Military wife Gretchen Daniels moves with her two children, Ethan and Emma, to be near her mother, Miriam. She’s blue as she unpacks their belongings, remembering how her husband, Kyle, had always hung the pictures in their new homes when the Army moved them from place to place. Now, alone and sad, she works at keeping her children's spirits up as she empties boxes.
"There may be a few too many convenient coincidences, but it seems ridiculously picky and Grinch-like to even notice while deep in this extremely moving and well-told saga about family."
Gretchen happens to be outside with Ethan, waiting for Miriam and her friend, Gloria, to help with the unpacking, when a car pulls into the driveway of the condo adjoining Gretchen's. Ethan rushes over to tell their new neighbor that they're moving in and to ask her name. The young woman says her name is Melissa, but is not friendly at all. When Ethan volunteers that his dad was in the army and won all kinds of medals, she simply murmurs, "Oh." Melissa is a nondescript person, neither pretty nor ugly, fat nor thin, and she is oddly expressionless. It's a relief when Miriam and Gloria show up, so Gretchen can turn away from this awkward first meeting. It's quite plain that Gretchen and "Miss Personality" will never be friends.
Miriam and Gloria are a breath of much-needed fresh air as they spar good-naturedly with each other while helping Gretchen unpack. Gloria laughs when Gretchen confides that her father will be coming to help her hook up all her electronics. After all, her parents divorced when she was a teenager. They haven't seen each other since her college graduation.
The next morning, Gretchen encounters Melissa again as she carries empty boxes to the curb. Since Gretchen is still in her pajamas, she smiles as if the joke is on her. But her new neighbor only scowls, and when Ethan volunteers that his father was in a terrible accident, Gretchen interrupts him. She wants nothing to do with her crabby neighbor. So she is appalled when a man comes to her door, asking her to relay a message to Melissa, who is not at home. The stranger is Melissa's mother's landlord, and he wants Melissa to know that her mother, Ramona, has died. He tells Gretchen that Melissa can pick up Ramona's belongings or he will get rid of them.
This leaves Gretchen in a quandary. She doesn't want to be the one to deliver this sensitive message to her unsympathetic neighbor, especially since she is already in an emotional state over recent events in her own life. But her hesitation is only temporary. She does the right thing, letting Melissa know, and then marveling that her odd neighbor shows absolutely no reaction upon hearing the news. Gretchen also somehow finds herself volunteering to help Melissa at her mother's apartment. Her spontaneous offer will change both of their lives in unforeseen and heartwarming ways.
Author Donna VanLiere tells the tale in two viewpoints, establishing reader sympathy for both Gretchen and Melissa. The plot has a nice pace and is enlivened by several amazing twists (these actually were complete revelations to me). There may be a few too many convenient coincidences, but it seems ridiculously picky and Grinch-like to even notice while deep in this extremely moving and well-told saga about family. THE CHRISTMAS NOTE is a delightful story, highly recommended for any time of the year.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on December 8, 2011