The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove

Written by Susan Gregg Gilmore
Review by Nanette Donohue

The first daughter of every generation of Grove women is named Bezellia, after the family’s courageous and iconoclastic matriarch, and teenage Bezellia Grove has grown up amid the stifling pressure of family names and expectations. The Groves are one of Nashville’s finest families, and like many fine families, they hide their secrets well. Bezellia’s mother’s dreams of being a grande dame of society are derailed by her alcoholism, and Bezellia’s father is a doctor who is frequently absent. Bezellia’s main caretakers are the family’s housekeeper, Maizelle, and their handyman, Nathaniel. When Bezellia meets Nathaniel’s teenage son, Samuel, she is instantly attracted to him, though their relationship goes against everything that both teens have been raised to believe. Bezellia finally finds her match in quick-witted, ambitious Samuel. When both families begin to suspect the relationship, Bezellia is sent to spend the summer with her grandparents, where she has a rebound relationship with another unlikely young man—this one, a country boy from the wrong side of the tracks.

Gilmore captures the spirit of 1960s Nashville, a place where the status quo is challenged by the burgeoning civil rights movement. She also describes the tense relationship between the African-American servants employed by many Southern families and the families who employ them. Looking back, we know that the South was changing, and we know that this change, built as it was on centuries of oppression and inequality, was both hard-won and resented by many. Bezellia seems to be an emblem of this New South, a young woman willing to speak up and fight against oppression and inequality. Though Gilmore is occasionally a bit heavy-handed in nailing this point home, Bezellia’s story is engaging, and you’ll find yourself wanting her to change the world for the better.