Excerpt from Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Crooked Hallelujah

by Kelli Jo Ford

Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford X
Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2020, 304 pages

    Jul 2021, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Print Excerpt


Beulah Springs,
Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma

Book of the Generations

When Lula stepped into the yard, the stray cat Justine held took off so fast it scratched her and sent the porch swing sideways. Justine had been feeding the stray, hoping to find its litter of kittens in spite of her mother's disdain for extra mouths or creatures prone to parasites. She tried to smooth cat hair from her lap. She'd wanted everything to be perfect when she told her mom that she'd tracked down her father in Texas and used the neighbor's phone to call him.

"That thing's going to give you worms." Lula dropped her purse onto the porch. She hadn't been able to catch a ride from work. With a deep sigh, she untucked her blouse and undid the long green polyester skirt she'd started sewing as soon as she'd seen the help wanted sign at the insurance office. She was a secretary now, and as she liked to tell Justine, people called her Mrs. and complimented her handwriting.

"I'll wash up," Justine said. She'd already decided today wasn't the day. Like yesterday. And the day before that.

"At least let me say hi." Lula kicked off dusty pumps and let her weight drop into the swing beside Justine. The swing skittered haywire as Lula pulled bobby pins from her bun, scratching her scalp. Her long salt-and-pepper braid fell past her shoulder and curled under her breast. "Bless us, Lord," she said, the words nearly a song. She closed her eyes, and as she whispered an impromptu prayer, she touched the end of her braid to the mole on her lip that she still called her beauty mark.

As a girl, Justine had pored over the pictures from Lula's time at Chilocco Indian School, trying to see her mother in the stone-cold fox who stared out from the old photographs. Lula's clothes hung loosely, even more faded than the other girls' in the pictures, but something about her gaze—framed by short black curls, of all things—made it seem as if she were the only one in the photo. If Marilyn Monroe had come of age in an Indian boarding school and had fierce brown eyes instead of scared blue ones, that would have been young Lula. Justine kept the old pictures in a box hidden in the top of the closet where she kept her Rolling Stones and a mood ring, other forbidden things. She hadn't thought of the pictures in ages, but she did so now as she watched her mom in prayer.

Lula whispered amen, caught Justine staring at her.

"Granny's out gathering wild onions with Aunt Celia," Justine said quickly.

"Late in the year for it," Lula said. She unrolled her nylon stockings and wiggled her toes in the air. In the way of Cherokee women, Lula could still make you feel that she held down the Earth around her one moment and then seem almost like a girl the next. "Did you do your homework?"

"I swept and did the rugs too."

"My Teeny," Lula said, calling her the nickname that had stuck when Justine's middle sister, Josie, hadn't been able to say her name. Together they pushed the swing back and let it fall forward.

Justine closed her eyes. In the cool air that had come with the night's rain, her mother's warmth felt nice, which made the words she'd been practicing feel all the worse.

"Evenings like this make me wonder how a body would want to set their bones anywhere other than these hills," Lula said.

Justine opened her eyes. The two-bedroom house they rented with her granny sat on the edge of Beulah Springs, the outer walls almost as much tar paper as asphalt shingle. She had her own room now that her sisters, Dee and Josie, had married themselves out of state, but her mother and Granny still split a room barely big enough for one. Hand-sewn curtains strung on a clothesline separated their beds. The low green hills beyond the train tracks seemed like folds in a crumpled blanket after Dee sent her pictures of Tennessee mountains. Justine had a good idea why a body might light out for other hills, other lands.

Excerpted from Crooked Hallelujah © 2020 by Kelli Jo Ford. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

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