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Dorothy Fletcher
In the summer of 1968, the Vietnam War raged, the Civil Rights movement spread across the land, and the Sexual Revolution began to impact the lives of Americans. After her graduation from high school, Sadie Wainwright joined the ranks of the Howard Johnson Restaurant empire by becoming a HOJO Girl at the Golfair Howard Johnson in Jacksonville, Florida. Behind the gleaming counters of this popular eating establishment, Sadie grew up, learning life's lessons as a waitress, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. HOJO Girl is Sadie's insightful journey into womanhood in the turbulent year of 1968, but even with the troubles of that time, life was often made bearable by the bliss of Howard Johnson Ice cream served by a HOJO Girl on the road to somewhere else.
The HOJO Girl, poet and Jacksonville historian Fletcher’s latest novel, reads like a satisfying scoop of Pistachio ice cream on a sweltering day. Readers meet protagonist Sadie Wainwright in June of 1968 on the first day of her summer job as a Howard Johnson’s waitress, or “HOJO Girl.” Nervous and naive, Sadie promptly spills a tray of ice water onto a table of customers. At the time, this accident is the worst scenario Sadie could imagine, as her primary concerns in life are trying all 28 flavors of Howard Johnson’s ice cream by the end of the summer and saving tips for college tuition.

As the summer goes on, however, her innocent worldview is challenged by her blossoming sexuality, an older brother wounded in the war, and racial tensions between her coworkers and peers. Sadie’s summer follows a pattern of conflicts that test her naivety and faith in human nature. Amidst these challenges and tests of courage, she proves herself a character who always sees the good in others.

Fletcher’s storytelling illustrates events and themes familiar in stories about the late 1960’s, but here they’re drenched in warm nostalgia rather than cliche. The milieu is evoked with power and specificity: “Once the restaurant was totally prepared for customers—coffee made, butter softening, jelly jars set out, ice chests filled with crushed ice and tables set—the waitresses sat in a booth up front and sipped coffee together.” Each character is richly drawn, with distinct narrative voices and clear goals that work in preparing Sadie for the real world. While Sadie and her love interest Allan agree that “people are generally crazy,” each challenge they face—from robbery to death—ultimately proves the wisdom of Sadie’s father to be true: “...there are good and bad people everywhere. You need to judge people in relation to how they treat you, not how other people want you to relate to them.”

Takeaway: This tender coming-of-age novel resonates with life lessons and a long-gone late ‘60s world.

Great for fans of: Elin Hilderbrand’s Summer of ‘69, Sherry Shahan’s Purple Daze.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-