Set in 1962, GRACE is a coming-of-age novel with a very unusual plot.
Due to financial reverses caused by Eric’s father’s health problems, the Welch family is forced to relocate from their nice home in suburban Los Angeles to Eric’s grandmother’s abandoned, ramshackle house in a rundown area of south Salt Lake City. The only positive thing about the move is the land around the old house, five wooded acres bounded by a creek. Eric and his younger brother, Joel, can roam in the woods and explore to their hearts’ content. They discover some old building materials on the property that they quickly cobble into a crude structure, a clubhouse of sorts, and drag all kinds of junk from the ancient garage into the clubhouse to use as furnishings or decoration.
Working one night at McBurger Queen, Eric discovers a classmate dumpster diving out back. He invites her inside and is startled by how much food she consumes. When he learns that Grace has run away from home, he offers her temporary sanctuary in the clubhouse, which his parents can’t see from their house.
Eric and Joel are in cahoots, sneaking food and clothes out to Grace. Eric quickly learns to lie in order to cover up his activities and spends his free time keeping Grace company whenever he can. Grace definitely has an effect on Eric; soon he is blowing his three-year perfect attendance award to play hooky and hang out at the mall with her. That’s a bold and rather unwise move when you’re trying to keep someone’s whereabouts a secret.
The Welchs’ electric bill is sky high; Eric’s parents don’t realize that he purchased an electric space heater to keep the clubhouse warm. Suddenly, this well-behaved 14-year-old is sneaking, lying, covering up, and acting in ways that are very unusual for him. But Eric’s mother is busy with her job and housework, and Eric’s father is preoccupied with his poor health and watching television, so they are not as aware as they should be that something is terribly wrong.
Grace often engages in a bit of fantasy when she lies about having lived in Hawaii and being able to see the future in a lighted candle. She certainly is not dealing realistically with her dilemma and is putting a huge burden on Eric the longer she stays hidden, but he cannot stand the thought of her leaving.
By mid-December the police are offering a $500 reward for information leading to Grace’s safe return. Eric continues sneaking food to her, feigning illness to be with her and lying to his parents. Grace misses her mother but fears her abusive alcoholic stepfather and has no intention of going back home. And she has a condition that she needs to deal with appropriately.
Even the best thought-out plans sometimes fail, and this particular scheme of sanctuary and secrecy is probably doomed from the beginning. The ending is a surprise and not typical of Richard Paul Evans’s previous bestselling books. Nevertheless, GRACE reads rather quickly, and Evans gives his audience many important things to ponder.
Reviewed by Carole Turner on January 22, 2011