My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Baxter family patriarch John Baxter is about to celebrate his seventieth birthday. All his children are looking forward to being in town and surprising their father with a big birthday celebration. John suspects but doesn’t have proof. However, on the night of the party a terrible tragedy happens that leaves the family reeling. Will they trust God in the time of their trouble? Will recover from a deep loss?
This is a book truly plays on the emotions and attempts to use your emotional connections with the Baxters to allow you to experience the tremendous pain that “life-changing fiction” might leave. I felt tricked and played upon because I don’t want to read a fictional book to have such saccharine sweet sentiments pared with horrible, senseless tragedy. I came away feeling like the author was a little bit cruel, but I know that she had the best of intentions and that it was probably harder for her to write than it was for me to read. Feeling confused yet? I’ll try to clear it up in my look at each character’s point-of-view scenes. There are spoilers ahead.
Ashley: She is the driving force of putting together a surprise seventieth birthday party for her parents. She gathers puts all the arrangements together, had each sibling write a letter and attempts to keep it a secret from her father. All is well and good, and it looks like a fun time will be had by all. Instead, her sister and her family are hit by an 18-wheeler on the way to Ashley’s house and all but one member of Erin’s family die. Ashley feels intense guilt because she spent so many years not liking Erin and being jealous of Erin. She apologizes at her sister’s bedside and promises to take care of their surviving daughter Amy. She feels like she has a second chance with her sister. She has a chance to redeem herself.
Erin: Erin is rarely a point-of-view character in the Baxter series and she’s often missing from the Baxter parties and get togethers. Many times I’ve smiled when I’ve read “Erin’s family couldn’t come because they had the flu” or some other line in a Baxter novel. It’s like the author gave the Baxters one too many children and then didn’t know what to do with the quiet, introverted Erin. . . However, in the first few chapters of this book, Kingsbury does an admirable job of painting a picture of a happy little family, a family where Erin loves on and homeschools her daughters, has an excellent relationship with her husband, and a pretty good (but not perfect) relationship with her sisters. She has a worry because the birth Mom of three of her daughters is out of prison and is seeking visitation. Despite this issue, soon Sam and Erin’s family are on their way to see their family in Bloomington when fate intervenes. Even after the accident, Erin’s point-of-view does not stop because she has visions of her children and her mother in heaven. She longs to join them but worries over Amy and the situation with the birth mother. She is finally able to let go and be with her family in heaven when her sister promises that she will take care of Amy. (I so hate when an author writes as if from heaven. Hate those POV scenes!)
Kari: She barely has any point of view except for some overly saccharine reminiscing of her and Ryan’s love story one day as they’re out on the lake. I know it’s a plot device, but just gag me now. I hate emotional remembering for the purpose of telling readers entire plot lines of previous books.
Brooke: She has some of the awful scenes of remembering, but she is at her best in the book when her cool head is able to make decisions and understand medical jargon at the beginning of the tragedy when everyone else is reeling with emotion in such a way as to make them completely unable to cope. Thank God for the way he gave each of us our own distinctive personalities. (One minor personal irritation on her plot lines. I am so tired of being told Hayley’s story in each book of the series. I get that it was a watershed moment in Brooke’s personal faith, but it gets old.)
Luke: He also has a chapter just devoted to telling the plot lines of several books. He has a great perspective though for being able to handle tricky custody battle issues with Amy’s birth mom, so I’m going to forgive him for the incredibly boring trip down memory line.
John: John is the character I most liked in the book. I loved his perspective on his children, and I loved seeing Erin through his eyes. He helped me to emotionally connect with Erin. He made me see what a loss Erin’s death was for him, not just in Erin’s person, but also in his last true memories of his wife. His point-of-view chapters are so sorrowful and sad, but wonderful at the same time.
Dayne: Dayne also takes a dreadful trip down memory line. He also gets a point-of-view chapter just to update us on Bailey and Brandon Paul, even though it’s completely unrelated to the actual story in this book. Both chapters are unappreciated. However, I really felt sympathy for him as he realized that he had learned so much about his family because he just didn’t have the memories with Erin and her family that he has with the rest of his siblings’ families. As a reader, I could relate to his sorrowful distance here.
Marty: The truck driver who causes the wreck gets one point of view chapter. We see that he is a person with a family that he loves. He’s overworked, underpaid and exhausted from his long hours. He just falls asleep and crashes, and he instantly dies.
Landon: We see Landon’s perspective in worrying over his wife and in his conviction that adopting Amy is the right thing to do. He’s always a great supportive character, and he’s great in this book.
Candy: We see Candy’s perspective to know for sure that she has horrible motivations. I’m so glad that Luke and Ashley are able to keep her from regaining custody of Amy.
So, that’s this book in a nutshell. I really didn’t like this book very much because of the narrators’ trips down memory lane and because of the obvious emotional ploys. What a horrible tragedy. How senseless to kill five of the six people in Erin’s family. How awful and authorially lazy to kill off the least utilized family in the Baxter clan. She could have made a lot more impact and killed off a lot fewer people by killing off a main character that was actually more than a blip in the books (like when she killed off Elizabeth in Reunion). Not only was this a senseless book, but other than John’s perspective scenes, I was totally disconnected from much of this book at this point in the series. If I had only had a little more Erin and Sam throughout the series, this book would have been a much more satisfying read.
I have one more book left in the Baxter series. I probably won’t read it for a bit. It’s a Christmas story and is currently a little pricy on Kindle at $10.99. I’m going to wait for the price to go down a little (hopefully when the new book releases), or wait until I really need a Baxter fix to buy it 🙂