A teenager moves from a run-down, coal mining town to an artistic haven in this debut novel.
Eighteen-year-old Daniel McHale is just about to graduate from high school when tragedy strikes: His single mother suddenly dies, leaving him and his twin brother, Dustin, uncertain about their futures. Daniel, the dreamier of the two, confides in Jane Hatfield, the owner of the local bookstore, who tells him that if he wants to make anything of himself, he needs to leave town. Luckily, she has a friend who rears horses in the city of Jenningsburg who’s looking for a hired hand. Soon Daniel is off to a new life of hard but fulfilling labor for tough, good-natured Kathy Delaney, who moonlights as an artist and helps nurture his love for antiques and historic buildings. Everything changes, though, when Daniel meets Amelia Branagan, a violist in a Celtic band who visits Jenningsburg every summer: “He knew this one was special. He wasn’t sure why yet, he just knew his soul was singing, his heart was tingling, and his stomach was alive with hundreds of butterflies dancing about.” Daniel and Amelia begin spending their weekends together, going on long hikes to waterfalls and taking a historic, steam-powered train to a restored Shaker village. Before Amelia leaves to go on tour, Daniel works up the courage to confess his love to her. But she demurs, unwilling to enter a long-distance relationship. When she returns a year later, will Daniel convince her that she’s truly “the woman of his dreams”? This heartfelt novel’s strong beliefs in the ways of the past, devoted love, and the beauties of nature are quite admirable. But Daniels’ tale, which offers two artistic protagonists, sometimes suffers from blandness and clichés, both in its main romantic plot (“Amelia’s voice was like the choir of 100 angels. Looking into her eyes was like looking at the stars”) and in the bizarre woodenness of its descriptions: “His face was slender, his nose wasn’t large, but it was bigger than the national average for a man of his age and race.” And just as the town Daniel grows up in has very few redeeming qualities, his experiences in Jenningsburg are so hyperbolically positive (“enchanting,” “magical,” “poetry would be written about it”) that the effect at times becomes numbing.
A messy love story packed with nostalgia.