In the preface of her memoir, Donna VanLiere describes her childhood dream: “I wanted to be an actress and marry a guy who looked like those men in the movies…and I wanted to have three or four children.” In the next paragraph, she foreshadows a journey on a bumpy road: “Someone early in our lives should tell us that we’ll never make it to the end unscathed or pain free but I guess for centuries people have all thought the same thing about the next generation: ‘They’ll figure it out.’”
You don’t read far before discovering in chapter one a childhood trauma that hangs over the prose, as intimated, again, in the preface: “In the grand scheme of things it was really very simple but no one told me then that in one moment life could blindside me and I’d never see it coming.” (In places VanLiere’s prose could benefit from some well-placed commas.) Before she had started kindergarten, she was sexually molested by the older brother of a neighborhood playmate. That horror colors the rest of the book; even so, VanLiere has effectively peppered the opening chapters with humor --- by the turn of a phrase and by relating humorous events, such as another neighbor digging a big hole in the backyard to make a baptismal pond.
In chapter two and throughout, she also immediately interjects a spiritual commentary. “My problem with God started in [the perpetrator’s] bedroom. I was alone and scared, and God didn’t do a thing.” Some of the commentary relies on her own phrasing of questions and insights; she also brings in quotations of writers, including artists and musicians, such as Leonardo da Vinci (“You think that the body is a wonderful work. In reality this is nothing compared to the soul that inhabits in that structure”) and Tchaikovsky (“Whenever I think calmly over all I have been through, I come to the conclusion that there is a Providence who has specially cared for me”).
In high school and at a Christian college, VanLiere doesn’t dramatically rebel. She marries a college friend --- they both majored in broadcasting --- with whom she “felt safe.” Life in Nashville and then Missouri was not very fulfilling professionally; after one miscarriage, she was unable to conceive. God seemed distant, yet she continued to seek Him and in hindsight can see grace at every turn, which leads to eventual contentment and peace, even if the childhood dream has morphed into a writer’s life in Nashville, not an actress’s life in California.
There is hope and healing here for women who have suffered any kind of pain, shame, or disillusionment. There is advice for those who have suffered sexual abuse and for mothers of vulnerable children. And, for readers of her bestsellers such as THE CHRISTMAS SHOES, there is insight into the beginnings of a writer’s life --- her dreams having come true in unexpected ways.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on November 13, 2011