Author Donna VanLiere's novel The Christmas Hope (the third in her Christmas trilogy) proves that she is one of America's finest storytellers, but that she desperately needs the help of a good editor.
We have here a story that is poignant, believable, contemporary and winsome. Patricia and Mark had a perfect family until four years ago when their teenage son Sean was killed in an automobile accident while driving home from college to spend Christmas with his parents. Since then, Mark, a pilot, has taken every opportunity to be away from home working, even on holidays and anniversaries. Patricia has "lost" herself in her job as a social worker, trying to deal with drug-addicted unwed mothers, abandoned children, and quasi-responsible foster care parents. Although a faith-based couple, Mark and Patricia know that their divorce seems inevitable. They no longer can talk, kiss, or make plans together. Mark's bags are packed so that he can move out right after the Christmas holidays.
Patricia asks God to give her some guidance, some reassurance that He still loves and cares for her and understands the grief she has been living with year after year. In response, Patricia gets straddled with five-year-old Emily after the child's mother dies in a car accident. Social workers are not supposed to take children into their own homes, but when no home is available, Patricia breaks the rules. Hey, it's Christmas, right? To Patricia's great surprise, Mark and Emily immediately bond. They both know the heartache of severe loss. Mark becomes a loving caregiver for little Emily. He buys her a store load of Christmas presents, he carries her on his shoulders to see the Nativity scene, he lets her go on walks with him when he runs the family dog Girl, and he even re-learns how to play kiddy games like Candyland. Patricia, too, begins to love and nurture little Emily, but the day comes when they must put the child in a proper foster home, so says "the law." Knowing that this child has been the glue that has saved their marriage, Patricia and Mark fight to make her their own.
Marvelous little subplots pervade the book. There is an infant named Mia whose teenage mother has been sent to prison for four years, and Patricia must get the baby to a hospital for care and then find her a home. There is a co-worker of Patricia's named Roy who just can't seem to "pop the question" to his long time girlfriend. Patricia's parents are hovering and doting and parentally annoying (but lovable), and they try to impose their presence in Mark and Patricia's lives as often as possible. In short, it is a heart-warming holiday story.
What keeps this from becoming a classic book is its confusing, constantly altering point of view. The author cannot make up her mind how to tell the story. It begins as a first person past tense narrative by Patricia, told as a flashback. There are distant memories of events of her childhood, when she and her mother were forced to live off church charity; there are less distant memories of the night Sean fell asleep at the wheel and crashed his car; and there are recent memories of cases she has been handling at her job. Then the book radically breaks the established narrative format and begins telling the story in third person omniscient voice, sharing the story about a young man named Dr. Nathan Andrews, telling the readers information that Patricia could not possibly have known. Then, even worse, at the very end of the book Patricia starts telling the story in first person present tense, as though the reader is right there as things are happening in the immediate now. It makes for a jumbled narrative hodge-podge. Why no one at the publishing house had the professionalism to call the author on the carpet about this is a vast mystery to me.
If Ms. VanLiere can find a good copyeditor and writing mentor, she has the potential of becoming someone whose stories will be read for decades. If she doesn't, her books will be "quick selling seasonal items" that will be forgotten in short order. -- Dr. Dennis E. Hensley, Christian Book Previews.com
Editor's Note: It appears as though this book is being republished this fall through a different publisher, which may resolve the criticisms mentioned here.
Patricia and Mark Addison have long given up the hope of having a meaningful Christmas. But this year, Patricia’s job as a social worker will lead her to a very special five-year-old. Against her better judgment, Patricia bends the rules and takes the little girl to her own home. Through the presence of Emily in their house, and her penetrating questions about heaven, the Addisons learn that there is no sorrow so great that faith cannot help you find your way through. And Christmas will once more be a time of joy in their home. THE CHRISTMAS HOPE is a story of love in the face of loss, joy when all seems hopeless, and how light can shine into the darkest places.