By: Richard Paul Evans
Published by Simon and Schuster 2008
Every now and then I come across a book so compelling that I set aside my Saturday chores and spend the afternoon curled up reading. January has been especially brutal this year and when icy roads spoiled our weekend plans that is exactly what I did. I knew I wouldn’t go wrong with the latest book by Richard Paul Evans (author of The Christmas Box). The story centers around a runaway girl, a love struck boy, his loyal brother and childhood dreams that clash with adult cruelty. This is a story of first love, first kiss, enduring connections, but no happily ever after. Grace, set in the early 1960’s, opens with Eric and his family forced to relocate from middle class stability to a “dumpy” house in a “crummy” neighborhood due to father’s illness and job loss. Mother is forced to go to work outside the home for the first time leaving the boys to go exploring all summer long. The only good thing Eric and Joel see about the move is the 5 acres of secluded woods at the back of the property. The boys spend their days climbing trees, exploring the woods, playing baseball and building a large clubhouse from odds and ends. Although they do their share of fighting and sneaking around readers will conclude that they are good kids with a strong brotherly bond.
As summer turns to fall the boys head to their new school and Eric gets his first job. It is at work one winter night that Eric meets Grace while she is looking for food in a dumpster. Grace is a teenager on her own running from an abusive situation. After hearing Grace’s woes, Eric invites her to stay in the clubhouse. You will be charmed by the protective efforts of 14 year old Eric, as he sneaks food, provides necessities and offers small gifts to transform the clubhouse into a home for Grace and gives her hope and happiness. His unselfish attempts to bring her comfort will have you rooting for this boy every time he takes a new risk. Even with all his efforts the sad reality is that Grace needs more protection than a love struck boy could ever offer. Themes running through the book are cruelty and protection, betrayal and compassion, love and regret.
When readers realize a teenage girl is hiding away in a back yard club house they naturally wait for her to be discovered. Skeptics might think that Grace would be discovered much earlier in the story however the author’s descriptions of the property, details of family dynamics and a few close calls by those in authority make it believable that she could go undiscovered for as long as she did. As the book draws to a close you will get angry right along with Eric and you will probably need tissues as your hope for a happy resolution clashes with a loss of innocence and a loss of Grace. The story doesn’t end at its saddest point. I found myself cheering Eric on, as he discovered Grace’s diary and tried to come to grips with his purpose in her life. I love books with happy endings where all the loose ends are wrapped up neatly and I can close the cover with a happy feeling in my heart. This is not such a book. Not all stories have perfect endings and readers seeking such an end may be disappointed or even horrified by events near the end of this novel. However, upon thoughtful reflection of the true ending, readers will realize, as Eric did, that when beauty leaves and innocence is lost; Grace remains.
This is a well written, thought provoking story that will grip you and may make you look a little more closely at those around you who need help. I am impressed with Richard Paul Evan’s foundation that is described in the back of the book. Christmas House International is an organization devoted to building shelters and providing services for abused and neglected children. I love it when authors use the power of the pen to give back to society.