When Davis Bunn (formerly known as "T. Davis") is at his best, he's difficult to beat --- and this newly re-jacketed sweet nostalgic Christmas novella from 1997 is a real fan-pleaser.
Fourteen-year-old Marissa is eagerly anticipating a family trip to Hawaii over the Christmas holidays. But when she comes down with hepatitis, she's left behind with her recently widowed grandmother, Emily Albright. Marissa is determined to grieve the loss of her vacation and her health, but "Gran" diverts Marissa by spinning the true story of her first romance just after WWII and divulging the reason she's so connected to hundreds of people living in Indiana.
It's an absorbing tale. Emily shows Marissa a photograph of her with a dashing young flyboy, Grant Rockwell, whom she follows across the Atlantic in hopes of marrying in 1945. She falls ill, and then her handsome airman deserts her, unable to make a commitment. Emily is stranded in England for months, unable to find transportation back to America and home. But, as Gran tells Marissa, "Some of our greatest gifts start in ways that will tempt us to turn away from what is being offered. But if we have the strength and the will and the faith to accept the bad with the good, we can be rewarded with a richness that is truly beyond human understanding."
In Emily's case, she must decide between becoming bitter and angry over her rejection, or finding something new to turn her mind toward. That something new turns out to be a house full of nearly 300 war orphans billeted in a large manor house in the village of Arden-on-Thames. In cramped conditions, with poor rations, almost half of the children fall sick with hepatitis. Emily is thrown into the task of helping them survive. Gradually, she stops dwelling on her own misfortunes and is consumed with figuring out how to find the children a permanent home. But she still can't forgive Grant. Her new friend Rachel tells her, "Allow the Lord's gentle grace to enter your wounded spirit, my dear, and He will work the miracle for you Himself."
While working with the orphans, Emily is thrown into constant contact with the exhausted young victor, Colin Albright, whose unselfishness and love for the children soon melts Emily's heart. An extra helping hand from some kindly American pilots at the local air base further eases the difficulties of the children. Together, Colin, Emily, and the flyboys battle red tape and unfeeling authority figures to ensure the children have a belated Christmas and --- the best present of all --- a permanent home.
This little novella has it all: romance, homeless orphans, heroic American pilots, the delightfully intriguing backdrop of post-war England, and Bunn's competent, smooth writing. The happy ending will warm the heart of even the most jaded reader. What's not to like?
One picky point: Although the new jacket is beautifully done (harkening back to the 1940s, where much of the novella is set), the jacket's tiny typeface on the flaps and back cover will cause young readers to squint, and cause older readers to wonder if it's time for bifocals. A shame, since this is newly repackaged.
Between the covers, however, there's nothing to quarrel with. The blend of history, good storytelling, and themes of forgiveness and unselfishness make this one of Bunn's most enjoyable stories. This nostalgic Christmas tale is a sweet read that you'll want to revisit each holiday season.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on October 4, 2005