Abigail Bennett lives a controlled and sterile life. She is not married, has no close friends, and works too much. She prefers it this way. After all, she created it. But when her sister Hailey commits suicide, Abigail’s controlled world falls apart, and she goes looking for answers as to why her sister did what she did. In Abigail’s mind, the answer lies with Tyler Kamp. So Abigail sets off on a quest to find Tyler. But Tyler has disappeared from the Florida town where they both live so Abigail tracks him down to Canada. Her journey takes her to the small tourist town of Revell, where she finds Tyler and more than she expected.
This book is structured so that you follow the story on three levels — Abigail’s quest to find Tyler, Abigail’s reactions upon finding Hailey’s body, and glimpses into the family history shared by Abigail and Hailey. Because of this structure, reading the book is like peeling back the layers of an onion — you get a little bit more information as each of the stories progress. I thought this was an effective structure, and the author does a good job of tying all the threads together in a coherent whole.
To me, this read like an accurate picture of a very dysfunctional family. Lou (the father) is distant and resentful to Abigail because she takes away his wife’s attention upon her birth, but he falls instantly in love with Hailey and cannot bring himself to accept her problems. Melody (the mother) is a vibrant young mother who fades away from herself and her family after giving birth to Hailey. Hailey is plagued with mental illness (probably bipolar disorder) that no one in the family can bring themselves to face or understand. All of this leaves Abigail in the position of being sister, mother, mediator, and caretaker to Hailey. But, understandably, Abigail yearns for a “normal” life. She continually tries to break free from her family — to live a life free of Hailey’s dramas and problems. But every time Abigail pulls away, Hailey finds a way to draw her back.
I found the “flashback” sequences to Abigail’s childhood to be compelling. I can only imagine how difficult it is to live with a family member who has mental health problems. In the Bennett family, everything revolves around Hailey and how her mental health is at the time. If Hailey is stable, life is good. If Hailey falls apart, life is bad. As the “normal” child, Abigail is kind of shortchanged by having to center her life around Hailey — a situation that creates a love-hate relationship between the sisters.
The sequences where Abigail is tracking down Tyler Kamp were less effective to me. I struggled to believe some of Abigail’s decision-making processes (especially her decision of how to deal with Tyler). Another issue for me was the character of Elijah, who ends up being Abigail’s employer and Tyler’s uncle. This was a little too convenient for me, but I suspect that the Eli character exists to be Abigail’s guide through her crisis. It might sound odd, but it didn’t dawn on me that this was a Christian-based book until the scenes with Eli toward the end of the book. Because I didn’t know it was a Christian book, I was a bit confused about how the relationship between Eli and Abigail developed. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Christian fiction, I just don’t seek it out and I wasn’t aware of the author’s writing slant until the end of the book. (I got the book via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program.) In a way, I think it was a tribute to the book that it is a good story first and a Christian book second. I’m not saying the relationship between Eli and Abigail doesn’t work, but it is definitely the part that makes this a Christian book and not just another contemporary fiction novel. I just didn’t see it coming, and it took me by surprise.
One of the things I did enjoy was the setting of the winery in the sequences where Abigail tracks down Tyler Kamp. There was some interesting writing about the winery and the process of making wines that I actually enjoyed and learned from — and I’m not even a wine drinker!
The last thing I want to share is the e.e. cummings poem that appears at the end of the book. I love e.e. cummings and I hadn’t seen this poem, and I found it very lovely and wanted to share it here.
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
“i carry your heart with me” by e.e. cummings
About the Author
Nicole Baart was born and raised in Iowa, where she and her family live. She taught high school English for several years in Canada but is now a full-time mother of two young sons and the wife of a pastor. She has two previous novels — After the Leaves Fall and its sequel, Summer Snow. Her web site is www.nicolebaart.com.
This is a thought-provoking book about family dysfunction, suicide and dealing with a family member who has a mental illness. It is also a Christian novel that takes on a definite Christian slant toward the end of the book. I enjoyed reading this book, although it is a genre I would not have sought out on my own. If you enjoy well-written family drama and don’t mind a bit of a Christian viewpoint, this would a great book for you.