Wm Morrow, 2014
my copy from the publisher, thanks!
The premise of this novel is a really good one. Two little girls, Easter, twelve and Ruby, six, are taken into foster care at a place described as a facility for youth at risk when their mother dies. Their dad, ex-minor league baseball player Wade, is long out of the picture, having earlier signed away his parental rights. Now he's back again and he wants his children back. He tries to do things above board, but of course, that doesn't work, so he feels his only recourse is to take them. But he's got a huge problem: while he's on the run with the girls, trying to keep them together as a family and to be a dad, someone with a financial motive who also wants revenge is hot on Wade's trail, and so is the girls' guardian-ad-litem, an ex-cop whose past continues to haunt him. Yet, even with such a good premise behind this story, there was so much potential for depth here that just wasn't brought out in the telling.
My main issue with this novel is that I think the author did his readers a disservice by shifting points of view among three different characters. The most poignant voice of the three is Easter, coming across realistically as a twelve year-old girl trying to make sense out of a world that's been upended for her and her little sister more than once. It is really her story -- left without a mom, she's now in the hands of a dad she really doesn't know, and on top of that, she's got her little sister to think of. Through her voice it becomes obvious that Wade has no clue about how to raise children -- that he wants them because they're his and in his mind, family should be together. The author's really done a good job with her -- so why move from viewpoint to viewpoint? The story would have been much more powerful, and the theme of the "emotional pull of family" as described on the back cover would have come across so much more powerfully if we saw this story through Easter's eyes. Brady, the guardian-ad-litem, has his own past issues, and despite his breakup with his wife who got custody of their daughter, he's a good, attentive dad with a kid who has had a happy childhood. The third perspective, that of Pruitt who's after Wade for a combination of personal and monetary reasons, just takes the reader through a long and violent journey that keeps Wade and the girls on the run. I get that the reader needs the backstory, but still ... I was so taken with Easter that I couldn't wait to get back to her chapters.
I went into this book without any expectations, but in my opinion, there's a lot missing here. As just one example, the reader is introduced to the girls' mom Corinne pretty much just as she's dying from an apparent drug overdose. We learn later that she met Wade in Alaska, they fell for each other, and ended up in Gastonia, North Carolina, where Wade played minor-league baseball. There's no mention of how she got to such a low point that Easter is reluctant to even call 911:
"I knew how people would think of us when they came inside in a few hours to get Mom and take us away to wherever we'd be going. they'd see that we didn't have any furniture except for a plastic deck chair and two folding chairs that you might take to the beach. And they'd see that me and Ruby didn't have beds but just slept on mattresses on the floor that had mismatched sheets on them. They'd know that I' called them from the corner store because we didn't have a phone, and they'd see that even if we'd had food we didn't have no clean plates to eat from."Basically, we have no idea what's happened -- and it might have made a difference in whether or not I would have rooted for Wade to succeed. Was she a bad mom? Would the girls have been better off with their father? We don't know. For that matter, we know very little about Wade, except that he grew up in North Charleston, played baseball for a while, then got involved in some shady doings. We know that he's back for another chance at being a dad. That's pretty much it.
Finally, although Wade ultimately steps up to the plate (pardon the pun) and shows how much he cares for his girls, there just isn't enough emotional tug that develops from him to have made me cheer or clap or say "hey, way to go - now there's a great dad." Frankly, I had zero sympathy for him at all -- I wasn't, to use the stock phrase, all that much invested in his character.
However, let me say that while this book just wasn't a good fit for this reader, it's getting screaming good reviews everywhere -- people are loving it. There I go swimming upstream again -- I just wanted more depth where I felt there wasn't very much. I will say, however, that his A Land More Kind Than Home looks really intriguing, so I am definitely planning on picking up a copy.
I read this book for the lovely people at tlc book tours, and I seem to be the last stop on this tour. However, if you want to check out what other people said about this book, you can click here.