Karen Harter mixes equal parts faith, family and forgiveness in her second novel involving a group of wayward small-towners who are thrown together under unfortunate circumstances. Each fighting to figure out what's best --- and sometimes rejecting what comes naturally --- these desperate seekers are what drive the narrative forward to its conclusion.
Sidney Walker and her three children live a somewhat sheltered existence in their beat-up mobile home, plopped on a miniscule plot of land in a "three-lane-bowling-alley-everything-shuts-down-around-dinner-time town." As Sidney puts it, "I don't find it boring, not for one minute. I like the fact that I can go out on my porch and breathe air that's been filtered by the thousands of Christmas trees on those hills. My children wander the woods instead of city sidewalks, and noisy, smoggy streets. I feel safe here."
Across the street, an older man named Millard lives alone following his wife's death, content to keep his daily routine of filling out crossword puzzles, doing yard work, and ignoring the incessant yammering of his daughter who loves to inform him that he's too old to do pretty much anything. Millard has fairly little contact with the Walkers, aside from the occasional hello when getting the mail. That is, until tragedy strikes.
When Sidney's 15-year-old son, Ty, is arrested on burglary charges for a crime he swears he didn't commit, Sidney is at her wits' end. The older he gets, the more Sidney feels out-of-touch with the sweet and innocent boy he used to be. If only she had a husband around to help her shoulder the weight of raising kids while also working full-time. So, when Ty is sentenced to do time in prison and says he'd rather die than be committed, Sidney must do everything she can think of to save her son.
Luckily, Millard steps in before Ty is carted off to jail and offers to watch him while he's under house arrest instead. This doesn't sit well with Ty, yet the two begrudgingly decide to learn how to make the situation work, despite their mutual unhappiness and distrust.
Meanwhile, Sidney grows increasingly preoccupied with snagging a man to "fill out" her family. Brawny and full of charm, Jack (a prior beau) seems the perfect candidate, yet there is something about Alex (ironically, the sheriff who arrested Ty and the man in charge of his rehabilitation) that makes her heart feel mysteriously a-flutter. In the beginning, she thought, "Alex Estrada had nothing to do with her goal; [that] he was merely a distraction, one that she would not allow. She knew that Jack was right for her and, more important, right for her children, and nothing else mattered…Jack was the dream. A happy, healthy family complete with a dad." But, as time passes and she still doesn't feel that special spark with Jack that she can't help but feel every time she's around Alex, Sidney realizes she has a decision to make --- one that will surely affect everyone…forever.
In the end, each of the tangled pieces of AUTUMN BLUE comes together in a neatly compiled package…almost too neatly. Nevertheless, fans of sinewy family dramas, juicy romance novels and faith-based stories (with frequent mentions of God) will latch on to Harter's sophomore effort.
Reviewed by Alexis Burling on March 1, 2007