In FINDING FATHER CHRISTMAS, prolific author Robin Jones Gunn (Sisterchicks, Christy Miller and Sierra Jensen series) takes readers on a short but sweet holiday jaunt to England, where a young woman searches for the father she’s never known.
Miranda Carson journeys from San Francisco to England on a whim after a long period of indecision. As the child of a single mom and stage actress, Miranda spent most of her young life living out of a suitcase in various hotels. She longs for her roots and for a father she has never known. Her mother, who died when Miranda was 11, left her few hints about her parentage. Gunn’s key clue is a framed photo of a young boy on Santa Claus’s lap, which will eventually tip off Miranda about her father.
As Miranda’s search takes her to Carlton Heath, a half-hour train ride southeast of London, on Christmas Eve, she attends a Charles Dickens play that opens up a realm of emotions and introduces her to a new group of people that will be a turning point in her search.
When Miranda discovers the truth about her father, it’s more complicated than she could have dreamed. Does her happiness override the happiness of his present family? How can she decide? “The price of my decisive nobility was going to be much higher than I had estimated,” realizes Miranda, after meeting various members of her still-unknowing “family.”
Gunn operates her story on several levels: the woman who, like the land of Narnia, feels she lives in a season of winter where Christmas never comes; the power of secrets from the past to wound or to heal; the restorative value of forgiveness for a parent’s imperfections; the difficulty of knowing when to tell the truth and when to remain silent; and the need for family and for belonging.
The faith themes are strong, as Gunn carefully describes the Christmas service Miranda attends and her new awareness of a heavenly Father she has never known. Gunn occasionally over-describes, and wordiness slows down the pacing. The reader will need to suspend disbelief, especially when a family unknowingly shares a poem with Miranda written by the man she believes was her father that contains her mother’s name.
But there are many sweet moments, especially as Miranda bonds with young Julia and begins to understand what it might mean to her to have an extended family. Gunn also balances the regret Miranda feels over the way she was brought up with happy moments spent with her mother. One especially poignant flashback scene shows Miranda as a young child giving her mother the small bottles of hotel toiletries for a gift (Miranda gets new socks) and the mother/daughter tradition of eating chocolates in bed on Christmas morning.
Gunn describes Christmas in England with rich details and warmth, which will make readers long to experience many parts of this sort of Christmas themselves. Christmas crackers (special party favors with toys and a riddle), the British holiday menu (including Brussels sprouts), Lion bars in stockings hung at bedside and a special Christmas pudding all help create a holiday time and place.
Theater buffs will enjoy the numerous references to stage plays scattered throughout the story, such as The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet and My Fair Lady. In the end, the community theater proves to be the link that helps Miranda know without a doubt who her father is.
If you enjoy FINDING FATHER CHRISTMAS, you’ll be delighted that Gunn has planned a sequel, ENGAGING FATHER CHRISTMAS. Book clubs that use FINDING FATHER CHRISTMAS as a short holiday selection will also find the reading group guide helpful.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011