Cindy Woodsmall is well-known for her Amish fiction. I used to read Amish fiction regularly, but I’ve taken a break from the genre. When I saw that she and her daughter-in-law co-authored a contemporary novel, I was interested!
The Gift of Christmas Past quickly introduces the reader into the worlds of teenage foster child Hadley and rich teen Monroe. Hadley finds herself in a position that no foster kid wants to be, and she relies on Monroe to help her escape. When the situation becomes impossible for Monroe to help, Hadley eventually leaves town feeling utterly betrayed.
Years later, when the two of them inadvertently meet, both specialists in speech therapy, the relationship is very awkward. They each realize that they are not in a position to argue or avoid the situation and come together to help the four-year-old suffering from mutism after being in a horrible fire.
The story was hard for me to get into at first. The first three chapters of The Gift of Christmas Past were a flashback to Hadley’s and Monroe’s teenage years. Some of the situations that Hadley dealt with as a foster child felt unrealistic to me, and I had a hard time believing a couple of scenes. I was happy to launch into the fourth chapter, where the story began to feel more believable.
The characters were interesting people. In many ways, they were very naive. Hadley, as a foster kid, didn’t seem to have a whole lot of street smarts like her counterpart Elliott. As adults, the two of them still had some naivete that remained from their teenage years. That grated on my nerves occasionally, but it fit the personalities of the characters.
I really enjoyed the issues that the little girl Chloe dealt with following the fire. The authors explained selective mutism and speech apraxia through Chloe, and it was a theme I don’t remember ever reading in a novel. They did a wonderful job portraying the problems associated with speech issues revolved around trauma.
There were some grammatical idiosyncrasies in the story that seemed clunky to me. I appreciate the use of the em dash like any other writer and reader, but frequently throughout the story, there were many instances of it used in dialogue such as the one below found on page 35:
“Tara, you’ve done more than enough”—Hadley put a hand on the younger girl’s shoulder—”but could you do me one more big favor?”
The action beat as presented in the middle of dialogue is distracting, and I’d rather see the action recast before the dialogue.
The Gift of Christmas Past was a sweet story. Forgiveness, redemption, and overcoming fear were themes that I appreciated reading in this story. If you’re a lover of Christian fiction, I think you’ll find this one a welcome time of entertainment.
About the authors:
Cindy Woodsmall is the “New York Times” and CBA best-selling author of eighteen works of fiction. She’s been featured in national media outlets such as ABC’s “Nightline” and the “Wall Street Journal.” Cindy has won numerous awards and has been finalist for the prestigious Christy, Rita, and Carol Awards. Cindy and her husband reside near the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains in Flowery Branch, GA.
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