In Kraus’ (Fall from Grace, 2014) second series installment, a tough custody case tests professional mediator Grace McDonald’s patience and convictions.
After spending years in the small Alaskan town of Homer, Grace returns to her home in Kaw Valley, Kansas, to help her daughter, Molly, raise her 7-year-old autistic son, Max. Only a few months after she resumes her practice, a judge hands her a potentially explosive case. Twelve years earlier, a local college student had a child without telling the boy’s father, who recently learned the truth and now seeks joint custody. The case is complicated by the fact that the young woman, Becca Phelps-Smith, is a member of the publicly reviled Phelps family, which heads the infamous, anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. She and her husband are firm believers in Westboro’s message, which outrages the boy’s biological father, Mike Flores, an Afghanistan combat vet who decides to fight for a degree of custody that can counteract Westboro’s influence. He’s also appalled by the present-day zealotry of the woman he thought he knew, and disgusted by the church itself: “You’d have everyone suffer and burn who doesn’t believe exactly as you do,” he says. His anger increases when Becca’s lawyers question his fitness to be a parent. Kraus displays a tremendous talent for making even the most unsympathetic characters three-dimensional. She also makes Grace a compelling fictional creation: a woman who patiently and skillfully explores the tense pressures beneath the surface of the Phelps-Flores case, as well as the subtleties of her own relationship with her adult daughter. The author also weaves a great deal of background information into the story, particularly regarding the history and makeup of radical Protestantism. At the same time, she never excuses instances of horrifying religious bigotry.
A fast-paced, involving family drama that tackles a headline-grabbing religious sect.