I’m ashamed to admit that I was reluctant to read this book. The title didn’t really grab me. Maybe because I live in Wisconsin near Oakfield and didn’t think that a book about Oakville would be all that interesting. So why did I read it? Well, to be honest – because two authors I admire wrote it: Shellie Neumeier and Lisa Lickel.
This book is an inspirational contemporary story about small town life and a family that hails from there. There is action, romance, a struggle against local politics and the desire to preserve heritage. What is unique about this story is that it is one series of events that is told in novellas based on the perspective of four members of one family.
The first to tell her story is Tessa. A mom of two grown daughters and a grandmother who is rooted to her hometown and willing to dig those roots in deeper even at the expense of her marriage. She is plagued by a secret from her past that threatens to explode in the midst of her present challenges. Is her marriage doomed? And how will she deal with the man from her past that stirs up pain and longing at the same time?
Tess has a daughter, Lindsay. Her story is second in the book. Lindsay seems to be a little more mature than her mother, and wiser. She is struggling to find value and worth, while hanging out in the country at her Grandparent’s home and waiting for the career opportunity that will make the best use of her gifts and education. Can she ‘fix’ her grandparent’s problem? And what about her conflicting feelings for the young man who stirs her heart but might be her enemy?
The next story told is from the perspective of a hurting and rebellious young man, Andy (Tessa’s nephew/Lindsay’s cousin). He struggles to understand why God would allow his mother to die and he acts out in ways that risk his own life. Sent to stay with his Grandparent’s in sticks of Oakville is not an ideal summer vacation when a kid has experienced life in Madison, Wisconsin. Andy learns the hard way the value of work, family and of forgiveness. And he might be a bit in love too.
Andy’s father, Art (younger brother to Tessa), has run away from the farm in the country to escape his ghosts. Earning a PhD and having a successful career, he ironically studies gerontology (aging) while at the same time basically ignoring his aging parents. He feels like he is failing as a single father after losing his wife in a tragic accident. He struggles to believe in a God who would allow so much grief in his life. How can he reach his son when he is so wrapped up in his own pain? A lost romance lures him back to Oakville and his story actually has the sweetest ending of them all.
One series of events in a small town forces a family to reconnect. This story leaves some unanswered questions and I find myself wishing that the Grandmother’s story had also been told here. I would have been good to explore her perspective as she juggles all the emotions of her two children and grandchildren, the crisis that threatens her home, and her struggle to care for her disabled husband. What is impressive is that her character, as the glue to this family, is consistent through the four novellas. She’s one awesome lady in my opinion.
I recommend this book because it is written so differently from anything else I have picked up. Faith is important to this story. Two authors have written but there is one voice. I know both of these authors personally and could not figure out which one had written which chapter. The characters speak with authenticity. This family is not perfect, but their struggle is genuine. The book is a good reminder too that as we go through life – and face our difficult circumstances, there are people around us, experiencing those same situations through an entirely different lens of experience and emotion, and yet God is weaving all together beautifully.
Congratulations to Shellie Neumeier and Lisa Lickel for crafting a unique book. I will probably be reading it again which I don’t often do with novels. Maybe, as a writer, I’ll challenge myself to write Grandma’s story just for fun.