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on The Girl from the Red Rose Motel

Formerly an educator herself, Zurenda dedicates this book to her students, whose lives likely included some of the issues showcased here: homelessness, hunger, abuse, addiction, unplanned pregnancy, and other grown-up problems. The character of Angela reflects Zurenda’s own generous and compassionate heart toward her fictional characters and the very real young people they represent. 

Tina Chambers

So many hot button contemporary issues permeate this story—abortion rights, addiction, bullying, foster parenting, LGBTQ concerns, and more—and Zurenda handles them all nimbly and with grace.  The life-altering decision Hazel makes near the novel’s conclusion packs a punch, and she, Sterling, and Angela will stay indelibly with the reader long after the last page is turned in this splendid book.

Peter Schmitt

These nice people are vulnerable to catastrophe and in fact things get worse, fast. Imagine all the things that could go wrong—death, injury, public disgrace, heartbreak, depression, confusion, loneliness—all this and more shall come to pass, and yet there is, in moderation, a happy ending.

Don Noble

“The Girl from the Red Rose Motel” adds an inviting new volume to the contemporary coming-of-age literature of the American South and of the Palmetto State specifically. Zurenda has crafted an empowering narrative of against-the-odds perseverance and self-discovery in young adult lives, and a welcome defense of the challenging but nonetheless rewarding and absolutely essential work of educators and mentors.

Jonathan Haupt

Deftly crafted with an impressive eloquence, "The Girl from the Red Rose Motel" showcases author Susan Beckham Zurenda's genuine flair for the kind of narrative driven storytelling that makes for effective literary fiction. A novel that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. 

The Midwest Book Review

Zurenda populates this modern-day spin on a Romeo-and-Juliet pairing with superb characters: Hazel is resilient and selfless, while the privileged Sterling earns sympathy for his status as a former victim of bullying. The supporting cast is indelible.... The author’s effortless prose breathes life into every scene, even sequences as prosaic as Angela throwing together a spaghetti dinner and internally debating which wine to pair with it. . . . [and] the ending packs a sensational dramatic punch.

Kirkus Reviews

Go ahead and block off a weekend for this one because you will not want to put it down. It’s fiction, yes, but the people are made real in the hands of Zurenda. The story is moving and layered. . . .This lovely story is a treasure.

Chris Worthy

Zurenda, who was herself a high school and college English teacher for more than thirty years, knows her territory, and has created some very sympathetic and utterly believable characters and a story that kept me turning pages way past my regular bedtime. I couldn't WAIT to find out what would happen next. It's that good, really. And it's a story which touches on so many important issues too - class, racism, poverty, homelessness, abortion and more. And a couple of very affecting love stories in the mix too. I was quickly caught up.

Tim Bazzett

Book Reviewer

Susan Beckham Zurenda was a high school and college-level English teacher for many years, imbuing  this story with from-the-heart authenticity. Readers will be immersed from start to finish. This book is recommended for all who enjoy contemporary stories about young people, unexpected relationships and the courage to face difficulty and do the right thing. 

Glenda Harris

The Bluffton Sun/Hilton Head Sun

When driving through a small town or down a lonely road in South Carolina, you might find dilapidated motels and enormous mansions. The imagination can run wild thinking about the possible tales that emanate from these spaces. Author Susan Beckham Zurenda explores what those places might hold in her latest novel, The Girl from the Red Rose Motel.

Kevin Young

Angela Wilmore is a caring, firm and dedicated teacher committed to broadening her students' minds and hearts with the stories they read along with teaching the AP curriculum she's required to cover. In many ways, this book reads ike a love letter to teachers at a time when the profession is bombarded with a lack of support from administration, increasingly unrealistic expectations, and pressure of high stakes testing, harassment from parents and low pay, among other challenges.

Amber Wheeler Bacon

There is an interesting dynamic at play in these pages because Zurenda’s storytelling is well-paced with a number of side stories that propel the book forward, but she also creates friction in not allowing Zell an easy path to the future we all want for her.

Drew Gallagher

This is a beautiful story, written with great understanding for the characters, who are very real. . .. Best of all, love plays a big and unexpected role on many fronts here, despite social differences that will not be denied.

Barbara Lingens

Selected Interviews


Bells for Eli delivers a haunting coming-of-age narrative, a destroyed Southern childhood, forbidden love, and a tragic twist. Think of a Tennessee Williams story that takes place in the ’60s and ’70s.

Jeannie Ralston


“Bells for Eli” is an impressive debut novel. One might think the story of life in a small Southern town had been sufficiently covered, but Zurenda is a compelling storyteller and has in fact given it a surprising new twist. 

Don Noble

Tuscaloosa News

"Zurenda’s book calls up memories of the unmoored adolescents of Carson McCullers in The Heart is a Lonely Hunterand and The Member of the Wedding and the youngsters in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird."

Dr. Steven Whitton

The Anniston Star

on Bells for Eli

"[Bells for Eli] is deeply moving, troubling, and gloriously poetic. It brings to life small town South Carolina during the 1960s and 70s in a gorgeous and profound tale of the heart’s competing destinies. . . Zurenda knows her characters well and shares her understanding with harrowing honesty. . . . A terrific multi-generational tale."

Philip K. Jason

Southern Literary Review

“Zurenda is a brilliant writer and to make it even better a brilliant southern writer. . . . For me reading this story was like going home. I knew this town, knew these people, knew this world. Zurenda spoke to me in a way few authors have in the past.  . . . .Mark down her name – Susan Beckham Zurenda. You are going to hear a lot more from her and about her.”

Jackie K. Cooper

Book Reviews by Jackie K. Cooper

“The novel’s sensitive but grounded voice seamlessly integrates Gothic elements, the cousins’ emotional arcs, and the shifting cultural landscape. Insightful and assured, Zurenda’s haunting coming-of-age story should appeal to fans of nuanced and atmospheric Southern fiction.” 

Publisher's Weekly

Publisher's Weekly

“This is a complicated love story in which, despite everything, the readers root for Eli and Delia.” 

Lacey Lyons

Southern Review of Books

In “Bells For Eli,” [Zurenda] delivers a poignant, unforgettable coming-of-age story and what should be a serious contender for best debut novel.   

Glenda Harris

Bluffton Sun

Zurenda’s emphasis on the power of words — to both hurt and heal — is poignantly portrayed in Bells for Eli.   

Tina Chambers

Chapter 16 (Humanities Tennessee)

Selected Interviews

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