To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? This is the external conflict depicted throughout the pages of ANOTHER DAWN. The internal conflict, on the other hand, is: To forgive or not to forgive? One of these questions is clearly answered. The other leaves the reader to decide for herself. But one thing is sure --- both of these questions provide for a compelling story.
Grace Graham is the never-been-married single mother of four-year-old Dylan. She maintains a healthy, organic lifestyle in California, far away from her hometown of Shoal Creek, Tennessee. She works in a local bed and breakfast for a woman whose son is severely autistic due to childhood vaccinations. Until recently, Grace was engaged to Steve, a wonderful Christian man who loves her and Dylan, but she broke it off because of her own insecurities. Running away when things get complicated or uncertain is something Grace has gotten good at over the years.
When Grace’s sister, Jana, calls, asking her to come home for a couple of weeks to care for their father after his knee surgery, Grace reluctantly boards a plane to Tennessee. Her relationship with her dad has always been strained, but especially since her mom died from lung cancer caused by his smoking. Grace holds it against her father that his choices are what killed her mother. When Grace arrives home, the tension between them is immediately clear.
A couple of days after arriving, Dylan spikes a temp and develops a bad rash, which spreads down his entire body. After “waiting it out” for a few days, Grace finally brings him to the emergency room. It is soon discovered that Dylan has the measles --- rare, but highly contagious and potentially dangerous. While it seems Dylan will recover with no problem, he unknowingly infected several infants not yet old enough for immunizations in the church nursery on Sunday. One of those babies is Grace’s own niece, Hannah.
It is then revealed that Grace has never had Dylan vaccinated because of the risk involved --- risks Grace knows about firsthand because of her boss’s autistic son and many others Grace has spoken to while researching this issue. The town of Shoal Creek erupts in accusations and judgment of Grace for her decision that has put so many babies in jeopardy. Her niece is hospitalized, and her life hangs in the balance.
Grace is filled with anguish and guilt, although she still strongly holds firm to her decision not to have Dylan immunized. Through the wisdom of an elderly neighbor and the childlike faith of her son, Grace comes to realize that she has been treating her father just like the townspeople have been treating her; that personal choices do have the potential to hurt others, intentionally or not; and that extending forgiveness, as difficult as it may be, is essential for healing.
Perhaps the most discouraging thing illustrated in this book is the way Christians are so quick to judge and criticize. Yes, emotions are running high and children are at risk. But some of the downright mean words lashed towards Grace are anything but “Christian.” Unfortunately, this happens way too often in real life. As disheartening as it was, I admire the author’s depiction of this authentic reaction. Hopefully it also serves as a wake-up call to the way we treat others.
The characters are well-crafted, each bringing something necessary to the story. Grace’s father is harsh and critical, yet tenderness is there too, and the bond he develops with Dylan is precious. Jana’s anger towards Grace when Hannah is near death is understandable. Jana’s husband Rob, even as his daughter’s life is at stake, is the most gracious towards Grace and offers much-needed friendship and encouragement during a time when she’s pretty much been shunned by everyone else.
Dylan, however, is the star of the story. With dialogue more suited for a six- or seven-year-old, you may have to remind yourself a few times that he’s only four. Dylan’s trust, optimism and wisdom set a wonderful example of Mark 10, where Jesus challenges us to childlike faith.
Author Kathryn Cushman does a marvelous job of presenting the immunization issue without officially taking sides. But while the vaccination debate is what moves the plot along, the heart of this beautifully written book is about forgiveness and grace. And that’s definitely something this world could use more of.
Reviewed by Lynda Schab on February 1, 2011