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Summary and book reviews of Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford

Crooked Hallelujah

by Kelli Jo Ford

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

It's 1974 in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and fifteen-year-old Justine grows up in a family of tough, complicated, and loyal women presided over by her mother, Lula, and Granny.

After Justine's father abandoned the family, Lula became a devout member of the Holiness Church – a community that Justine at times finds stifling and terrifying. But Justine does her best as a devoted daughter until an act of violence sends her on a different path forever.

Crooked Hallelujah tells the stories of Justine―a mixed-blood Cherokee woman― and her daughter, Reney, as they move from Eastern Oklahoma's Indian Country in the hopes of starting a new, more stable life in Texas amid the oil bust of the 1980s. However, life in Texas isn't easy, and Reney feels unmoored from her family in Indian Country. Against the vivid backdrop of the Red River, we see their struggle to survive in a world―of unreliable men and near-Biblical natural forces, like wildfires and tornados―intent on stripping away their connections to one another and their very ideas of home.

In lush and empathic prose, Kelli Jo Ford depicts what this family of proud, stubborn, Cherokee women sacrifices for those they love, amid larger forces of history, religion, class, and culture. This is a big-hearted and ambitious novel of the powerful bonds between mothers and daughters by an exquisite and rare new talent.

PART I


Beulah Springs,
Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma
1974

Book of the Generations
1.

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...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Though Crooked Hallelujah opens with radiant confidence and pushes through to a generous and satisfying ending, it suffers in between from a common pitfall of the novel-in-stories format: It sometimes adheres to a strong narrative arc, but at other times wanders too far from its central concerns. Despite this, all the various parts of the novel are infused with a similar urgent mood that suggests the inner arrangement of a person's self has a crucial effect on the external world around them. Ford offers readers a memorable glimpse of her characters' lives, making the journey through their stories abundantly worthwhile...continued

Full Review Members Only (802 words).

(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Crooked Hallelujah has a supple cohesiveness...Ford is quietist. Her book reads like a series of acoustic songs recorded on a single microphone in a bare room with a carpet. There are times when you might wish for more boldness, but she never puts a wrong foot. This is a writer who carefully husbands her resources. Small scenes begin to glitter.

Shelf Awareness
[A] magnificent debut...Ford adroitly, affectingly weaves indigenous history into her spellbinding narrative, exposing displacement, unacknowledged violence, cultural erasure, relentless racism and socioeconomic disparity.

Buzzfeed
Ford's Crooked Hallelujah is more than just a really great title; it's the book that's going to be taught in creative writing programs for decades to come...What else can you say about a writer who won the prestigious Plimpton Prize and was published in the Paris Review right out of the gate? Nothing beyond '"ake my money."

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A] gritty, elegant debut novel...Ford's storytelling is urgent, her characters achingly human and complex, and her language glittering and rugged.

Booklist (starred review)
Electrifying...A riveting and important read.

Author Blurb Brandon Hobson, 2018 National Book Award Finalist and author of Where the Dead Sit Talking
Kelli Jo Ford's Crooked Hallelujah masterfully evokes loss and displacement, steeped in Native American culture, rife with compassion and deep understanding. Kelli Jo Ford is a powerful new Native American writer who writes beautifully with stunning prose! She is brilliant, and I can't wait for people to read her amazing book.

Author Blurb David Treuer
Crooked Hallelujah is an intricate, soulful look at three generations of Cherokee women pushed (in Philip Larkin's phrase) to the side of their own lives. At turns gripping and moving, Kelli Jo Ford's characters and the Oklahoma and Texas landscape take center stage in a truly modern drama. Ford sidesteps the easy tropes of spirituality and connection to nature and has created a modern masterpiece peopled with complex, fully-realized characters. A huge achievement.

Author Blurb Leila Aboulela
Startling close-ups of the sticky relationship between mothers and daughters, between body and nature, between childhood certainties and adult skepticism. Kelli Jo Ford's writing is heartfelt and brimming with talent. This is a stunning, awe-inspiring debut.

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Beyond the Book

Six Flags Amusement Parks

Batman roller coaster at Six Flags In Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford, Justine dreams of riding the Big Bend roller coaster at Six Flags. Today, Six Flags is a large theme park company with locations throughout North America and also in China, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Justine, who is living in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma in 1974, is anticipating a visit to the original park that spawned the conglomerate, Six Flags Over Texas.

Six Flags Over Texas opened in 1961 in Arlington, Texas. It required more than a year to build and cost $10 million (which translates to about $85 million today). The idea for the park came from a real estate developer named August Wynne. Initially, Wynne intended for the theme park to be a temporary way to profit from ...

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