Monday, July 12, 2010

The Angels of Morgan Hill -- Donna VanLiere -- 2006

The Angels of Morgan Hill 

Donna VanLiere

My Rating: 5 Stars

The year is 1947; Morgan Hill, Tennessee.

“It was raining real hard the day we buried my daddy. Mama said it was because the angels were crying, but after hours of drenching downpour, I doubted the angels were crying tears of joy about seeing Daddy in heaven but instead were just downright upset about having him there.”

They had just buried Jane's father, after he'd drank himself to death. She and her younger brother John couldn't understand why most of the grownups pitied them. They only knew they should look sorrowful when someone noticed them. Jane was almost glad her father was dead because that meant Mama wouldn't get beaten up on anymore.

Frances Gable was a widow with two children and pregnant with her third. She didn't know how she was going to support her children with another on the way. She didn't want the baby. She didn't know it, but she did want the baby. She was only scared about being the proper mother with no money and three kids to feed. They were all counting on her.  Maybe it was the fear of the future that made her bold when the first black folks arrived in Morgan Hill.

Morgan Hill had never had slaves before the war, so there had never been any black folks in town before. And when they decided to come to the only church in town, some people, including Fran's best friend, murmured. But Fran set her lips in a firm line and was the first to welcome Willie Dean and his family into the congregation. It didn't take long before Frances and Addy Dean got to know each other and became best friends.

“Miz Fran, I don't know nothing about the race you're running. All I know is that if you want, I'll be one of them people who'll give you a cup of cool water.”
Fran looked down at the dust covering her shoes. “I might need a great big pitcher of water.”
“Then I'll just keep my well full.”

But tragedy struck. The Dean's house burned down, taking with it Willie, Addy and their young daughter Rose. Only their son Milo was left. Addy was rescued before she died but her lungs were beyond healing. Just before she breathed her last, she asked Frances to raise Milo. Of course, Fran said she would and with those words, the little family was thrown into a situation that would shake them up, turn them inside out and whether they landed on their feet or not was debatable.

A young white widow with a nine year old and a seven year old, baby on the way, in a neighborhood of mixed (high!) emotions about blacks, taking this child in and loving him as her own. But if anyone was up to the challenge, it was Fran Gable.

“Fran leaned against the counter. 'His mama asked me to take care of him, and I mean to...'
'You don't have to do this, Fran,' Margaret whispered. 'He's a colored person.'
'We're all colored people, Margaret!'”

Told from the view of nine year old Jane, the reader is allowed a unique view of the of those first few months. You will read about how Jane prayed and prayed for a daddy who would love her and John and Milo and Mama like a daddy should. You will read about her best friend named Henry and how she and John made Milo their brother. They didn't care about his skin color anymore than their Mama did. And you will read about how their determination to do what was right changed everyone in Morgan Hill.

What I Liked:
1: How well written this story was. Each emotion was properly balanced and completely understandable. The turns in the story were a little surprising but seemed right. The characters could be myself or anyone I know.
2: The good in the neighborhood reminds me so much of where I live. There aren't many places left like that.
3: I love how courageous Fran is.
4: I love how sweet and kind... but brave and firm Joe was. He's the perfect imperfect hero. (That is not a typo, btw. ;-))
5: The romance. :-)
6: The children. They were regular, good kids with plenty of mischief to season them.
7: Henry and his family. Every community needs a Henry. I appreciate how honest he is with the children.
8: The references to God and how He answers prayer. This book isn't exactly what you'd term an inspiration book, but the relationship Jane had with God was very good. It put into perspective how God does hear our prayers and always answers. (not always yes :-))
9: One can see how God had his hand on the Gable family. Not everything that happened to them was good or nice but in the end, they were stronger for everything that had happened.
10: This book had just about everything in it: mystery, romance, family life, drama, mountain climbing, music (The Carters family was in town!), doctors, child discipline, ice-cream, issues like prejudice and town bullies, fire, threats, child birth, honesty... you name it. But at the end of the story, the reader is left feeling satisfied. There is a good feeling. But it isn't because the story is all warm and fuzzy. It's because the book deals with issues that each and every person has had or could deal with and the solution is to hold on and pray.
11: And don't miss out on the humor. Tucked in just when you don't expect it. :-)

“I almost burst that day. God had heard my prayers and given us a daddy; he'd given all of us a family...”

This is one of the best books I've read in awhile. I am looking for more of Donna VanLiere's work...

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