Crooked Hallelujahby Kelli Jo Ford
The remarkable debut from Plimpton Prize Winner Kelli Jo Ford, Crooked Hallelujah follows four generations of Cherokee women across four decades
It’s 1974 in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and fifteen-year-old Justine grows up in a family of tough, complicated, and loyal women, presided over by her mother, Lula, and Granny. After Justine’s father abandoned the family, Lula became a devout member of the Holiness Church — a community that Justine at times finds stifling and terrifying. But Justine does her best as a devoted daughter, until an act of violence sends her on a different path forever.
Crooked Hallelujah tells the stories of Justine—a mixed-blood Cherokee woman—and her daughter, Reney, as they move from Eastern Oklahoma’s Indian Country in the hopes of starting a new, more stable life in Texas amid the oil bust of the 1980s. However, life in Texas isn’t easy, and Reney feels unmoored from her family in Indian Country. Against the vivid backdrop of the Red River, we see their struggle to survive in a world—of unreliable men and near-Biblical natural forces, like wildfires and tornados—intent on stripping away their connections to one another and their very ideas of home.
In lush and empathic prose, Kelli Jo Ford depicts what this family of proud, stubborn, Cherokee women sacrifice for those they love, amid larger forces of history, religion, class, and culture. This is a big-hearted and ambitious novel of the powerful bonds between mothers and daughters by an exquisite and rare new talent.
“Ford’s storytelling is urgent, her characters achingly human and complex, and her language glittering and rugged. This is a stunner.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Ford’s Crooked Hallelujah is more than just a really great title; it’s the book that’s going to be taught in creative writing programs for decades to come… What else can you say about a writer who won the prestigious Plimpton Prize and was published in the Paris Review right out of the gate? Nothing beyond ‘Take my money.’”—Buzzfeed
“Kelli Jo Ford’s Crooked Hallelujah masterfully evokes loss and displacement, steeped in Native American culture, rife with compassion and deep understanding. Kelli Jo Ford is a powerful new Native American writer who writes beautifully with stunning prose! She is brilliant, and I can’t wait for people to read her amazing book.”—Brandon Hobson, 2018 National Book Award Finalist and author of Where the Dead Sit Talking
“Crooked Hallelujah is an intricate, soulful look at three generations of Cherokee women pushed (in Philip Larkin’s phrase) to the side of their own lives. At turns gripping and moving, Kelli Jo Ford’s characters and the Oklahoma and Texas landscape take center stage in a truly modern drama. Ford sidesteps the easy tropes of spirituality and connection to nature and has created a modern masterpiece peopled with complex, fully-realized characters. A huge achievement.”—David Treuer
“Startling close-ups of the sticky relationship between mothers and daughters, between body and nature, between childhood certainties and adult skepticism. Kelli Jo Ford’s writing is heartfelt and brimming with talent. This is a stunning, awe-inspiring debut.”—Leila Aboulela
“Kelli Jo Ford’s writing is a high priority and will only gain in the world’s esteem… [her work] contains beauty and unexpected new intelligence.”—Richard Ford on Kelli Jo Ford’s “Hybrid Vigor,” winner of the 2019 Plimpton Prize