... more than promising ... Kelli Jo Ford summons the details of minimum-wage life in the last quarter of the 20th century. She does this without cluttering her spare sentences, which is why her details resonate ... This is a novel in stories, a dread form in the wrong hands. The point of view shifts, vertiginously, from one chapter to the next, as if you are watching a heist from multiple security cameras. But Crooked Hallelujah has a supple cohesiveness ... As a writer, Ford is quietist. Her book reads like a series of acoustic songs recorded on a single microphone in a bare room with a carpet. There are times when you might wish for more boldness, but she never puts a wrong foot. This is a writer who carefully husbands her resources. Small scenes begin to glitter ... has an elegiac rather than a comic tone. Yet when I combed back through my notes, I realized that so many moments had made me smile ... Ford’s novel finds its center of gravity at the intimate human level.
... [a] masterpiece ... Even through its harsh circumstances and looming disappointments, Crooked Hallelujah/ maintains a sense of hope, centering the women as sources of light in the tiny communities where they land. Its closing scenes are overt in their biblical tie-ins, but also so consistent with what precedes them that they force rear-gazing considerations: was the divine present in every event of the women’s lives after all? Or was it their fierce, life-giving love for one another that most warranted emulation and awe? ... Its events like psalms for mother-daughter bonds, Kelli Jo Ford’s novel celebrates bold, everyday acts of enduring love.
Kelli Jo Ford takes her readers on a compelling journey through the evolving terrain of multiple generations of women ... Ford unfolds Justine’s story without passing judgment, which is one of the great strengths of Crooked Hallelujah; she writes close to her characters, the narrative stripping away explanations, allowing readers to feel real involvement in the action ... Ford’s connection to her characters shines through the writing, infusing these voices with a sweet, sidelong zing ... This language is rich but never dense. There’s a lightness to the perspective which shifts and bends, prismed by a matrilineal succession of Cherokee and mixed-race women ... while there is great pain, there’s also great compassion and generosity toward these characters ... we are fortunate readers to be taken along on her remarkable journey.
... an ode to the fearsome bond between mothers and daughters, and to the way that potent connection twists and tightens over the span of a life — especially in the absence of fathers ... cleverly connected stories ... Ford’s pages ache with tenderness and love and no small amount of frustration — her characters are all trapped in different ways, by crappy jobs with too-small paychecks, by men who fail to do right or stay, by the debt of love they owe their mothers, their daughters ... isn’t a mournful novel. Ford’s prose is so absorbing that you’re right there, helping Justine and Reney free a garbage bag full of goldfish or watching the sunset with them over Lake Tenkiller; their lives are difficult, yes, but full of joy, too. Now and then, Ford will turn up the volume in a sentence, sing a little...Ford’s writing is full of poetry. These stories stand up beautifully to rereading; they made me excited for what the writer will do next ... The intricate web of love, memory and blood that binds the women in Crooked Hallelujah together feels as if it were born of careful attention, of listening.
... innovative ... a powerful, carefully observed family drama ... Ford, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, offers a novel in short stories, allowing her to move with ease through perspectives, history and time. Each heartbreaking chapter slowly adds to the reader’s understanding of these women and their increasingly difficult lives. It’s the content of those lives that sets Ford’s novel apart ... Readers who are looking for a literary version of an Edward S. Curtis painting will be disappointed; Crooked Hallelujah isn’t an opportunity for non-Cherokee readers to get an inside look at Cherokee culture. Which is entirely the point.
... stunning and lovable ... Ford has drawn characters who are earthy, honest and believable in how they resolve or reconcile to difficulties ... There are so many passages in this book that are moving ... The last chapter of Crooked Hallelujah. is apocalyptic and takes a courageous step into speculative fiction. This works very well, seamlessly really, with the foundation of the intergenerational story holding the world down, 'in the way that Cherokee women do.'
... rolls about like a tumbleweed buffeted by desert breezes, meandering aimlessly around thorny issues of intergenerational poverty and female despair but never quite launching into a satisfying story or even providing a convincing case for mediocrity ... These secondary characters outshine the three women because they are more complex and surprising ... The slow death of this novel can be traced to one fatal flaw: Its main characters are boring. They cling to soul-shredding creeds and rancid men and exhibit an infuriating lack of agency. Instead of evolving in dramatic or profound ways, they remain passive and long-suffering. As a consequence, the story fails to move the reader ... Toward the end of Crooked Hallelujah, Ford implies that education and reason is the antidote to these thwarted female lives ... The novel concludes with a disjointed 30-page section on apocalyptic forces of nature scouring Texas, but I’d rather end on this focused and hopeful note. Perhaps a brighter future awaits for at least one of these pitiful women.
