Reviewed By Allison Ortmann
John Robert has a mission: tell the story of his quirky yet lovable Aunt Hazel. From the day he was born they had a special bond. Unmarried and childless, his Aunt Hazel had loved and cared for him as if he were her own. She would let him shake her old stove-top popcorn popper (a pretty big deal for an eleven year old boy). This exceptional relationship inspired him to record her unusual life, despite the fact that she did not believe she had accomplished anything worth documenting. The relationship between aunt and nephew is shown as Hazel trusts John Robert with some of the best and worst moments of her life, some of which where stories she had never shared with anyone before him.
Hazel Hicks is not your average heroine, neither at her ripe age of 73 or at any point in her episodic life story. She takes us through her life, one unique event after another. From her first date at the age of 15 to the time she spent after graduating college driving a middle school school bus. We get to hear the fantastic tale of her first love and all of the inner workings of her mind and emotions. Through these stories, we learn that Hazel is not your average person. She calls herself a loner, but cares deeply for many people. Her favorite person, her nephew John Robert, described her as “a proud and voraciously articulate person”. She has always been very smart, but instead uses her talented brain to blend in with the scenery and learn about people by watching them rather than interacting. From a very young age she learned how to expertly read others and how one should act. But she decided early on that maybe she did not want to live her life like everyone else. She hid her darkest thoughts from others, but that did not mean that she ceded to society and its norms. She never cared about being popular, she never even cared if she was noticed, but she cared about the people in her life, even those who crossed into her orbit but briefly. She wanted to make sure that everyone in her life was cared for properly, from her own nephew to the children on her school bus. It always seemed like she let herself live her life in the backgrounds of others’, until John Robert decides to bring to light all of her life’s adventures.
Forrest was Hazel’s first real love. His face was disfigured and he was a sweet, caring person whose beauty truly came from within. He did not mind that she did not do her dishes, or pick up her clothes, and shoes, and papers… He picked up after her and he did it cheerfully. They deeply cared for each other and spent many a winter night cozy in his apartment on West End Avenue. He is just one of the many different and interesting people Hazel Hicks met and talked to in her life. She might argue that he was not even one of the important ones.
Through a series of peculiar stories stemming from ordinary pictures and captivating third person stories, David Huddle tells the life story of one remarkable Hazel Hicks. This is not the traditional coming of age story one is used to reading. It is not even the normal age that one would expect to come of. A 73 year old character does not usually have a lot of living left to do, but Hazel’s life is reilluminated by the telling of her stories. While Hazel might think her life has been boring and nothing of note ever happened to her, Huddle, through the character of John Robert, proves her wrong time and time again with every story that gets told. This book shows that every one, even those around you who you might not think important, all have led amazing, significant lives. It demonstrates how people just might surprise you and that you should never assume that you know everything about someone. Huddle portrays an eccentric, strange, lonely old woman in a way that leaves you with a “ dazed expression of an astronaut newly returned from outer space”. It is engaging, thrilling, and different from any other story about a woman from her time. Hazel pushes the edge of societal norms and then storms past them. She does as she wishes and lives the way she wants. She is a complicated, multifaceted character and you never know just what she might do next. She lived her life the way she wanted, the way that made her happy, although that does not mean she never had regrets. Hazel leaves you with the question, what do you think the movie of your life would be?