Mercer University Press, March 2020
“A stunning debut, Bells for Eli establishes Susan Beckham Zurenda as one of the most exciting new voices in Southern fiction,” says Cassandra King Conroy, award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of five novels and the memoir Tell Me a Story: My Life with Pat Conroy. “In this tender, beautifully-rendered novel, the powerful connection between cousins Delia and Eli takes them on a journey fraught with longing, desire, and heartbreak. Through loss, Delia comes to understand that the bonds of love can never truly be broken.”
First cousins Ellison (Eli) Winfield and Adeline (Delia) Green are meant to grow up happily and innocently across the street from one another amid the supposed wholesome values of small-town Green Branch, South Carolina, in the 1960s and 70s. But Eli’s tragic accident changes the trajectory of their lives and of those connected to them. Shunned and even tortured by his peers for his disfigurement and frailty, Eli struggles for acceptance in childhood as Delia passionately devotes herself to defending him.
Delia’s vivid and compassionate narrative voice presents Eli as a confident young man in adolescence—the visible damage to his body gone—but underneath hide indelible wounds harboring pain and insecurity, scars that rule his impulses. And while Eli cherishes Delia more than anyone and attempts to protect her from her own troubles, he cares not for protecting himself. It is Delia who has that responsibility, growing more challenging each year.
Bells for Eli is a lyrical and tender exploration of the relationship between cousins drawn together through tragedy in a love forbidden by social constraints and a family whose secrets must stay hidden. Susan Beckham Zurenda masterfully transports readers into a small Southern town where quiet, ordinary life becomes extraordinary. In this compelling coming of age story, culture, family, friends, bullies, and lovers propel two young people to unite to guard each other in a world where love, hope, and connectedness ultimately triumph.
“Bells for Eli, Susan Beckham Zurenda’s finely detailed, debut novel paints a vivid portrait of Adeline Green who is growing up in the 1970s and maneuvering class differences, peer pressure, and first love. The sexual confines of her Southern town as well as taboo family secrets from the past, bring her face to face with life-changing decisions and losses in ways both moving and profound.”
—Jill McCorkle, award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Life After Life
“Susan Beckham Zurenda’s exquisite debut novel transports readers into the small-town South of a supposedly simpler time and place where tragic circumstances and malicious consequences shouldn’t happen. With genuine emotion and a mastery of atmosphere and action, Bells for Eli is a consummate story of determination and love prevailing in a world where cruelty and exclusion threaten to dominate. Stories of the heart don’t get any better than this.”
—Mary Alice Monroe, award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of The Summer Guests
“Bells for Eli is a compelling coming of age tale set in a South Carolina small town during the 1960s and 70s, an era rife with rebellion, passion, and change. Zurenda’s skillful writing and depth of characters swiftly pulled me into this unique story and didn’t let go until its heartrending final pages. A memorable, atmospheric novel of love, friendship, and bonds that surpass all reason.”
—Kristina McMorris, New York Times bestselling author of Sold on a Monday and The Edge of Lost
“Susan Beckham Zurenda is a vibrant new Southern voice. Bells for Eli, her debut novel, will remind readers of Pat Conroy’s rich storytelling. Vivid and beautiful. The book will capture the hearts of those who love the South and in particular South Carolina.”
—Ann Hite, award-winning author of the Black Mountain series and Roll Away the Stone: A Family’s Legacy of Racism and Abuse
“A stunning debut, Bells for Eli establishes Susan Beckham Zurenda as one of the most exciting new voices in Southern fiction. In this tender, beautifully-rendered novel, the powerful connection between cousins Delia and Eli takes them on a journey fraught with longing, desire, and heartbreak. Through loss, Delia comes to understand that the bonds of love can never truly be broken.”
—Cassandra King Conroy, award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of five novels and the memoir Tell Me a Story: My Life with Pat Conroy
“Somewhere between Scout Finch and Mattie Ross comes the remarkable voice of Adeline Green in Susan Beckham Zurenda’s Bells for Eli. This is a heartwarming story of two families—their triumphs and tribulations—all of it enveloped, really, in love and compassion. Zurenda knows the human heart, and her narrator knows the human soul.”
—George Singleton, award-winning author of Staff Picks