In the first installment of the Occupational Hazards series, author Rene Gutteridge begins a delightful yet brief introduction to the Hazard family of seven. Recently orphaned when both parents die on the same date, this family of professional clowns sells off the family business, and each determines to make his or her distinct stamp on life. As one of seven homeschooled siblings, 20-year-old Hayden is devastated by her eldest brother's decision to abandon the clowning endeavor that had held their family so close together over the years.
Fast-forward five years, now 25-year-old Hayden is hired as an assistant to the executive producer at Channel 7 news. While Hayden's pleasant albeit naïve demeanor has her walking around the newsroom sharing her faith in simple yet clear ways, her fellow workers don't know what to make of her. Is she for real? How does anyone maintain that cheerful optimistic outlook day in and day out, especially in such a highly volatile media environment? But calmness seems to seep out of every pore of Hayden's innocent countenance, and somehow that drives people to distraction.
Her boss, Hugo, and his blue pills for anxiety make room for Hayden to lend her opinions on learning to trust God instead of stressing out (or medicating) in response to the uncontrollable events of the day. Her co-worker Ray, a reporter who is also a Christian, is attracted to Hayden's outward and inward beauty, but isn't sure if she frightens him with her vibrant faith. Seasoned anchor Gilda has a run-in with aging, and Hayden offers some timely yet introspective thoughts on learning to accept changes gracefully. These are just a few of the quirky personalities Gutteridge throws into the mix of an always unpredictable newsroom setting and a storyline complete with comedic interchanges and mystery.
When Hugo decides to up the ante and bring in higher ratings, he enlists Hayden to soften the blow that the aging Gilda needs some Botox or she's out. What no one realizes is that Gilda is working on a story behind the scenes that will have rippling repercussions affecting everyone at Channel 7. Gilda caves in and goes for the beauty treatments, then suddenly disappears. The remainder of the text revolves around everyone searching for Gilda and running down rabbit holes disguised as newsworthy stories. Characters develop, the plot thickens and relationships simultaneously self-destruct and implode under the pressure of sweeps week, missing (injured or no-talent) anchors and ongoing personal upheavals.
Amidst all the confusion, Hayden alone stays above the fray, and her faith in God's ability to provide shines brighter than all the TV talent combined. When everything in the newsroom looks about to crash in, Hayden's gentle witness and kindhearted refusal to compromise on truth draw the discordant group of employees together for a rousing moral victory.
Rene Gutteridge has created yet another imaginary world where real-life issues meet fictional characters in a most entertaining and instructive way.
Reviewed by Michele Howe on October 10, 2006