Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Little Mercies

Title:  Little Mercies
Author:  Heather Gudenkauf
Publication Information:  Harlequin MIRA. 2014. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0778316335 / 978-0778316336

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "I guess what I'm trying to say is that we all have our moments. We all have those times when we turn our backs, close our eyes, become unguarded ... I know that no matter what happens you'll get through this. We'll get through this. You have to look for the little mercies, the small kindnesses and good that come from the terrible."

Little Mercies takes on the issue of child welfare system from two perspectives. Ellen Moore is an experienced social worker with a family of her own. Jenny Baird is a ten-year old girl who has been in the system and is now trying to stay out of ti.

Ellen is devoted to her work and her family. She is pulled between the conflicting demands of her career, her husband, her children, and her mother. She is trying to juggle all the balls and is constantly running from one to the other. One day, a crisis in her job and her attention leads to an accident that has a huge life altering effect on her family. Is it neglect? Is it an accident? Is it abuse? What happens when a caretaker of the system becomes one of the accused?

Jenny Baird is a little girl living with her father - no job, no money, no home. Circumstances put her in a new town all alone with only the hope of finding her grandmother based on an address on an old letter. Jenny's life has been a constant struggle to survive. Her greatest fear is ending up back in the foster care system.

The characters in the book - particularly Ellen, Jenny, and Ellen's mother Maudene - are well drawn. The other characters - Ellen's husband, the children, Ellen's friend Joe - exist on the periphery and are not really fleshed out, but the story is really about Ellen, Jenny, and Maudene.

Ellen's struggle to balance career and home, especially a career as emotionally draining as hers, is a struggle that many people can relate to. Her realization of how little separates her and some of clients is a life lesson that many of us need to learn. We don't know the struggles of any other person; yet, often, we stand in judgement of their actions. Ellen at one point says, "if I ever was able to be a social worker again, I would look at my clients a little bit differently, with a bit more empathy."

Jenny's struggle to survive and her fears come through clearly in the book. Her statements of fear of police and social workers. Her attachment to her backpack. Her need to hoard food. Her reaction to Ellen's children who are surrounded by a loving family. Her need to find a family and a connection no matter how troubled it may be. At times, Jenny sounds older than her age, but perhaps that is because of the life she has led.

Maudene's character is the nurturer. She is the mother and the grandmother - the one who loves selflessly and cares for all those around her. Her loneliness since her husband's death is captured and described subtly throughout the book. Her need to find a connection and be needed is perhaps as strong as Jenny's need for a family.

My concern with this book is that the plot seems contrived. Too many coincidences come about for the story to unfold exactly as it does. I won't say what happens, but I will say that all the dots connect a little too easily. The book ends too neatly. You know where the book is going, but it is an engaging read to get there.


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