Thirteen-year-old Layla Jay was only pretending when she knelt before the preacher to seek salvation. She was hoping to make her grandma happy and get noticed by the cute new boy in town. But religion truly piques her interest when a young, handsome visiting preacher stays at her family’s home. Wallace seems genuinely interested in Layla Jay’s life–until he meets her mama and falls head over heels, like many men have before him.
When Wallace marries Frieda, Layla Jay believes she will finally have the father she’s always wanted. But it seems that none of her dreams will come true as Layla Jay wrestles with her mother’s reckless ways, her unsavory stepfather, a best friend’s betrayal, and the longing for love’s first kiss. Yet everything pales in comparison to what happens next as Layla Jay is forced to tell a lie to save her mother’s world from crashing down.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||668 KB|
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THE YEAR I TURNED THIRTEEN I GOT RELIGION. OH, I’D BEEN going to church, praying like a sinner on her deathbed, but when the Holy Spirit flew over Mississippi, it never landed on me. All through the spring and summer of 1963, I sat beside Grandma on the sixth pew of Pisgah Methodist Church waiting for salvation, but the Lord never spoke one word to me. Grandma’s shoulders drooped in disappointment when, Sunday after Sunday, I didn’t join the other sinners who accepted Brother Thompson’s invitation to “come on down and get wrapped in the bosom of the Lord.” She was counting on me to lead a pious life because both her husband and her daughter were bent on sinning themselves straight into hell. Every Sunday, during the hour or so we sat on our hard wooden pew, breathing in the suffocating air of wilted gladiolas, Old Spice aftershave, and Mrs. Duncan’s Midnight in Paris perfume, Papaw would be out riding across the pasture on Jim, a dappled gray that he claimed was the fastest in Lexie County. Mama slept late on Sundays.
So as Grandma’s only grandchild and last hope for conversion, I felt a huge responsibility to get saved, but I hadn’t been able to get my feet moving down the crimson carpeted aisle of Pisgah Methodist up until this Sunday. Brother Thompson hadn’t enticed a sinner to come up and get saved for several weeks, and at the end of every service, he would wearily lift his hand for the benediction. Then, with his voice filled with disappointment, he would pray for us sinners to get washed in Jesus’ blood and become whiter than snow.
So on this hot August morning, I pretended the Holy Spirit had finally lit on me because I wanted to please the preacher and Grandma, who had had a big fight with Mama the night before and seemed more down than usual, and because Jehu Albright, the cutest boy in the ninth grade, was sitting across the aisle on the fourth pew down from us. We always sat on the right-hand pews because the morning sun bore down on the other side of the church, making it hotter than Hades, and over there you could see forty or more cardboard fans flapping faster than a wasp could fly. I had thought that Jehu was a Baptist, but his mother told Grandma that they had been attending Centenary Methodist in town and didn’t like their new pastor, who had posted on the bulletin board in the vestibule a list of the members who hadn’t signed their pledge cards.
Today Brother Thompson’s sermon was about Jesus feeding the multitudes with a few hunks of bread and a couple of little fish, and although I believed in miracles, I was having a hard time picturing the baskets filling up with loaves and fishes over and over like that. But then it occurred to me that, if what you couldn’t imagine could be true, maybe Grandma wouldn’t know that I was about to fake salvation. So when Miss Wilda banged out the first chords of “Just as I Am” on the old black upright piano, with heart racing like a galloping horse, I squeezed past Grandma’s knees and stepped out into the aisle. My taffeta dress, the color of a grape Popsicle, rustled applause as I slowly made my way up to the altar.When I passed Jehu’s pew, I paused, tucked a curl behind my ear, and glanced over at him with what I hoped was a beatific smile. After I reached the altar rail, Brother Thompson, trembling with joy, leaned over and placed his hand on the top of my head.“Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” he whispered.
His voice was filled with such happiness I thought he might burst out laughing, and quickly I answered, “Uh huh.Yessir.”
I had been rehearsing this scene all summer on Saturdays, which was the day Grandma and I cleaned the church. Grandma had taken the job, refusing payment for her labors, avowing that menial tasks would keep us humble. She assured me that the reward of serving the Lord was compensation enough. I didn’t want the Lord’s rewards. I wanted cash to purchase a madras blouse and a wraparound skirt, but Grandma had refused even the paltry sum that Brother Thompson offered her from the collection of coins and bills that piled up in the silver pie plate we passed around every time the church doors opened.
