Judy Alexander’s debut novel, Desert Medicine, is the story of two dynamic women. In the middle of a divorce, working two jobs, and rearing five-year-old twins, Laurelle just wants something good in life she can depend on. When her pastor suggests she visit a homebound church member, Laurelle finds more than something constant in her life, she finds a friend whose stories will change her existence.
The main storyline is Laurelle’s, a hardworking, soon-to-be-single mom who longs to love and be loved again. Interspersed are tales from Rhoda’s ill-fated past during the Depression and World War II eras. Though their positions and lengths in the novel are entirely sporadic, Rhoda’s contributions add a unique flavor to an otherwise predictable novel. Through the extra stories, Laurelle and we readers learn of true inner beauty, underserved redemption, and a hope that stands at life’s hardest points.
Alexander doesn’t sugar-coat her characters’ lives. Laurelle’s divorce is a result of her husband’s affair, and before the book is over, she will have one of her own. Rhoda’s father was abusive, and her own romantic decisions were less than admirable. Though some readers may shrink from this book as a result, these elements give Rhoda’s faith and Laurelle’s final moment of spiritual surrender more depth than that which is found in many Christian novels.
Unfortunately, much of Alexander’s positive message is lost in a book that is just too long. At 418 pages, many readers will find Desert Medicine to be too much work. If they do choose to continue, they’ll be disappointed in the ending which, ironically, is the only part in which Alexander chooses to be ambiguous.
Desert Medicine is a novel with interesting characters and format, and an intriguing honesty. Alexander, however, would have been done a great service had her editors taken more liberties in their work. Published as is, a potential gem will only be covered in dust. -- Bethany DuVal, www.ChristianBookPreviews.com
To distract herself from the pain of her failed marriage, Laurelle, the mother of five-year-old twins, decides to visit a dying, homebound member of her church. Despite running two plant-care businesses and being reluctant to open herself up to this peculiar older woman, Laurelle continues to visit and hears fascinating stories from Rhoda’s colorful and heartbreaking past in Depression-era Texas and Calexico, California.
Laurelle grows to trust Rhoda and adapts her quiet strength as Laurelle struggles to be a good mom to her son and daughter, determines what role their father should play in their lives, and wonders whether she could have a healthy relationship with another man.
Internally broken yet determined to be strong, Laurelle searches for truth and healing through Rhoda’s stories and her own daily life, and tries to find a way to love others truly, deeply, and without restraint. Laurelle and Rhoda both learn that while life can be hard and disappointing, to hope is a decision.