Julia Rich is an English professor at a small southern college. Her unassuming husband passed away last year and she's facing a sabbatical year she's not sure she wants to take. Her sister Pamela is a bit of a pest, calling and checking in all the time, whittering on about things going on in her life, and giving Julia advice for which she has no use. Julia is not terribly social and she's a bit aloof at the best of times. Her world is generally orderly and planned. So when she gets a phone message from Carmen, her late brother Jeremiah's only child, the niece she's never met, telling her that Carmen is planning to visit her, Julia immediately tries to figure out a way to stop this unknown teenager from appearing on her doorstep. But Carmen has left no way to reach her so all Julia can do is hope against hope that she doesn't turn up in the end. Of course, Carmen does show though.
When Carmen finally arrives to meet her Aunt Julia, Julia finds her heart cracking open just a little bit to let this charming girl in despite her desire not to allow this. As she gets to know her brother's child, she regrets the distance and the wrong assumptions that kept her from knowing the girl sooner, and sparing Carmen some of the heartache and sorrow she's already faced in her nineteen years. The two women slowly open up about their lives but even as they do so, Julia has to fight the urge to retreat emotionally at every turn. Carmen, on the other hand, is mostly open and sunny, engaging everyone around her and caring about their lives. Julia reflects on her family growing up and specifically her relationship with her mother as she and Carmen delve into the past And she finally faces the tragedy of so long ago and starts to allow herself to be forgiven. It takes Carmen far longer to admit to the devastation she carries with her and when she finally does on a road trip she and Julia are taking, she struggles with forgiving herself even when Julia turns Carmen's advice to her around on her.
Julia and Carmen are a study in contrasts as characters. Carmen has a certain faith in God no matter what hardships she's faced while Julia is resolutely skeptical and very frustrated by Carmen's simple acceptance. Carmen alternates from sweet and naively innocent to infuriatingly submissive, both to Julia and to the reader. The story is a quiet one packed with emotion. It explores the concept of sin, forgiveness, love, motherhood, and God's grace. The plot is not paramount, the connection between the characters is, which is a good thing because both Julia and Carmen's secrets are easily sussed out and just as easily explored or uncovered. The ending is hopeful and accepting, which suits the tone of the novel over all. Even so, it leaves the characters without real closure because, as Carmen says, "life goes on." Turner's novel is a nice, open book that will appeal to Christian fiction readers.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book to review.