In an explosive and deeply emotional debut novel, Kelli Jo Ford keeps a tight rein on the prose and lures the reader into the world of these women, held together by the threads of blood, anger, and the complex duty to self and to each other ... While Crooked Hallelujah outlines the adversity and poor choices of these women in Cherokee Nation, the story is filled with ardent beauty in serving ailing and aging mothers and forgiving them for their harsh judgement and unrelenting desire to make life better for the daughters that follow ... The narration in Crooked Hallelujah teeters between choppy and smooth as silk, based on the specific point of view, providing an undulating movement that mimics the solid yet tough love for each other that flows through the veins of these women. The dialogue often comes across as lamenting as the women express resentment at life’s fickleness and unfairness and then switches to a gentle caress as each daughter acknowledges her mother’s strengths and weaknesses. Toward the end of the story, the apocalyptic scenario in the small town of Bonita provides poignant imagery of how the lives and loves of these women change and collapse into chaos yet remain linked by that resilient thread that refuses to unravel, even when everything has devolved into wreckage and everyone else is gone ... While Crooked Hallelujah is short on humor and lightheartedness, and at least one subplot needs a bit more closure, readers will appreciate and perhaps relate to the realistic breakdown of relationships within families and eventual reconciliation, or at least an attempt at compromise and acceptance, that brings everyone back together. Real life between mothers and daughters is both exquisite and messy, and Ford masterfully shows that amidst all the disarray and bruised lives is a love so strong that nothing and no one can extinguish it ... Ford captures the tension and grace of these relationships, crafting an exceptional story that places the reader firmly in the midst of these lives, feeling the heartache and hope across the pages.
... [an] engaging composite debut ... The volume’s fluid perspective encourages the generational swirl. ... it also requires that we let the intricate text unfold. At times, our viewfinder has to be adjusted ... Taking the stories together invites us to superimpose how Justine, both a teenage daughter and mother-to-be in the opening chapter, sees her daughter, Reney, and how Reney sees Justine.
Kelli Jo Ford’s first book, composed of interlocking stories set in Oklahoma and North Texas, is like a wildfire that slowly approaches a home and then whips through an entire region ... Several powerful pieces stand out in this novel-in-stories ... Crooked Hallelujah is an imperfect work. Some tales, such as that of a lesbian couple menaced in their trailer home, seem out of place, and readers may find the timeline difficult to follow. But Ford’s voice rises above the tumult.
Kelli Jo Ford makes a magnificent #OwnVoices debut ... Ford's interlinked structure allows for an intriguing, vast cast ... A citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Ford adroitly, affectingly weaves indigenous history into her spellbinding narrative, exposing displacement, unacknowledged violence, cultural erasure, relentless racism and socioeconomic disparity. Post-publication, Ford should expect plenty of applause and awards to come.
... a blistering Own Voices tale that spans generations. The novel reads like a set of interlinked short stories, yet there is a narrative thread that runs through each of them, connecting the reader to the heart of a family of Cherokee women ... an electrifying conclusion. Ford’s lyrical writing emphasizes both the hardships and the deeply connected relationships of the characters. The theme of the weather as villain illustrates the unopposable forces Cherokee women must contend with, including the tyranny of society and of men. A riveting and important read.
n lieu of numbered chapters, Ford organizes the novel into lyrically titled sections ... Some of the most dramatic subplots unfold within the lives of minor characters—such as a young neighbor who must defend his adopted family from a home break-in—and never fully resolve, which can feel dissatisfying. Overall, though, the dynamic relationships among the main characters carry the novel across these gaps. Ford’s prose glows brightest in the quiet moments among family members ... A tender and ambitious praise-song of a novel about a family's fight for survival, love, and home.
In Plimpton Prize–winner Ford’s gritty, elegant debut novel in stories...Ford’s storytelling is urgent, her characters achingly human and complex, and her language glittering and rugged. This is a stunner.