Imagine being a woman with two children in 1936 when a wagon pulls up in front of your store and tells you that not only has your husband and his wife died but that he has left you with three children he sired in another town. That’s the opening conflict of Room for Hope by Kim Vogel Sawyer. This book explores faith, forgiveness, and mercy with a straightforward plot line and memorable characters.
The back of the book and my description above may seem to tell much of the story, but, in fact, they only tell the contents of the first fifteen pages or so. Sawyer does a brilliant job of carefully revealing the emotions of the characters and small new plot additions. In fact though, the plot doesn’t go much farther than watching the family and the town come to terms with the fact that Warren Shilling led an entirely other life complete with another family in another town. The author’s strengths in this book lie in character development. Sawyer allows the reader to watch Neva Shilling pass through grief into denial and finally into acceptance that she has chosen to keep these three children which her husband produced with another woman.
The book is divided into multiple points of view which allows the reader to really understand how this unusual circumstance affects not only Neva and the the children but also the sheriff and the widower with two boys next door. Unlike some books, the author carefully selects moments to make the transition between character’s voices. One particularly crafted moment is when the young boy, Bud, has just learned of his father’s indiscretion. He runs out of the house straight into Arthur, the widower next door with his eyes on Neva’s store. Arthur consoles him, and as the boy runs across the street, the author makes a transition into Arthur’s voice.
As far as this being a Christian fiction, it has a very soft Christian thread that runs through the story without cutting into the reader’s flesh or being a hindrance to the story. Two characters do come back to their faith in God, and Neva Shilling demonstrates the mercy of God in multiple ways. The preacher plays a significant role in the development of several characters while his character remains static. It’s not in your face about quoting scripture, but scripture is a source of comfort and guidance to Neva and other characters
This book is a fairly fast read. I finished it in five days, and there were one or two days where I read none or very little. It’s not fast in the sense that it’s a light book, though; there are some heavy topics to consider as the story progresses. I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves character-driven books. While it’s technically set in a historical time and references are made to the Depression era strife, it’s not exactly what I would call historical fiction. I think the story and the characters could move to a modern time and still hold.
I look forward to reading more by this author in the future. I’m especially interested in Guide Me Home because it is set in Mammoth Cave.