Monday, November 9, 2009

White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner

The Janviers have the idyllic life - a beautiful home, great jobs, two wonderful kids - and surrounding it all is the proverbial white picket fence that protects them, offers them a serene sense of security . . . and hides all their secrets.

When her black sheep brother disappears, Amanda Janvier eagerly takes in her sixteen year-old niece Tally. The girl is practically an orphan: motherless, and living with a father who raises Tally wherever he lands– in a Buick, a pizza joint, a horse farm–and regularly takes off on wild schemes. Amanda envisions that she, her husband Neil, and their two teenagers can offer the girl stability and a shot at a “normal” life, even though their own storybook lives are about to crumble.

Seventeen-year-old Chase Janvier hasn’t seen his cousin in years, and other than a vague curiosity about her strange life, he doesn’t expect her arrival will affect him much–or interfere with his growing, disturbing interest in a long-ago house fire that plagues his dreams unbeknownst to anyone else.

Tally and Chase bond as they interview two Holocaust survivors for a sociology project, and become startlingly aware that the whole family is grappling with hidden secrets, with the echoes of the past, and with the realization that ignoring tragic situations won’t make them go away.

Will Tally’s presence blow apart their carefully-constructed world, knocking down the illusion of the white picket fence and reveal a hidden past that could destroy them all–or can she help them find the truth without losing each other?

Susan Meissner cannot remember a time when she wasn’t driven to put her thoughts down on paper. Her novel The Shape of Mercy was a Publishers Weekly pick for best religious fiction of 2008 and a Christian Book Award finalist. Susan and her husband live in Southern California, where he is a pastor and a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves. They are the parents of four grown children.

Two of my favorite things in life - fiction books and history - and Susan Meissner has an amazing talent of tying them together in the pages of her books.  I previously had the opportunity to review The Shape of Mercy, which I absolutely adored; and I've been waiting (rather impatiently) for the opportunity to read another of Susan's books. 

How many of us live our lives behind white picket fences?  We want the world to see us as "normal".  In White Picket Fences, we are introduced to the Janvier family who, like the rest of us, wants to appear normal to their friends; but what's going on behind closed doors is heartwrenching and painful.  They are facing issues that challenge them to the core.  Amanda and Neil are both struggling over an incident involving their son, Chase - should they confront him? Chase is struggling over the same incident and wondering why his parents keep so quiet about it; so he sets out on a soul-searching adventure to find the truth.  His sister, Delcy, struggles with typical teenage-girl-issues; while Tally is dealing with the loss of a grandmother she barely knew and not knowing where in the world her father is when she needs him most.  In the midst of it all, an incredible story about World War II, the Warsaw Ghetto, and Treblinka, is being interwoven into the storyline. 

I am impressed, once again, with Susan's ability to share about a true historical event, while sharing a fictional story.  So far, both of her books have left me longing to know more about these stories of our history, and sent me in search of further information.  Since I'm a researcher at heart, these books are right up my alley! 

NOTE: This book was provided to me, for free, from Waterbrook Press, in exchange for my honest review.  The thoughts expressed herein are my own.

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