My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Brooke and Peter are struggling in their marriage. Between their busy careers, disagreements about the children, and their competitive career struggles, they aren’t really speaking anymore. Into this disagreement, comes a horrible tragedy when their 3 year old spends 15 minutes underwater while under Peter’s supervision. Haley fights for her life, and the rest of the Baxters rally around praying.
Meanwhile, Peter is riddled with guilt. In that guilt, he distances himself from Brooke and their daughters and finds other ways to cope with his pain. These ways are dangerous and potentially deadly, but they numb his feelings of pain and guilt for just a little while.
During all this pain that Brooke and Peter are going through, there is a season of happiness for Luke Baxter and he and Reagan are getting married. (If you’ve read Redemption #3, this isn’t a spoiler 🙂 ) The family travels to New York City for the wedding to celebrate with Luke and Reagan. There, Ashley finds herself once again encountering Landon Blake and all the happiness he wants to share with her. Will Ashley allow herself to love Landon or will she continue to allow her HIV diagnosis to stand in her way?
This is a book that had so many beautiful things going on in it that I couldn’t help but love it, even though I was completely tortured by it. I’m going to go through each of the major characters and share my thoughts.
Brooke and Peter: I was completely devastated by what they had to go through. They are introduced with these happy, loving three year old and five year old girls. Two chapters later Haley, the three year old, is lying at the bottom of the swimming pool, and she is never the same. I cried for the pain that Brooke went through, for the pain of the injury, and for the blessings and rejoicing that Brooke learns to take in each day. I think her life is a testimony of how God taught her to have joy and to be content in whatever circumstances that she is in.
I had been reading in 2 Corinthians 1 about God being the Father of all mercies and how he comforts us in our affliction in Bible this week, and I had been thinking about how my impulse, much like Peter’s, is to try to escape my pain and beg for it to go away. Because I am weak, God is strong and is able to use my pain as a way of showing his strength and his ability to be with me when I most need him. Sometimes, like Peter, I don’t allow him to do this though. I go my own way and merely try to escape the reality of life. So, I was grateful to encounter Peter and to see myself in him. Peter has to hit rock bottom before he can start allowing God to work in his life, and I can only pray that I am not that stubborn.
Luke and Reagan: They aren’t actually in this book that much, but they have a wedding, and they are celebrating in their joy. Everyone gets to participate in their joy, and it is a rich payoff for what they had been through in Return.
Ashley and Landon: They continue through their “We love each other so much but we have to be apart and move on with our lives” nonsense through most of this book. I just about can’t stand it, and if this book were just about them, I would have already quit reading it. Just keeping it real here. I was, however, thrilled that they seemed to find a resolution for their relationship by the end of the book, and I felt true sorrow for Ashley as she has to mourn someone dear to her. I also truly enjoy all the detail of the ladies at Sunset Hills. They are a true joy to read about and I love every minute of Ashley’s interactions with them.
John and Elizabeth: They are there to pray for their children, to love on them and support them. I felt horrible for John near the beginning of the book as he struggled with his guilt over praying for God to take Hayley home rather than have her live in the vegetative state that drowning left her in. He felt true guilt over his lack of faith, but I can’t imagine that he would feel any other way, and I think that he is beautifully characterized.
I also totally got Elizabeth’s emotions about Luke’s wedding, as she realized that he would be moving away and would now live in a completely different city and state that she would. There are so many things with my children that I would have clung to more deeply and enjoyed more if I had known that it would be “the last time.” Now, I try, as someone who has already went through many lasts with each of my four children, to be present and to savor those moments with them, but in the busyness of life, it is sometimes hard. I am so grateful for each moment, but I know that someday, sooner than I would like, I will be watching my own sons and daughters grow up and get married with that same feeling of wishing they were still little for just a while longer. I find that remembering this makes me more grateful for each moment of connection that I have with them.
Overall, I found this book to be a beautiful book and one that I truly enjoyed. I look forward to seeing how Kingsbury continues to develop these characters as she details the goings on in the lives of this family.