It is a pleasure to review and recommend this compelling story, a debut novel from life-long South Carolinian Susan Beckham Zurenda, who lives in Spartanburg. A former English teacher, her fiction short stories and non-fiction works have been published in literary journals, earning her several awards.
In “Bells For Eli,” she delivers a poignant, unforgettable coming-of-age story and what should be a serious contender for best debut novel.
We meet cousins, Eli and Delia (Dee) when they are just 3 years old. It is at this time that Eli is critically injured in an accident at home. Interestingly, the author said the seed of this idea came from a similar life-changing event that occurred in her family, adding that all else in this book is fiction.
Set in rural South Carolina during the 1960s and ’70s, Eli and Delia live across the street from one another. From the time they are toddlers, they are the best of friends, doing everything together, looking out for one another.
Eli’s recovery from injuries sustained in the accident is long and difficult, with scars and ongoing difficulties he must deal with every day. Delia, ever cognizant of Eli and his moods, is like a “mother hen,” trying to protect Eli as they grow older – and as he begins to take chances and behave recklessly.
For those who grew up in this time period, the references to iconic mid-century fashions and fads (remember 6 oz. glass Coke bottles and Barbie dolls?) will be nostalgic; however, the book will appeal to all ages, including teens.
Only recently released, “Bells For Eli” is garnering high praise from some of South Carolina’s best-known writers including Mary Alice Monroe, who said: “Bells for Eli is a consummate story of determination and love prevailing in a world where cruelty and exclusion threaten to dominate. Stories of the heart don’t get any better than this.”
Cassandra King Conroy wrote, “A stunning debut, ‘Bells for Eli’ establishes Susan Beckham Zurenda as one of the most exciting new voices in Southern Fiction.”
Heartwarming and heartbreaking in turn, readers will adore Eli and Delia and marvel at their extraordinary bond of friendship. There is much more to this story than I have touched on here, so go to your favorite bookstore now and get a copy. I highly recommend it.
For more information, visit susanzurenda.com. “Bells For Eli” is available from Amazon and independent booksellers nationwide.
Glenda Harris is a freelance writer and editor, nature lover and aspiring novelist.