This week for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I returned to an author whose books I enjoy reading: Richard Paul Evans. He wrote The Christmas Box and The Gift, both of which I've read. This week I read Grace.
The back cover of the book starts out with: "She was my first kiss. My first love. She was a little match girl who could see the future in the flame of a candle. She was a runaway who taught me more about life than anyone has before of since. And when she was gone my innocence left with her."
Initially, I put the book aside because I thought it was going to be some sappy love story. Although there is that element of a first love in it, the plot certainly doesn't focus exclusively on that element which was a relief to me.
The book focuses more on why Grace, a teenager, runs away during the 1960s. The author explains (before the story begins) that in 1874 there was a nine-year-old girl from New York City named Mary Ellen Wilson. She "was the most talked about child in America. The event that created a national media frenzy back then wouldn't make the back page of a rural newspaper today: Mary Ellen was abused by her parents."
She was rescued by a neighbor, Etta Wheeler, a Methodist missionary working in Mary Ellen's neighborhood. Eventually, by the time Mary Ellen was ten years old, Elbridge Thomas Gerry of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals took her case to the New York State Supreme Court in 1874; and Mary Ellen was removed from her home and her abusers. Subsequently, the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was created.
The author continued to explain that it wasn't until the early 1960s, "nearly a century after the Wilson case, that the medical profession formally agreed upon the existence of child abuse."
So, while people debated about whether or not child abuse existed, children all over the country were carrying "horrible secrets and scars, both physical and emotional, because no one would believe or protect them. Many of them ran away from home. Grace is the story of one of those children."
In this book, Grace is a girl who attends junior high with the narrator (Eric). Although they attend the same school, their lives do not intersect until Eric sees Grace dumpster diving behind the fast food restaurant at which he works.
Grace tells him that she has run away from home and gives a hint at the seriousness of the reason for her departure. Eric offers to provide a place for her to stay - in a fort house that he and his brother, Joel, built during the summer.
Although the fort house isn't luxurious, it is a safe place for Grace, and she is truly grateful to Eric. Eric, in turn, brings her food and even uses own money to purchase a heater for the fort house so Grace can stay warm on cold, winter nights.
In the book Grace, the author weaves exerpts from Grace's diary with the story, using them as an introduction to the next chapter. Some of the thoughts that Grace expressed give pause for thought:
- To choose the path is to choose the destination. But sometimes it seems that the path is under our feet even before we know we're walking.
- I think the secret to a happy life is a selective memory. Remember what you're most grateful for and quickly forget what you're not.
- Is it better to be lonely or afraid? I should know by now but I don't.
- To truly forgive is to accept our own part of each failure.
As Grace and Eric's deepen, they talk about a variety of issues, some of which Eric says he still think about as an adult. "Grace had a wisdom about life that far surpassed mine," Eric said as he thought about her.
Well into the book - on page 219 - Grace reveals the true reason why she ran away from home. She foreshadows what she fears the most: "If I'm send back home, something really bad will happen."
And, from that point on, the book becomes one that cannot be put down. Despite sadness, loss, and grief that is part of the latter section of the book, there also is goodness. The suspense, surprises, and impact that Grace's life leaves on Eric continues into his adulthood and career.
After the story, the author shares information about The Christmas Box International and a Lifestart Kits that can be purchased and given to teenagers transitioning out of foster care. As Operation Kids states, "Every year more than 24,000 youth age out of foster care. These youths face serious challenges and many of them have no family or support network to help them."
Operation Kids continues, "Without our help many of them are returning to abusive situations or ending up homeless. We can make a difference. Each Christmas Box Lifestart Kit is designed to provide these youths with the resources they need to succeed."
Grace was a moving - and inspiring - story to read, especially before the holidays. It's a reminder of the power of love, compassion, and generosity; and of the importance of trying to make a difference in the world....even if it's just helping one other person with difficulties she or he may be facing.