The Sweetest Thing
This Southern historical novel by Elizabeth Musser is published by Bethany House and written for ages 17 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Atlanta society girl Perri Singleton attends the prestigious Washington Seminary. Unlike most of the nation, she and her friends barely feel the impact of the Great Depression. The same can't be said for Mary "Dobbs" Dillard of Chicago and her family. Dobbs' father is a traveling pastor who gave up his inheritance years earlier. His wealthy sister, Josie, in Atlanta is concerned for Dobbs and her sisters. She invites Dobbs to live with her and attend Washington Seminary.
Perri busies herself with parties, boys and her circle of friends. Dobbs lacks poise and polish, frequently going on about her faith and her experiences at tent meetings. Perri is initially put off by Dobbs, until tragedy strikes. Perri's father, having financial struggles of which she was unaware, hangs himself in the barn. Perri discovers his body. Dobbs comes alongside Perri in ways her society friends don't, and the girls develop a strong friendship.
The girls take turns narrating the story of their time together in Atlanta. Dobbs misses her boyfriend, Hank, a poor, aspiring preacher studying at Moody Bible College. She gets to know Aunt Josie's servant girl and learns the child's mother, Anna, is incarcerated for allegedly stealing from Josie's family. Dobbs doesn't believe Anna is guilty and sets out to find the real thief. She also begins to unravel the secrets of her father's wild past. She learns a girl named Jackie, who often stayed with the family and was a dear friend to her, was actually her half-sister through her father's affair with a prostitute. Jackie's death from a rare hereditary illness still haunts her. When Dobbs' younger sister, Coobie, contracts the same illness, Dobbs' faith in God is shaken. At the same time, Dobbs has begun to embrace society and that lifestyle in Atlanta. She wonders if marrying Hank and giving up all of the luxury to preach at tent meetings is the right decision.
With Dobbs' encouragement and aid, Perri begins to develop her photography skills. She starts making money for her family by taking photos at school and selling them. She's delighted to capture the attention of a particularly wealthy and handsome boy named Spalding. She knows if they were to marry, his fortune would allow her to take care of her own family's financial woes. She's skeptical of Dobbs' talk of a loving heavenly Father. But as she works through her grief in losing her own dad, she starts believing Someone is watching out for her. When Spalding becomes possessive and borderline abusive, Perri breaks off the relationship.
Dobbs suspects that Spalding might be in on the thefts that sent Anna to prison. To help Dobbs, Perri rekindles the relationship to spy on him. In the meantime, Perri gets a job with a local photo shop and meets a traveling photographer named Philip.
Coobie comes to Atlanta for treatment. Though Dobbs' belief in God is wavering, Perri and her friends surround her, pray for her family and raise significant funds to pay Coobie's medical bills. Dobbs works through her anger over her father's youthful indiscretion, and her mother tells her that love and forgiveness have made it possible for them to carry on.
Coobie's condition improves after she's allowed to leave the hospital. Perri and Dobbs discover that Mr. Robinson, a friend of Perri's father, was the thief. Spalding was his accomplice. Robinson was also stealing money from Perri's father, causing the financial distress that led to his suicide. Anna is freed from prison. Dobbs rediscovers her faith in God and decides she can't live without Hank. Perri marries Philip, and they open a photography shop together.
Dobbs initially sees her new Atlanta home as a mission field. She prays for Perri's family and Aunt Josie's servants. She often tells Perri and her friends how she's witnessed God's provision at tent meetings. She gives Perri a special book, which includes Scripture and uplifting quotes, that Hank gave her after she lost Jackie. The book helps build Perri's faith over time. Perri's younger brother asks if their father is in heaven. She says he is, but she wonders if it's so since he took his own life. Dobbs prays God will show himself to Perri in a way she can't help but believe. Perri later receives an old picture of herself sitting in her father's lap that makes her think of the security available through her heavenly Father. She believes it is the answer to Dobbs' prayer. Dobbs starts a Bible study, and several of Perri's friends attend.
Anna says God knows what He's doing by keeping her locked up and that He'll take care of her family. Anna's daughter disagrees, saying she thinks the Lord is taking a long nap.
Dobbs' father attributes the Great Depression to man's greed and God's judgment. Dobbs recalls many of her father's sermons about trusting God before seeking human help. She grew up hearing him preach against temptations — alcohol, cigarettes, dancing and movies. Her father said social dancing was the first and easiest step toward hell. Aunt Josie suggests her brother is an infidel for preaching to others but not providing well financially for his own family.
Dobbs remembers sitting by Jackie's deathbed reading Scripture. Jackie assures Dobbs she will be with the Lord soon. When Dobbs fears another of her sisters is dying, she tells God she hates Him and that He's not really good. Perri and her friends begin supporting Dobbs in prayer when she can't support herself. Dobbs' mother says love combined with forgiveness is the sweetest thing on earth, the crux of human relationships. She assures Dobbs that God doesn't promise life will be without pain, but He does promise He'll never leave us.
Other Belief Systems
Dobbs calls the daughter her father had with a prostitute a b--tard. Perri finds her father's lifeless body hanging from the rafters in the barn.
Spalding kisses Perri, sometimes a bit violently. She asks him to stop, but he says she'll like it because all the girls do. Dobbs goes to her first movie and is embarrassed to see scantily-clad dancers doing a striptease. Dobbs learns that her father had a wild past and fathered a child with a prostitute. Hank kisses Dobbs.
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Smoking/Drinking: Uncle Robert, Hank and other men smoke cigars. Mamma smokes a cigarette. Perri's father and his friends sip brandy while talking business.
Gambling: Mr. Robinson tells Perri's mother that her husband had been gambling. It turns out that Mr. Robinson was the gambler and had been pilfering money from the Singletons. He also stole valuables from other people in their circle to sell and fund his habit.
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Readability Age Range
17 and up