Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   Every first Sunday in June, members of the Moses clan gather for an annual reunion at a sprawling hundred-acre farm in Arkansas. And every year, Samuel Lake, a vibrant and committed young preacher, brings his beloved wife, Willadee Moses, and their three children back for the festivities. In the midst of it all, Samuel and Willadee’s outspoken eleven-year-old daughter, Swan, is a bright light. Her high spirits and fearlessness have alternately seduced and bedeviled three generations of the family. But just as the reunion is getting under way, tragedy strikes, jolting the family to their core and setting the stage for a summer of crisis and profound change. 

And here's what I thought:  I finished this book a few days ago, but have spent some time thinking about how I can put my feelings about it into a review.    This was one of the best books I have read lately --- I got so caught up in this story, and in the different characters, that I twice emerged from my reading and looked around, blinking, because I was surprised I wasn't in Arkansas with the Moses family.

This is one of those stories that is, at various times, funny, and scary, uplifting and heartbreaking.  

The story doesn't quite begin with the family reunion, but gives us some background on some of the family members --- enough so that when tragedy does strike, you at least know who's who and how they're connected to each other.   I liked how the author ties together many stories --- this isn't just Swan's story, or Willadee's story, or even Samuel Lake's story ---- there are several people's stories that make up this book.    And there are such clear voices for each of them --- the author writes in a way that made me feel like I could see these people, and hear them speaking.  

I did have my favorites in the family. It's hard to resist Swan, seeing as she's smart, fearless, and pretty unstoppable.  Even though she's always getting into trouble, it's clear that she is loved.   I liked Willadee and Calla (Swan's mother and grandmother, respectively) - they are interesting women, who have a quiet strength about them.   And I will admit .....  I completely fell for Toy Moses, Swan's uncle.   He's a quiet man, and at first, you don't really know him .... but as the story continues, this man really becomes a hero.  Toy's no angel, but he's a good person, with a good heart.

This story does have some less than wonderful characters, though.  Toy's wife Bernice is a piece of work; she's determined to have Samuel Lake for herself, and engages in some pretty shameful behavior as a result.  And there is a clear villain: Ras Ballenger, who is a nasty, vicious person whose path crosses that of more than one Moses family member.   The author does a nice job with him ---- he's just as clearly written as the other characters, which means he's easy to visualize (and doing that just makes me shudder).

I really enjoyed this book because it had a realistic feel to it, and was written so well that I felt at times like I was there.  I got caught up in this family's stories, and I laughed when I was reading, and I got choked up at other points.   To me, that's the best kind of story -- where you feel like you're part of something when you're reading.

Definitely check out the other reviews on GoodReads -- there are a lot of readers who have expressed their feelings about this book.   This book is due to be published in July, 2012, if you want to keep your eye out for it (and encourage your local library to purchase a copy for their collection).

First lines:  John Moses couldn't have chosen a worse day, or a worse way to die, if he'd planned it for a lifetime.  Which was possible.  He was contrary as a mule.  It was the weekend of the Moses family reunion, and everything was perfect - or at least perfectly normal - until John went and ruined it.

And a bit of writing I liked:  (p 34)  Willadee was not a woman for protecting her husband's image.  She was a Moses and the Moses family didn't believe in lying.  There were a lot of things the Moseses would do without a qualm, but they plain would not lie.  This didn't necessarily hold true for their children.  Swan lied daily.  Took pleasure in it.  She fabricated the most wondrous, the most atrocious tales, and told them for the truth.  The good thing about lies was that the possibilities were limitless.  You could make up a world that was just like you wanted it, and if you pretended hard enough, it would start to feel real.

Please note:  I read an ARC of this book, received courtesy of LibraryThing's Early Reviewers -- and thus, any page numbers/direct quotes may differ upon final publication.


Kate @Midnight Book Girl said...

Hmm, for some reason this reminds me of L.M. Montgomery's A Tangled Web. Must read this!

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