This is one powerful story with a major emotional kick, or rather several. The inspirational message is lighter in some ways because the characters don’t engage it as directly, but it’s stronger in others. It speaks to how we are all flawed and sometimes need a bit of shaking up to reassess what we’ve accepted as true. The human tendency to be bull-headed and fail to listen is very much demonstrated, but so is the ability to learn from our faults, improve, and forgive.
I struggled with the characters in the beginning. Both Carmen and Spencer portrayed characteristics that are my personal tripping point if for different reasons. Spencer is used to his fancy car and privileged existence while Carmen is trying to provide security and stability for her daughter, but both are focused on an inheritance as the way to do that. It blinds them to the people in their lives and turns them into someone I couldn’t appreciate.
Luckily, there’s more to them than that.
The fight over Howard’s will, while Howard is still living, is a necessary part of their journey. It helps them see what they’re willing to sacrifice while also opening both of them up to life-changing decisions about who or what is important. I liked the development in Howard’s character when he’s originally portrayed through Carmen’s fearful gaze as only a chauvinistic, ungrateful burden. When she broadens her perspective, we see how he plays with her daughter, providing needed companionship on the isolated ranch, and how he wants to help troubled young men like his nephew Eric, Carmen’s deceased husband, was.
Spencer’s moment of realization brought tears to my eyes–good ones. It’s the first time he stops himself from jumping to conclusions and instead asks what’s going on in her head. With good reason, they are out of sync through much of the story, reaching out when the other is stepping back, so they never quite connect. This moment starts bringing about the end of that in a compelling way.
Nor is the above scene the only one to make me tear up. The story has both Carmen and Spencer struggling with expectations built on past experiences and what others thought they would or should do. The impact of others on the main characters is pressing and at times oppressive. This is not a story that happens in isolation, but rather the characters suffer from how they have been treated, betrayals, and lack of consideration that left scars deep down where they can’t be seen but the impact is a constant weight.
The story begins with Carmen against the world and Spencer abandoning everything that came before. It could easily have ended with the two banding together in isolation. Instead, they travel a rough and scary road, but they build connections not just with each other and Carmen’s daughter, but also with friends and family once lost.
I have half a dozen other comments I made, but this review is long enough so I’ll just add a quick summary. The more serious moments are lightened with cute and humorous lines while others make you stop and think. The characters come to life so much that I forgot I was reading a book, and the story has many layers affecting each twist and turn. Aspects of the story stretch out beyond this tale, making me want to know more of what comes after even though it isn’t necessary (and hope to later in the series). While the story definitely has a “back to the land” vibe, it is realistic about the dangers and struggles instead of presenting an idealized version. It was fun to see cameos of characters from Comer’s other series as well.
I enjoyed the book, the characters, and the thoughts it inspires. Well worth the time spent in their hands.