I’m going to apologize straight away for this review. I know right now, the words I put on this page will in no way do justice to this incredible debut novel by Jenny Wingfield, so I’m not even going to try. All I can hope is in some way, something I write will spur a little interest in a book that deserves your attention and it would be a darn right shame if you didn’t read it.
Every first Sunday in June, members of the Moses clan gather for an annual reunion at “the old home place,” a sprawling hundred-acre farm in Arkansas. And every year, Samuel Lake, a vibrant and committed young preacher, brings his beloved wife, Willadee Moses, and their three children back for the festivities. The children embrace the reunion as a welcome escape from the prying eyes of their father’s congregation; for Willadee it’s a precious opportunity to spend time with her mother and father, Calla and John. But just as the reunion is getting under way, tragedy strikes, jolting the family to their core: John’s untimely death and, soon after, the loss of Samuel’s parish, which set the stage for a summer of crisis and profound change.
In the midst of it all, Samuel and Willadee’s outspoken eleven-year-old daughter, Swan, is a bright light. Her high spirits and fearlessness have alternately seduced and bedeviled three generations of the family. But it is Blade Ballenger, a traumatized eight-year-old neighbor, who soon captures Swan’s undivided attention. Full of righteous anger, and innocent of the peril facing her and those she loves, Swan makes it her mission to keep the boy safe from his terrifying father.
Samuel is a preacher who is currently without a parish to preach too. He spends some time praying and asking God where he should go next and what work the Lord wants him to do. And while this is not a book about religion, it is a book about deep abiding faith.
Samuel and Willadee’s three children, Noble, Swan and Bienville are typical preteen children in the 1950’s, spending their afternoons exploring the countryside, playing War Spies and Cowboys and Indians and- as my father would say- “gettin’ into Michigan.” And even though these wonderfully precocious children are the heart of this story, this is not a children’s book.
John and Calla, Willadee’s parents don’t sleep together anymore, don’t hardly talk, and John opens up a business on the other side of the house from Calla’s more out of spite than anything else. But this book is not about mixed up dysfunctional families, it’s a story of familial bonds, loyalty and a love so close you long to be a part of it.
I loved every page of this novel. The language…the corniness of the Southern names…the rich character portrayal all sucked me in from the very beginning. I loved how tenderly Ms. Wingfield sewed each character into the fabric of my heart and I almost wept to have to let go of them. At times enchanting and delightful at other times heartbreakingly tragic, The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is one of the best books I’ve read in years! If my book club ever forgives me for the non-fiction read I recommended this month (sorry guys, I thought it was historical fiction!) you can be sure I will be begging every one of them to give me another chance and read this book! 5/5 stars