way their lives turn and come together makes this one of the most memorable, heartwarming, tender stories. This is a timeless story, one that evokes a tear and smile. It should be read and savored.
Profile Image for PopcornReads - MkNoah.
938 reviews98 followers
February 4, 2015
Book Review & Giveaway: First of all, happy birthday to Miss Rosa Parks and thank you for taking a stand or, rather, keeping your seat. If you ever doubted the power of one person to make a difference then all you have to do is look at Rosa Parks and the courage it took for her to stay in her seat when asked to move. That bus driver should have known better than to test a woman’s last nerve like that.

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is actually Jonathan Odell’s first novel; however, it was released as The View From Delphi by a very small publisher and, as so often happens, didn’t get much recognition. Following his success with The Healing (review link below this review), it has been re-imagined and is being republished. I don’t normally read or review republished novels but I was so awestruck by The Healing that I made an exception and I’m really glad I did. Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is the perfect novel to pay tribute to all women like Rosa Parks who have said “that’s enough; I’ve had it.” It’s also an excellent portrayal of the entangled, tightly interwoven inter-racial relationships in the South when the Civil Rights movement began. If you liked The Help, you’ll want to know more about this novel. And the publisher has provided us with a copy that someone will win in our giveaway at http://popcornreads.com/?p=8099.
Profile Image for Mary Timbes.
Author 7 books9 followers
January 17, 2015
Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks Society lifts the curtain on a time of upheaval and conflict, when a provincial country girl could marry well and yet be lost in the changes around her until her family, and her uncommon connections with upwardly mobile white neighbors and wise and wily inhabitants of the working class black community. It is Mississippi in the 1950s, captured with grace and clarity by one who experienced it first hand. Jonathan Odell has woven a tapestry of tales about the South in the Civil Rights era. Black families and white families go from a place where they ignore or reject each other, to one where they interact, all the while experiencing the changes going on about them from their separate vantage points. With a background steeped in the Southern culture of segregation, Odell has created unforgettable, lovable characters and believable villains--and through their stories, takes the reader on a journey he or she will not forget. These are not stereotypes or predictable lives. I enjoyed the trip!

Profile Image for Holly.
10 reviews
December 10, 2014
I forfeited some hours of sleep over Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League. Jonathan Odell's writing always does that to me. His storytelling pulls me into the world of strong female characters who live with challenges many of us have only read about. Jon's extensive research not only weaves an incredible story that is virtually impossible to put down; but it will leave you feeling like you have just attended a fascinating African American History class.

What I love the most about Jon's books (also see The Healing) is that his strong characters are the people who've been marginalized the most, and yet they need no rescuing. The in-depth character studies draw you in and open your eyes to ways of life that most of us are very naive of.

I highly recommend this book; it's not only a captivating, rich story - but truly enlightening.

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