An overwhelmed family living in the rural plains of western Canada begins to change when an abused 11-year-old enters their lives.
The quietly powerful second novel by Canadian author Kimmel (The Shore Girl, 2012) takes place over a bitterly cold week at the end of December. Eric and Ellie Nyland have been living in the small town where Eric grew up for about a year, and neither of them is entirely satisfied with their decision to move there. Eric has given up a position with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to work as a security guard. Ellie, deeply depressed, is grieving a series of miscarriages. Their 14-year-old son, Daniel, has been grounded for smashing his grandfather's old truck, which he had taken without permission and without a license. Their 5-year-old son, Sammy, somewhere on the autism spectrum, doesn't cope well with any kind of change. They are stuck in this domestic bog when Eric sees a girl struggling through the snow on the road near their house. As it turns out, Hannah's mother has died, and she is being cared for by her mother's ex-boyfriend. After he beats Hannah and locks her in the cellar, he is arrested, and Eric is persuaded by an old friend in Child and Family Services to take her home for a few days. Kimmel painstakingly describes the impact of Hannah's presence on the family and their effect on her, moving smoothly among the points of view of Eric, Ellie, Daniel, and Hannah. She lingers over small scenes—a trip to church, an excursion to chop down a Christmas tree, a family dinner—and allows them to reveal the characters gradually. In addition to the tensions within the family, the brutal weather outside becomes a credible source of danger.
In less careful hands, this story could have come across as sentimental or melodramatic; instead, it takes shape as a guardedly hopeful tale of resilience.