After I finished my Saturday chores of dusting pews and straightening the song books, I enacted all the roles in the play I had written, entitled “Layla Jay Gets Saved and Wins a Young Boy’s Heart.” I pounded out hymns on the piano, switching my singing voice from soprano to alto, harmonizing with myself as perfectly as an entire choir inside my head. In the role of preacher, I gripped the lectern until sweat stung my eyes as I shouted out for the sinners to come down and be saved. I had also rehearsed the heroine’s part I was playing now—that of repentant sinner tearfully asking for forgiveness. I was ready to testify, to admit to any and all sins, for what would it matter, the past? But before I could blurt out a single sin, Brother Thompson raised his hands and gave the benediction. My moment was over in less time than it took to close a hymnal. I stood beside the preacher, filled with disappointment as I accepted the first congratulatory hand, which belonged to old Mr. Stokes. “Bless you, child,” he said, spraying small droplets of saliva on my new taffeta bodice, which I had stuffed with a pair of socks for Jehu Albright’s perusal.Then came the others: Mr. Felder, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Utley, Doris Faye Wiggins, Joan Gail Martin, Mary Lynn Sutter, and Johnny Moore Jr. They shuffled past me with blessings and smiles, and suddenly there he was standing right in front of me. Blond crew cut pomaded with grease, rabbit-sized front teeth, a good strong jaw, my Ideal.
“Congratulations, Layla Jay,” Jehu mumbled.“You staying for dinner on the ground?”
“Thank you.Yes, I am,” I whispered in the reverent tone I had practiced. And then he was gone, and Mrs. Gabe Tucker was swinging her oversized purse into my stomach as she stretched out her fat fingers to pinch my arm. “Welcome, child.You’re safe in the Lord’s hands now.”
After pumping the remaining hands of the Lord’s disciples, I escaped outside and meandered around the church grounds, where I spotted Jehu lobbing pinecones at my cousin James Louis, who was firing back with cones of his own. I have hated James Louis for as long as I can remember. He is meaner than a starving bulldog, but around grown-ups, he acts like a poodle puppy, all fuzzy and soft and eager to please. Like all older women, my grandma loves him. This is how I came to know that women can be easily fooled by men, and, since learning this fact, have resolved to never never be taken in by anyone of the opposite sex. I do not fear this happening with Jehu Albright. I will never believe that he is capable of the kind of duplicity my cousin James Louis demonstrates.
When Brother Thompson called for quiet so he could get another prayer going, I walked over to the folding tables set up between two oak trees that served as boundaries for the little kids.Waiting for us to assemble and quiet down, he stood at the head of the table, holding up both hands like he was signaling a touchdown for the Zebulon Cougars. Jehu was standing to my left with his head bowed and his hands crossed over a pinecone behind his back.
Although delirious with happiness over my conversion, Grandma frowned when I fished around in one of the fried chicken platters for the piece that held the pulley bone. I ignored her. I needed to make a wish and I figured a pulley bone that had been blessed by a preacher would be extra good luck if I broke it right. Jehu was already going back for seconds when I took my plate over to the brick steps that led to the back of the church. My best friend, June McCormick, had saved me a spot, and when I sat down beside her, she leaned over and bumped my arm with her plate. “How come you decided to get saved today?”
I bit off a piece of crunchy chicken. “Got filled up with the Spirit.”
“You did not.”
June patted her teased wheat-colored bubble hairdo that Mama said made her face look fat. “Well, I don’t believe you.You just wanted to parade up to the altar to show off your new dress I’ll bet.”
Better to let her think vanity rather than seduction. “Well, okay. But I was planning on getting saved sometime soon anyway,” I said, holding up my pinkie. “Secret pledge?”
June licked the fried chicken grease from her fingers and wrapped her little finger around mine. “Sure. I won’t tell anyone. I’m your friend. You wouldn’t tell on me.”
Thinking that a subtle hint of blackmail was good insurance, I said, “No. I didn’t tell anyone that you took a quarter out of the collection plate to buy nail polish that time.” This prompted June to recite from memory all the new colors of polish sitting on her dresser, and after I offered my opinion that blue-based red polish, rather than orange-red, went with green outfits, I broached the subject I was most anxious to talk about. “Grandma said Jehu Albright’s family is joining Pisgah.They switched over from Centenary.”
“Yeah, I knew they were going to. My mother and his mother are in Beta Sigma Phi together. I think he’s cool, looks a little like Steve McQueen, doesn’t he?” I held my breath, hoping June didn’t have a crush on him, too. She was far more popular than I and could get boyfriends as easily as you could catch chicken pox. She glanced over to where Jehu sat with his back against an oak tree. “But he’s got big teeth and everybody knows crew cuts are passé.” Breathing with a lighter heart, I tore the white meat away from the pulley bone and held it out to her. As we closed our eyes and pulled, I made my wish for Jehu Albright to love me and got the short bone.
