This debut by Beth Hoffman was a New York Times bestseller - good going for a first novel.
Even so, it suffers from a chick-litty cover - a prom dress overlaid with swirly writing - which hints at something forgettable, light and fluffy.
This is misleading as the book packs the punch of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.
Cecelia’s mother Camille is mentally disturbed and her hi-viz illness - in small-town Ohio - blights Cecelia’s childhood.
After Camille’s inevitable tragic death, Cecelia’s absentee father sends her to live with rich Aunt Tootie in Savannah, where a coterie of crazy-charming, peachy Georgia gals combines to heal and protect her.
The story is saved from sentimentality by the undertow of American Gothic beneath the fabulous frilliness. Decoration is a metaphor for disaster, from the Fifties prom dresses poor Camille parades around in, to the wrecked Southern mansions it is Aunt Tootie’s life’s work to save.
A wonderful debut, but don’t, if you’re the weepy sort, read it on a train like me.