This is a story of family dynamics, secrets, hidden sin and its consequences. Ultimately there is redemption, forgiveness and peace, but the journey from heartbreak to healing is long and rocky, full of twists and unexpected turns, lies and deception. The question that continually ran through my mind while I was reading this book was, “How could such a seemingly invisible act lead to such enormous, far-reaching consequences?”
Suzanne Zimmerman grew up in an Old Order Mennonite community in rural Kansas. But at the age of 17, she suddenly discovered she was to become an unwed mother. She confided this to her mother who immediately made arrangements to send her daughter off to another Mennonite community to adopt the baby out to Suzanne’s cousin Andrew and his wife. But the experience was more traumatic than she expected, and when the time came, she elected to stay in Indianapolis. At the new church where she attended, Suzanne met a couple who essentially adopted her, encouraged her to get her high school graduation equivalent (GED), and schooling for her RN degree. The story picks up twenty years later: Suzanne was now living contentedly on her own, working the night shift as a nurse at a Mennonite missionary hospital. She loved coming home to her apartment where her 19-year-old daughter, Alexa, usually had a meal prepared for them. Alexa was an amazing cook.
Alexa and Suzanne’s lives took a sudden right turn when they received a letter from a younger brother who informed them that Suzanne’s mother was seriously injured in a farming accident and was unable to walk. She was now confined to a wheelchair. Clete wanted Suzanne to return to Arborville to help the family take care of her. For awhile, she was torn about making such a momentous decision, but she finally decided to take a leave of absence of a few months. The really difficult decision to make was whether to take Alexa with her. It meant having to risk revealing a few secrets she had kept from her family, and even from Alexa herself.
Alexa was beside herself with excited anticipation about meeting her family for the first time. She really didn’t know what to expect. She had visualized a joyful, boisterous reunion, happy faces, and welcoming tears. But when that didn’t happen, she realized that no one had known about her. Why hadn’t her mother told them about her? What puzzled her more was the silent tension and apparent resentment her mother was greeted with. But Alexa was made of sterner stuff, and she was determined to melt the ice and win her family over, beginning with her grandmother, Abigail Zimmerman.
While this is a character-driven book dealing mostly with mother/daughter issues, the author manages to ramp up the tension and suspense by revealing only a little bit of information at a time. The reader is forced to make numerous assumptions which turn out to be erroneous when major bumps in the road appear. This is the writing strategy that keeps us on the edge of our seats and turning the pages. Because of this, I managed to read the 344-page book in just a few days.
Another thing I liked about this book is the complexity of the situation. Suzanne had a large family, and her disappearance made ripples that upset the lives of her former boyfriend, all her brothers and sisters, her mother and father, and Alexa. The book explores many of these problem areas while still keeping the focus mainly on Suzanne, her mother, and Alexa. At times, it didn’t look as if any resolution could be reached with Mrs. Zimmerman and some of the family members. But in the end, the seemingly impossible becomes possible and the final events resolve satisfactorily.
Even though the subject matter is serious and the darkness of discord runs constantly throughout the plot line, the author was still able to add moments of humor and light. Suzanne’s former boyfriend, Paul Aldrich, had gotten married after she had left. He had a son Danny before his wife died of cancer. The boy has a great sense of mischief and lends comic relief to the story. Many times, the author also defuses tense moments through Alexa’s light and cheerful personality. One of my favorite funny moments, however, occurred when Mother Zimmerman, Suzanne, Alexa, and Shelley took a day trip to Wichita. Just when you think Shelley’s bad attitude would ruin the trip for the women, Mrs. Zimmerman’s former wry humor finally broke through the awkwardness and anger. It was a moment of hope and a turning point in the story.
Finally, in spite of the fact this is not a romance story, Suzanne’s former love interest is another major element of the story because Paul is the carpenter refitting the house to accommodate the wheelchair. He is constantly present and both Paul and Suzanne realize they must come to terms with their former relationship and their current feelings for each other. Unfortunately, this is one of the threads that remains unresolved by the end of the book. But I have hopes it will be settled in the next book, which focuses on Alexa’s new life among the Zimmermans.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Waterbrook Press and the website, Blogging for Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”