New York Times bestselling author Donna VanLiere's THE CHRISTMAS HOPE is a heartwarming story that is sure to become a holiday favorite for fans of the seasonal sentimental novella genre.
In the first tearjerker of the series, THE CHRISTMAS SHOES, the young, impoverished Nathan Andrews buys a pair of shoes for his dying mother. The second, THE CHRISTMAS BLESSING, follows Nathan as an adult in medical school, and coming to grips with his bitterness over his mother's death.
In THE CHRISTMAS HOPE, Nathan plays a minor role. The focus is on social worker Patricia Addison and her estranged husband Mark, a pilot who is ready to leave their marriage. Grief over the loss of their college-aged son has created an impassable gulf between the two. Can anything bridge the gap?
Patricia is called to help with five-year-old Emily, whose mother has been killed in a car accident, leaving her an orphan. She takes Emily home with her for the holidays, although technically it breaks the rules of her employment. With the almost impossibly sweet Emily in the house, Mark and Patricia find the coldness between them start to thaw, and soon it appears that their marriage --- and healing from the grief and bitterness over their loss --- is possible.
This is a tug-at-the-heartstrings, break-out-the-Kleenex kind of story. Readers will weep over the feisty two-year-old Mia, found in her crib by police after her drug-addicted mom leaves her in an unheated apartment for days without food or water while selling drugs. Muses Patricia, "How many times did I drop a child off at a foster family's home a few days before Christmas because his mother was arrested or put back into rehab? I've traveled these roads many times..." About Christmas, Patricia sighs: "Somehow I got old and the wonder was lost." Emily's ability to get the couple talking about the loss of their son and talking to each other will melt the heart of even the toughest reader. And Emily's precocious concern for Mia (who develops heart trouble) in the midst of Emily's own devastating circumstances will remind readers that no matter what our circumstances, we can reach out and care for others.
Like almost all Christmas novellas, a happy ending is welcome and inevitable. At last, through her experiences with Emily, Patricia finds that although she once believed there was no hope, "now I know that hope is alive."
Although VanLiere does a good job moving back and forth between points of view, there are a few mechanical problems in the novel, including the author's penchant for stringing consecutive sentences together starting with the word "I" ("I pull out onto the road. I glance...I turn up. I smile. I drive..."). The way VanLiere ties Nathan into the story with Patricia will challenge readers to suspend disbelief. And VanLiere doesn't leave it to the reader to draw conclusions; she makes sure you get her points. "God is always speaking. We are the ones who are hard of hearing. God is always patient, waiting for us to believe. We are the impatient ones, demanding to be convinced." She tends to tell, instead of show, in various places ("Mia had no idea she was so sick.") For some readers, these sort of deliberate statements will be welcome; others may wish for more subtlety.
Nevertheless, this is a sweet novella that will go over well for readers who want an escapist read for the holiday season. Fans of the first two books will find this fare much to their liking. For those unfamiliar with books one and two, THE CHRISTMAS HOPE can be easily enjoyed as a stand-alone tale.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on April 1, 2006