3 out of 4 stars
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What do Christmas stories remind you of? If it's kicking back with a hot chocolate drink with marshmallows, settling down for a leisurely read, or having a cathartic cry over the This is Us TV show, then this book is for you.
Hope of Home by Samuel Cronin is a fictional family drama and has a book-within-a-book format. Marcus Straw, estranged from his family, received an early Christmas gift from his grandfather Douglas. Within it is a letter asking him to come home because his grandmother misses him and is not well, along with a book written by Douglas also titled Hope of Home. His girlfriend Isabel convinces him to go home alone and even take the train so he can do an Eat, Pray, Love type vacation and reflection. During the trip, he reluctantly picks up the book and proceeds to feel differently towards his family.
Hope of Home by Douglas Straw is about a cynical Douglas who has received devastating news that he is trying to keep a secret from his family, especially his wife, May. Consequently, he does not want to do a time-honored family Christmas tradition - to play Santa - though his family is gathered outside his room waiting for him to give cheer and gifts. Despite much loving prodding from May, Douglas is undeterred, so May bundles up the family and takes them out to see the lights in the neighborhood. After some time, Douglas decides to follow the tradition after all and dons the Santa suit to surprise the family when they get back. Unfortunately, a tornado levels the town and his family does not return. In his grief, Douglas becomes like Miss Havisham, wearing the Santa suit while digging through the rubble to search for his family and waiting for them for months. Along with his friends Ruthie and Peter, Douglas opens the perfect, thoughtful presents from his family and thinks back to the times evoked by the gifts.
There are so many things to love about this book. The cover is well-designed; the reader peeks through a train window like Marcus. I like the allusion to Miss Havisham from Great Expectations and the framing device of the book within the book. In the beginning of the book, there was a list of the Straw family members, which was useful to me. I liked that there were three female characters who were listeners and acted as a moral compass. Samuel, the author, thoughtfully gives direction in the prologue on how to understand the chapter symbols that indicate time jumps and jumps between the main book and the book within the book. The directions were not needed though; the storyline is pretty easy to follow. The plots in both books are simple, but powerful enough to make me sit up and reflect on my personal situation. I even shared some of the anti-materialism quotes to my social media. One of my favourites is, "This land from sea to shining sea is littered with rubbish and broken things." Other writing gems include, "... a puff of ash with waterless eyes" and "You can't hold someone's heart while holding a gun too."
The writing of this book is like a calligraphy sample. It is beautiful; however, there are too many flourishes and curlicues, so much so that it is hard to understand some of it. This is a reason for me to take off a star and give a rating of 3 out of 4 stars. There are several grammar errors, such as using the word "discretely" instead of "discreetly" 3 times, saying "croon" instead of "craned their neck", missing words, incorrect pronouns used, punctuation mistakes, and run-on sentences. My mental autocorrect has disregarded these because I was more distracted by the parts of awkward writing. Phrases like, "...he said, with color" and "... his eyes foaming against the white-and-yellow checkered plastic tablecloth...". There was a preponderance of sentences following this format: (something profound), said (character), as (doing something irrelevant or incongruous). For example, "(something witty), said Ruthie, examining her nails." This is very distracting and monotonous, especially in a dialogue. In this excerpt, " 'Then what am I?,' his body leaned, face and hair leaning - toward a young dark realm.' 'Unopened.' " The impact of the dialogue is diluted by the excess flourishes in between.
Since this is a book about Christmas, there are definitely Christian and religious concepts. Given the tragedy in the book, the reader might echo a main character who said, "This holiday will plant a thorn so deep in my side, I will never be the same." Yet, as I said in the beginning, the tears will be cathartic. Let me leave you with another quote from the book, "Once you choose hope, anything else is possible."
Hope of Home
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