Susan Beckham Zurenda, The Girl from the Red Rose Motel, in conversation with Marjorie Hudson
Impoverished high school junior Hazel Smalls and affluent senior Sterling Lovell would never ordinarily meet. But when both are punished with in-school suspension, Sterling finds himself drawn to the gorgeous, studious girl seated nearby, and an unlikely relationship begins. Set in 2012 South Carolina, the novel interlaces the stories of Hazel, living with her homeless family in the rundown Red Rose Motel; Sterling, yearning to break free from the expectations of his wealthy parents; and recently widowed Angela Wilmore, their stern but compassionate English teacher. Hazel hides her homelessness from Sterling until he discovers her cleaning the motel’s office one morning when he goes with his slumlord father to unfreeze the motel’s pipes. With her secret revealed, their relationship deepens. Angela, who has her own struggles in a budding romance with the divorced principal, offers Hazel the support her family can’t provide. Navigating between privilege and poverty, vulnerability and strength, all three must confront what they need from themselves and each other as Hazel gains the courage to oppose boundaries and make a bold, life-changing decision at novel’s end.
Gripping and richly drawn, The Girl from the Red Rose Motel explores the complex bonds between adults and teenagers and the power of the families we both inherit and create. Inspired by the author’s experiences teaching in a South Carolina high school, the novel is also an unflinching, authentic look at the challenges faced by America’s public school teachers and the struggles of thousands of homeless children in motels who live, precariously and almost invisibly, amid the nation’s most affluent communities.
Susan Beckham Zurenda taught English for thirty-three years to college and high school students. Her debut novel, Bells for Eli, has received several awards including first place for Best First Book–Fiction in the 2021 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Zurenda has also published and won numerous awards for her short fiction. A life-long South Carolinian, she lives in Spartanburg.