When two estranged sisters reunite for their parents’ 50th anniversary, a family tragedy brings unexpected lessons of hope and healing amid the flowers of their mother’s perennial garden.
Eva—known to all as Lovey—grew up in Oxford, MS, surrounded by literary history and her mother’s stunning perennial gardens. But a garden shed fire and the burns suffered by one of her best friends seemed to change everything. Her older sister Bitsy blamed her for the fire—and no one spoke up on her behalf. Bitsy the cheerleader, Bitsy the homecoming queen, Bitsy married to a wealthy investor. And all the while, Lovey blamed for everything that goes wrong.
At eighteen, Lovey turns down a marriage proposal, flees from Oxford and the expectations of attending Ole Miss, and instead goes to Arizona—the farthest thing from the South she can imagine. She becomes a successful advertising executive, a weekend yoga instructor, and seems to have it all together. But she’s alone. And on her 45th birthday, she can’t help but wonder what’s wrong.
When she gets a call from her father—still known to everyone as Chief from his Ole Miss football days—insisting that she come home three weeks early for her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration, she’s at wits end. She’s about to close the biggest contract of her career, the one that will secure her financial goals and set her up for retirement. But his words, “Family First,” hit too close to home. Is there hope for her estranged relationship with Bitsy after all this time?
Eva’s journey home, to the memory garden her father has planned as an anniversary surprise for her mother, becomes one of discovering roots, and truth, and love, and what living perennially in spite of disappointments and tragedy really means. Eva thought she wanted to leave her family and the South far behind . . . but she’s realizing she hasn’t truly been herself the whole time she’s been gone.
I get it – in fiction, the reader is supposed to suspend belief a bit to accommodate for the drama of the story, but this book just asked too much of it in too many places, which made it difficult to relate to (and root for) the characters. (SPOILER ALERTS)
It all starts with a shed fire when the main characters (Lovey, Bitsy, Fisher, and Finn, who was injured) are kids. First, you have to believe that – for no reason whatsoever – Lovey and Bitsy’s parents pick that moment to decide that Lovey’s a liar and Bitsy’s the honest one (they believe Bitsy when she accuses Lovey of setting the fire). Then you have to believe that EVERYONE in town makes the same decision, so Lovey grows up never being believed. Then you have to believe that it takes everyone 30 years before anyone talks about it ever again.
Then there’s the Lovey/Fisher story. Apparently 10 years pass between the fire and when Fisher proposes to Lovey. Even though it’s been a decade, and Finn has clearly learned to live with his scars, you have to believe that Lovey is unable to see that. And you have to believe that, even though Bitsy has spent the past 10 years tormenting Lovey with her lies, now suddenly Lovey is unable to see for herself that Finn has healed, and she’s unable to realize that her sister is still tormenting her, so she heads out of town.
Then the story starts – Lovey comes back to town when she’s 45, and you have to suspend belief again to pretend that, in the 27 years since she’s been gone, she had no idea how Finn is doing. And even though it’s 2017, Lovey is still convinced that Finn’s life is ruined because of some scars on his hands (even though she’s been home to visit her family throughout the years, she somehow is still convinced that she ruined his life, even though she didn’t set the fire).
I just couldn’t get past the expectation that I had to believe all of this happened in order to set up the story. (Especially when Lovey FINALLY talks to Fisher about it, and he casually mentions that no one has ever really blamed Lovey for anything — then why would she think that they did??).
Cantrell’s writing style isn’t my personal favorite. I’d prefer for character development to knowing exactly what everyone ate for dinner, and I’m not a fan of bouncing between past and present (this book did it constantly), but it really was the poor character motivations that got me on this one. I don’t mind family drama and tension, as long as it’s believable, but I couldn’t relate to these characters, and the tension really didn’t resolve until the last few chapters, which was pretty frustrating.
If you like lots of description (lots of it pretty, but unnecessary), you’ll like this book. If you like to see character development, however, I would recommend something else.
On a side note, I don’t mind reading secular fiction, but if you pick up this book because it’s from Thomas Nelson and you’re expecting it to be a Christian novel, please note that it is NOT Christian. There’s a lot of spirituality in it, but it’s not Christ-centered.
*I received a free copy of this book. The opinions are my own.