Bells for Eli

Written by Susan Beckham Zurenda
Review by Janice Ottersberg

Cousins Delia and Eli grow up in a small town in South Carolina during the ´60s and ´70s. The book opens in 1978 when Delia has dropped out of her senior year in college, drowning in emotional pain. Looking back to 1959, Delia narrates the story of what brought her to the point of anguish she now faces. When she and Eli are three years old, he drinks from a coke bottle filled with lye. Through his torturous recovery, the two cousins become very close. This accident leaves permanent internal scarring and pain after his voice is restored and he can eat normally again. The cousins’ world is shaken when a young woman, Francie, arrives to work at his grandmother’s house and they witness a shocking event that opens their eyes to the harshness of the world and impossible choices that adults must face. Eli intuitively feels Francie is somehow linked with his grandmother’s past. He doggedly works to uncover that secret, against Delia’s advice.

The love between Delia and Eli grows through the ups and downs of childhood and into their teen years. The good and bad of their high school days are realistically portrayed – dating, dances, friendships, risk-taking, drugs. For readers who also grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, the way of life and the references to popular culture give a sense of nostalgia. The motif of bells rings throughout the book. The novel is at turns heartwarming and tragic. It moves from quiet and slow-moving to tension and trepidation. Good pacing reveals the events that brought Delia to 1978 and a pivotal point in her life. This novel of an unbreakable bond and genuine love between Delia and Eli is a moving and worthwhile read.