A Place Called Home
It was with some trepidation that I began Jo Goodman’s A Place Called Home, because I seemed destined to compare it to the recent movie Life as We Know It. The book and the movie both feature an unmarried couple with mutual friends who pass away, leaving their offspring in the hands of childless people with no relationship to one another. While there are some similarities, this book has a life all its own, and I found the characters much more interesting than those portrayed in the movie.
When the book opens, Mitch Baker and Thea Wyndham are meeting with their lawyers to hammer out details of their joint guardianship. Their mutual friends have been dead for a month, but Thea has been completely out of touch and has just found out about the deaths and the terms of her friends’ will. In the interim, Mitch has moved the three children into his home and done his best to become a parent, but he’s not prepared to accept sole custody with only financial assistance from Thea. Unfortunately, Thea is in a committed relationship with an older man who has already reared his children and is adamant about not wanting more.
Thea and Mitch’s first dealings are understandably contentious, made more so by Thea’s fresh grief, and pressure from her fiance and Mitch’s girlfriend. Also complicating matters is Mitch’s frank attraction to Thea, who had turned him down for dates no less than five times in the past and had even started avoiding her friends’ events for fear that Mitch would be there. Thea adores the children, though, and is drawn into the parenting role bit by bit, despite her fiance’s wishes and her own personal fears and issues.
I adored Thea. At first her character seems ambitious and a little cold, but events soon disabuse the reader of that notion. She has compelling reasons for trying to get out of the joint custody agreement and for attempting to distance herself from the children besides an occasional visit. As her history is revealed the book becomes just as involved with Thea’s personal journey as with her relationships with the other characters.
Mitch I didn’t like as much. Sure he’s a responsible guy, stepping up to the plate when his friends pass away and handling his new fatherhood remarkably well, but he also reveals a douche-baggy side in his dealings with Thea and his girlfriend. I felt like he kept his marriage-minded girlfriend stringing along too long when he had no intention of proposing, especially when he seems to keep the girlfriend around mainly to show Thea that he’s in a relationship, too. Also, although it is explained that he was nervous at the time, his initial proposition to Thea when they first met was crass. He continually hits on Thea even though she’s engaged.
A Place Called Home is a very easy read, nonetheless. The back cover blurb promises laughter and tears. While I experienced neither, I did read the book through in one sitting. The plot just flows along, except for one instance when Mitch was intentionally cruel to Thea near the end. The dialog is well written and the love scenes are nice and warm. You’ll love the secondary characters, as the children have distinct personalities and aren’t just cute wallpaper kids, and Mitch and Thea’s loved ones experience personal growth of their own.
Mild spoiler here: Readers sensitive to the subject should know that some vivid memories of child abuse are revealed.