I started reading inspirational fiction and romance as a teenager and, while I have discovered some wonderful books, I find myself sticking primarily to secular fiction and romance because so many of the characters in inspirationals, particularly in contemporary inspies, seem too goody-goody to be true - or likable. In Home Another Way, debut author Christa Parrish manages the rare accomplishment of telling a very good story peopled with flawed and very human characters. Though the tale of a city girl out of her element in the country is one that has been told many times, it comes to life vividly in Parrish's hands without the trite qualities that some readers associate with this theme.
Sarah Graham's motives for coming to Jonah, New York are somewhat less than pure. She has no desire to escape the big city nor does she particularly wish to settle into a quiet small-town lifestyle. Sarah is used to living hard, and her lack of money brings her to Jonah in search of her inheritance. Given her past, Sarah has no warm feelings for her late father and, when she hears his virtues extolled all over town, she finds her patience wearing thin.
When she learns she must live in her father's home for six months before claiming her inheritance, she nearly explodes. Still, she needs the money, so she goes along with it. By this point in the story, readers are clear on the fact that Sarah is no sweet angelic creature. We go on to learn that she grew up unloved by the relatives who raised her and has drifted through a world of one-night stands trying not to become too attached to anyone. Even as Sarah acts rudely toward the poor and sometimes unsophisticated people of Jonah, there are those who recognize pain in her, and they meet her harshness with a gentleness that sometimes disarms her.
It quickly becomes obvious that Jonah is going to be more for Sarah than just a boring backwater in which to kill time for six months. Though often an unattractive character, particularly in the beginning, the kindness she meets from some of the folks in Jonah startles Sarah - and the reader. Some of those Sarah encounters, including an attractive young minister, have some tough love to dish out, but the compassion behind it is unmistakable. At one point, Sarah is reminded that she is not the only person in the world who has been hurt and that people in Jonah have problems as well. This admonishment strikes deeply and seeing Sarah take it to heart and learn to have compassion for others makes this a very striking book.
The author wisely avoids the pitfalls of making every townsperson seem like a saint or preaching down to her readers. While there are those who help Sarah, she has her enemies, too - and with reason. In addition, while some of the rural folk in this book lead lives of poverty that seem to come from another century, readers see their dignity and personality coming through. Very few characters in this book could be described merely as objects of pity.
Though not a romance, there is definitely an emotional side and some romantic plotlines to Home Another Way. Sarah comes into Jonah with a chip on her shoulder and a lot to learn about dealing with other people in a civil fashion, let alone learning to trust and relate to them. In this state, one can see where she may not be ready to really appreciate what it means to love someone and build a solid, lasting relationship. Still, her story is a moving one and given how it ends, I would love to see a sequel.
-- Lynn Spencer
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