In The Sweetest Thing by Elizabeth Musser, Perri Singleton belongs to a well-to-do family in Atlanta in 1933. She attends a private girls’ high school, goes to parties and dances, has tons of friends and dates, and doesn’t have to worry about much in the world.
Her mother’s best friend, Mrs. Chandler, had invited her niece to live with her and get an education at Perri’s school. The niece, Mary Dobbs Dillard, is about Perri’s age, but her family lives in Chicago and doesn’t have much money. Her father is an evangelist, not a well-paying profession in itself, but the family tends to give much of their resources away to help the poor. Mrs. Chandler thought Mary Dobbs intelligent and wanted to help with her education. So she asks Perri and her mother to accompany her to pick Dobbs (as she prefers to be called) up at the train station. They agree, and Perri is expecting a ragged waif. But Mary Dobbs is gorgeous, yet in an “unorthodox” way that doesn’t fit in with the current styles. She’s also a bit overenthusiastic, talkative, and religious.
Perri’s not particularly impressed, but on that very same day, her world falls apart, and Dobbs ends up becoming her closest friend.
There are so many layers to this book. Friendship, obviously. Differences between rich and poor. Dobbs realizes that she has misjudged wealthy people, and they’re not all selfish – some of them are quite generous, with an eye to helping the poor. And she starts to get used to having enough to eat, beautiful clothes, and little luxuries. Crises of faith for both Perri and Dobbs, in different ways. Life in the South in those times. Figuring out how to live out your faith in a foreign situation. Finding your gifts and your place in life. Family secrets. And even a mystery about stolen items, misplaced blame, threats, and deceit.
I feel like I am not telling you enough about the book, but there is so much I don’t want to give away. Here are just a couple of quotes:
Faith doesn’t work that way. You don’t just believe when you get everything you want. That’s not our choice. We share in the sufferings of others….We bear the burdens together. We take what comes, and we believe. It’s not down here that it will all be equal and okay. It’s later. Here, well, the Lord promised us sometimes we will have hardship and suffering. He also promised He’d never leave us. His presence, His holy presence is with us here. And later, there, that’s when the tears will be wiped away. Later.
I always thought of God like that—providing in the nick of time—believing in Him got me something: a miracle, or at least help. God owed me something. But…it wasn’t working….And finally it hit me. Selfishly, I wanted a formula to fit God into, something that could be explained….It had almost seemed easy – the way He’d provided for us so many times before. But Mother was right. God was past understanding, and He was asking me to trust Him as a good God and Father before I knew there would be [an answer.]
I loved this book and felt right along with the girls and all they were going through. Elizabeth Musser is one of my favorite authors. She says her books are “entertainment with a soul.” They are indeed.