The Sweetest Thing
In 1933, while much of the world is reeling from the Great Depression, 17-year old Anne "Perri" Singleton is enjoying life in Atlanta, dating boys, wearing the latest fashions, attending parties and riding high with the popular girls. Three states north, Mary "Dobbs" Dillard is simply trying to survive. She and her siblings, children of a traveling preacher, live in a poor section of Chicago. Dressed in ragged clothes, they often go to school with stomachs growling. But Dobbs has witnessed miracles and felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. What she lacks in material things, she makes up for with a rock solid faith.
When her Aunt Josie from Atlanta invites Dobbs to live with her and attend a posh high school for girls, Dobbs's and Perri's worlds collide, leading to an unlikely friendship. Together the girls will struggle with grief, face betrayal, see the world from new perspectives, and embrace faith in ways that will rock their worlds. In the end, they will realize that no matter what they possess, lose, or lack, love will always be the sweetest thing.
Perri's Sunday begins with sleeping in after a late-night party, then joining her family to hear President Roosevelt's voice booming through the radio, optimistically assuring the nation that it will "endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper." But the president's hopeful words fail to cheer up her father, a banker. Soon after, Perri and her mother leave for the train station to meet Mary Dobbs Dillard, Josie Chandler's niece from Chicago. Perri is intrigued by the stranger who is her age, yet so different from her and her friends. Skinny and donning a faded, ill-fitting dress, Dobbs emits a confidence and inner beauty that Perri simultaneously admires and resents. But Perri has little time to ponder the new girl in town. Upon returning home, she discovers her father's lifeless body hanging from the barn rafters.
Unaware of her new acquaintance's tragic discovery, Dobbs focuses on her unbelievable living arrangement, and the opportunities it presents.
"And from the moment that Mother (and eventually Father) insisted I leave for Atlanta --- Atlanta! A southern town! --- I knew that my life had just bifurcated in a way that would have repercussions for my whole family."
Shortly after taking in the grandeur of her Aunt Josie's palatial home, Dobbs meets Parthenia, the nine-year-old servant girl, who tells her of Perri's father's suicide. "Right then and there I started crying for a girl I had only just met." She also learns that Parthenia is working as a substitute for her mother, Anna, accused of stealing a valuable set of knives and sentenced to a work farm. Parthenia's older brother and father also work for Aunt Josie, and must continue to do so, as required by law, until the expensive knives are paid off. Parthenia explains that everyone knows Anna didn't steal the knives. Dobbs believes the girl, realizing that Parthenia knows the identity of the thief, but is too afraid to speak up.
Though the friendship between the southern socialite and impoverished preacher's daughter is born of grief, it blossoms and grows as the two walk side by side through a year of sometimes painful, sometimes joyful self-discovery. Together they learn about judging others, opening their hearts to those in need, and trusting God, even when He doesn't seem to be paying attention. And together they search for the person responsible for the stolen knives, determined to free Parthenia's mother from the work camp.
THE SWEETEST THING will grip you like a fast-paced thriller, transport you to another place and time, and touch your heart from beginning to end. Author Elizabeth Musser creates multi-layered characters who are believable, likable and flawed enough to be relatable. This book has it all --- romance, mystery, coming-of-age, faith lost and found, injustice, and just enough of a happy ending to satisfy the reader without being too perfectly wrapped up. Christians will appreciate and understand the faith-based content, while non-believers will enjoy the story and relationships without that "preachy" feeling. This is a great novel to read and share with mothers, sisters and friends.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on June 1, 2011