When Elizabeth Gunnar returns as a teacher to her childhood preparatory school where she first experienced a sense of being "seen" and of belonging, she finds herself not so well prepared to revisit old, but not forgotten, tender emotions and fractured memories. Before she has time to sort it all out, Beth is inundated with her responsibilities as a full-time English instructor at Seaton Preparatory School in Delaware (the state that no believes really exists).
Finding her feet, Beth meets the other instructors, introduces herself to her students and has to fight one nagging but eventful memory in particular. What really ever happened to her former English teacher, Mr. Dutton? Was he still alive as Beth suspected? Why did he try to end his life after having instilled in his students an appreciation for it? Frustrated with herself for this constant inner-unsettledness, Beth tries to let the mystery go, but every specter of her life back at Seaton is a reminder of something she has failed to come to grips with in the past 20 years.
Despite her unseen angst, Beth is well suited for the task of imparting a contagious love for reading and writing to her students. Enter Satchel Queen, another hurting soul to whom Beth relates --- a kindred spirit of sorts. Satchel (tentatively, at first) opens her thoughts via essays to Beth, and they discuss life, loss and disappointment together in the lonely fall evenings. As Satchel unearths her own personal story of lost love, Beth discovers similar thoughts starting to wander around, jostling her and reminding her that there are some unanswered questions lingering in the backdrop of her heart and mind as well.
An old crush soon re-enters Beth's life, and as they reacquaint themselves, she wonders if romantic love has finally come to stay at her home. But even as hopeful as she is, Mr. Dutton's suicide attempt becomes a focus of conversation between her and Ray, leaving Beth once again pondering the disjunct between Mr. Dutton's eloquent words and his actions. Secrets come to light and more disappointments ensue, but most importantly, Beth has the chance to set things right for herself and for Satchel as Mr. Dutton resurfaces in their town.
With Satchel's need for a family and a sense of belonging to someone, Beth takes a risk and introduces her student to the Duttons. There, Satchel finds part-time employment and, better still, camaraderie of spirit. Beth has to work at trusting her former teacher, seeing with her own eyes that he has changed but feeling with her heart an ongoing betrayal. As the school year progresses, Beth has to let go of some dreams at great cost in order to embrace the possibility of possessing something more worthy. Her languished faith in God is rebirthed, along with a sense of freedom and purpose that she handily passes on to Satchel and those within her sphere of influence.
Ann Tatlock possesses the uncanny ability to unlock the secret reservoirs of the heart, one turn at a time, just enough so that readers aren't frightened away by what she exposes. Then, she gracefully takes the uncertainty and the hurt and uses lovely, promising pictures of hope restored to gently nudge her audience along the way. Tatlock's prose is simply exquisite.
Reviewed by Michele Howe on October 1, 2007