After everyone had eaten all their stomachs could hold, they began to gather their empty bowls and say their good-byes. As I walked to Grandma’s old green Plymouth, I saw Jehu and his family driving away in their big white Chrysler Imperial and vowed that someday I’d be cuddled up beside him on the backseat of that car.
Reading Group Guide
1. Layla Jay begins the book wishing to be like her mother in all respects: the way she looks, the way she is with men, etc. Do you think Layla Jay still feels that way by the end of the book? If not, what do you think changed, and why?
2. Frieda treats Layla Jay “like a girlfriend instead of a daughter.” Do you think this is beneficial for Layla Jay? How do you think it shapes her relationship with her mother, and her relationship with the outside world?
3. Layla Jay has a very strong connection to her father even though she doesn’t remember him. How accurate do you think her depictions of her father are? Do you have similar feelings about someone who passed away and you wish you could have talked to more?
4. When Layla Jay and Frieda move out of Grandma and Papaw’s house in the country and into the city, Layla Jay frequently misses the house and the land.What effect do you think our environment has on us? Did you move as a child? How did the change affect you?
5. Why do you think Layla Jay feels pressured to get saved? What role does religion play in the lives of these characters? Did you ever experience this feeling of pressure by your church affiliation or its members? How did it affect you?
6. The way we view Wallace certainly changes throughout the novel. How did you feel about him when he was first introduced? What exactly do you think his intentions were when he married Frieda? How do you think they shifted, both before and after he was “saved” again?
7. Layla Jay and her mother have the tradition of getting hot fudge sundaes when they feel “as rotten and low and hopeless as you can be and you think the world’s biggest sponge couldn’t mop up all the tears inside of you.”Why do we find comfort in rituals, and do you have any that you rely on to make you feel better when you’re down?
8. Frieda tells Layla Jay that Jehu should make up his mind about his feelings for her.What do you think about Jehu’s seeming ambivalence toward Layla Jay? Do you think he’s a good choice for a boyfriend?
9. Some of the lies Layla Jay tells aren’t as significant as others. Do you think the gravity of the lie makes a difference? Were any, or all, of Layla Jay’s lies justified and okay to tell? When do you think it’s okay to “stretch the truth”?
10. Layla Jay and June are bound by their sense of being outsiders.What criteria do you think is the basis for acceptance in a community? Does this vary if it’s a small town or a city? Have you ever felt like an outsider, and if so, on what do you base your feeling?
11. The friendship between Layla Jay and June develops into a complex relationship. Many changes occur within the friendship, from the day Layla Jay fakes salvation until the last conversation between her and June just before the end of the novel.How did you perceive this relationship and does it seem plausible?
12. Why do you think Layla Jay thinks about commiting suicide? Do you think she seriously considered it? What do you think this indicates about her personality, if anything?
13. Do you think Frieda was justified in attacking Wallace? Do you think she intended to kill him? In your opinion, are crimes of passion more excusable than premeditated crimes?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A coming-of-age story with a dysfuntional parent. Layla Jay is 13 and living with her wild and crazy mother Frieda and her religious grandmother and not so religious grandfather. Not a combination that works well, but Layla Jay is happy with her life. Then a handsome, young preacher sweeps Frieda off of her feet, and there are enormous changes in Layla Jay's life, and not all good ones. The preacher is not what he seems, and Frieda is out of control, and Layla Jay is forced to be the adult. The writing was good, the characters well-written, but the overall story was a little uneven.
In 1963 at the Pisgah Methodist Church, thirteen years old Layla Jay week after week disappoints her grandma by not accepting Brother Thompson¿s offer of salvation. Grandma fears that her only grandchild will follow the sinning examples of her husband and her daughter. However when Jehu Albright comes to the church Layla Jay decides to impress this teenage Steve McQueen hunk of a boy by accepting Brother Thompson¿s prayers................. However God answers in mysertious ways as she sees Jehu with another ¿woman¿, her drunken mother marries Brother Wallace Ebert and is in a car accident, and grandma dies. When Ebert starts with twitching her nose and leering at her, but soon tries to rape Layla Jay, her mom intercedes with a 7-Up bottle. Life will never be the same in this household................... HOT FUDGE SUNDAE BLUES is more than a historical perceptive glimpse of the 1960s in small town Mississippi although that provides the background, the tale is more a deep family drama that looks closely at love between extended kin in spite of flaws, and deception and dishonesty to hide these defects from loved ones. What makes a loving relationship is not just shared gene pool, but the ability to forgive not necessarily to forget even the biggest transgressions. Bev Marshall provides a powerful perspective of the good, the bad, and the ugly of human interactivity............ Harriet Klausner