The title of this book should give you a clue that it is not an altogether happy read. Despite the sadness, though, there are some very positive moments here that brighten the gloomy atmosphere. All in all, however, Parting Gifts has a been-there, done-that quality to it.
Kyra Latimer’s husband dies in a car accident. Shortly thereafter, a horrible girl shows up on Kyra’s doorstep claiming to be her biological daughter and wanting to drop off her very young son. Though not medically possible, Kyra takes in her “grandson” regardless because she can see (and smell) that he’s been neglected. Kyra and the boy, Jesse, begin their life together, trying to get used to each other. After many happy years, a tragedy looms that they must both face and learn from.
Neither Kyra nor Jesse were very appealing characters to me during the first part of this novel. Jesse was an untrusting boy, and Kyra was a woman plagued with self-doubts, and at times self-hatred. She often refers to herself as fat or freakish. As a child, Kyra deliberately gained weight to counteract her perfect beauty since she was never sure if people liked her for herself or her looks, and that way she didn’t have to wonder. Interestingly, however, I never got a clear picture of Kyra’s appearance. While she refers to herself as fat or freakish, everyone else tells her she is beautiful, or that she can’t really see herself. Kyra has many lovers throughout her life, so I think the other people must be right and she is not freakish, but still I could not “see” her.
Jesse didn’t talk at all in the beginning, which was no wonder, considering his abuse. He becomes more sympathetic and likable as the novel progresses. Jesse is clearly a special boy despite his bad temper and he is the one who brings Kyra’s family together.
There are some lovely moments with Kyra and her family, particularly her mother and brother. Kyra’s immediate family are actors and directors, and Kyra herself is a costume designer. Kyra had always doubted her place in her family and wondered if there were more to her family than simply the roles they played. After hearing Kyra’s doubts about her mother early in the story, it was so nice to see them completely proven wrong. As the story progresses, Kyra begins to forge a true relationship with her brother, and they have some wonderful talks.
The secondary characters are a very varied lot. Kyra’s Aunt Catherine has had so many plastic surgeries that she’s lost the character of her face completely and looks rather freakish herself, and she’s not altogether in touch with reality either. Catherine’s daughter, Glenna, is Kyra’s cousin and best friend. Another character, Annie, shows up late in the game and becomes Kyra’s best friend and savior. And Kyra has a quasi-love interest in the form of one of her directors who is emotionally clueless but comes through when she needs him.
The story here played out almost predictably. Kyra and Jesse have an almost perfect life together up until the looming tragedy, and Kyra turns out to be an almost perfect parent. Jesse has a temper but is otherwise a great kid. Kyra’s family bonds after years, and she finds a great friend. Anyone who has read women’s fiction to any degree will know how this story turns out. All in all, this was a nice book, but nothing special. My conclusion: Parting Gifts is a nice read, but I would wait for the paperback.