In Jay’s debut novel, a speech therapist moves to the small town of Tungston, Pennsylvania—locally known as “Tungs”—and finds colorful characters and a little mystery.
At 24, Marleigh Benning’s life is in upheaval: after the sudden death of her mother and father, she discovers they weren’t actually her biological parents. It turns out that she was adopted at the age of 2, and all she knows now are her biological parents’ names and her own original birthplace: Tungs. Impulsively, she pulls up stakes in California and moves to the tiny town, pursuing her ongoing dream of helping people with speech problems. Her patients are a motley crew, such as raspy-voiced Ivory, who won’t stop gossiping long enough to let her vocal cords rest; Luella, who lives with her sister, Margritte, in a trailer full of chickens, trying to avoid another bout of aspiration pneumonia; and Melvin, whose ability to speak was twisted by a stroke and who now can only curse. Another patient, Casey, is a little boy who’d rather act like a dog and babble nonsense than speak to his frustrated mother, who isn’t thrilled by Marleigh’s fix-it attitude. There’s also Beryl Holmes, a cantankerous veteran who refuses to work with Marleigh when she accidentally lets his beloved (and deaf) dog loose. As if all this wasn’t enough, police are seeking a fugitive in the area, there have also been wolf sightings of late, and Marleigh is falling for hunky local fireman Lawyer Hunt—or possibly local doctor Parker York. Marleigh’s patients come across as three-dimensional people, and the details of her speech therapy work are fascinating, aided as they are by Jay’s real-life years in the field. Other aspects of the novel, however, are a little lackluster. Both the romance and the mystery seem unnecessary, for example. It also doesn’t seem plausible that Marleigh wouldn’t immediately start searching for information about her birth parents—particularly when it’s the primary reason for her move.
An often intriguing story, despite a few too many plot elements, that shows the disparate ways that speech therapy can help people regain their voices.