It’s 2004, a year before Katrina would pound the Gulf. Jonna Lightfoot MacLaughlin has settled in to her new job as religion reporter for the New Orleans Banner, having been recruited because of her stellar work for the Denver Dispatch. New Orleans is a world of its own, and Jonna is adjusting --- learning new vocabulary words, discovering new foods and drinking chicory with her coffee.
Pushing age 30, trying to stop smoking and vaguely hoping to lose 10 pounds, Jonna eagerly awaits and actively looks for feel-good stories that will draw in readers. But not all her leads look to be as inspirational as she would hope. There’s the hateful graffiti displayed on the synagogue and the historically desegregated old-folks home mystified about the death of one of its residents.
Jo Kadlecek packs a lot into her pages. It’s been going on a year since Jonna has had a date, and now in the course of two weeks, three men are vying for her attention: influential real estate developer Reginald William Hancock III, local councilman Stephen Dall, and a one-time blind date in Denver --- nondescript David --- who comes to town for a convention.
It seems that part of Kadlecek’s vision is to break down stereotypes that her Christian readers might have of people who hold beliefs different from their own. Augustine’s claim that “All truth is God’s truth” is the lens through which Jonna sees life, whether relating to her neighbors or tracking down her stories --- from the crowd gathered around the tree-bark in which the Virgin Mary has been sighted, to the seemingly crazed woman who hassles the mayor, and the letter-writer who threatens Jonna with a voodoo curse. Confident in the basics of her own faith, Jonna listens to people with respect, not with fear.
As in Denver, Jonna’s social network includes an older brother living nearby, her newsroom co-workers and an apartment-house neighbor. She’s a bit of a loner, dedicated to her work and not surrounded by girlfriends who gather to chat about their social lives. This dynamic gives the series a charm that seems a little offbeat from --- and less cynical than --- “chick lit.”
This, the second book of Kadlecek’s Lightfoot Trilogy, stands alone as a self-contained mystery, though peculiarities of Jonna’s parental dynamics and eclectic childhood memories will make more sense to those who have read A MILE FROM SUNDAY. It’s clear that the trilogy will end with Jonna living in New York City, looking for new stories. Oh, and isn’t that where David lives?
Kadlecek notes an extra perk or incentive for book buyers: that “all royalties from the sale of this book will go to charities and ministries in New Orleans.”
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on November 13, 2011