‘Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League’3/18/2015
In writing “Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League,” Jonathan Odell drew on his childhood experiences in Mississippi in the 1950s. Now living in Minnesota, his novel has been chosen as a March pick by the Midwestern Independent Booksellers, a well-deserved honor.
The story brings together two young women — one white and well-to-do, the other black and poor — who share two things. They each lost a son under tragic circumstances, and they absolutely detest each other. Vida has been hired by Hazel’s husband to help in the house after Hazel returns from spending time in an institution to treat her alcoholism. Hazel goes from a woman who takes her children joy-riding on drunken sprees through the Mississippi delta to living a drugged and sedated life in her bedroom. Vida, whose family and friends used to witness Hazel from their work in the cotton fields, has no pity for her. Unexpectedly, a friendship forms that shakes the foundations of their community.
The relationships between the deeply drawn characters make this an engrossing story. Besides Hazel and Vida, there is the “senator,” a rich man who rules the county; Billy Dean Brister, the racist sheriff; Floyd, Hazel’s eternally optimistic husband; Johnny, her stubborn, resentful son; Reverend Snow, Vida’s wise father; and the Rosa Parks League, a group of black maids who take the unheard of risk of trying to register to vote in Mississippi in 1955.
Reading this book was a wonderful way to celebrate Women’s History Month and to mark the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Just as I was reflecting on how far attitudes have come, the evening news broadcasted the recent actions of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Obviously, we still have a long way to go. CV
Shirley Shiffler grew up in Urbandale, graduated from Drake University (twice!), and lives in Beaverdale.