4 out of 4 stars
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Despite fleeing to California and Karen's attempts to put the past behind her, she is still mourning her twin brother's death for which she blames herself. In Finding James by Nancy Blaha, Karen must confront the pain she has tried so hard to bury when she returns to her hometown due to the serious illness of her father. She is plagued by guilt, questions if she could have possibly prevented James' death, and struggles to forgive herself and others. As Karen seeks to uncover the truth, she is shocked by what she learns not only about James but also about herself and the rest of her family. Will Karen finally be able to forgive herself?
This well-written book is just over 300 pages; the story is engaging and hard to put down. It traverses themes of family relationships, guilt, grief, adultery, abandonment, addiction, suicide, faith, forgiveness, hope, and redemption. The story is written in the first-person narrative from the perspective of Karen, the "normal" twin sister of James, who was born with weak lungs and a twisted leg.
I particularly like Blaha's writing style. She excels at showing us who Karen is through her thoughts, actions, and her vast range of emotional responses throughout the book. Layer by layer, Blaha reveals circumstances that have contributed to Karen's insecurities. Family dynamics play a major role in the story, and Blaha presents a well-developed cast of flawed but relatable characters, including her alcoholic mother and somewhat emotionally distant father. As the story unfolds, Blaha skillfully balances the emotional gravity of the plot by gradually building tension, allowing the reader to sense that there is something deeper that will soon come to light.
I can find nothing to dislike or improvements to suggest for this evocative and beautifully written story. While portions of the book deal with weighty issues and sadness, overall, it conveys hope. At the same time, it doesn't sugarcoat the issues or unrealistically suggest quick fixes. The synopsis mentions that Blaha and her husband have been involved in addiction recovery groups, "...helping to set the backdrop" for this novel; readers will appreciate the authenticity this lends to the story. Additionally, the book is professionally edited, contains no profanity, and the few sexual references are nonexplicit.
Therefore, I'm pleased to rate Finding James 4 out of 4 stars. I recommend it to readers who enjoy redemptive stories involving family relationships. Readers in recovery will appreciate Blaha's sensitivity in addressing addiction and references to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
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