A Rose for Maggie
I picked up my copy of A Rose for Maggie at the UBS on one of those I-can’t-find-anything-but-I-need-to-buy-something kind of days. I’d seen it before, had scanned the back cover and thought, “Down’s Syndrome baby plot-Depressing.” But on that particular desperate day I remembered how many times I’d seen this title show up on recommended book lists. It was on the RITA award-winning book list, AAR’s original Top 100 Romances list, and it had showed up occasionally on message boards as a good read. So in the absence of anything more appealing, I figured I’d give it a try and threw it in my basket. I took it home and read it in one sitting. It was very, very good.
Joe Burgett is a complex man. By day he’s a carpenter and a favorite uncle – an every guy. But on his own time he turns into L. Wood Dowd, wildly popular children’s author and illustrator who’s created a series of books about lovable monsters who have unlikely problems, like being afraid of the dark. In order to keep his life normal he’s shrouded himself in mystery, insisting on absolute privacy. Even his publisher, River Roads, has no idea who he really is.
Allison Henley works for River Roads as Dowd’s editor, and she has orders to find out just who L. Wood Dowd is – or else. She feels bad about destroying the author’s privacy, but she can’t afford to lose her job because she’s a single mother, a single mother of a child with special needs. Her daughter Maggie has Down’s Syndrome, and it comes with some major health issues. So she goes looking for a man she imagines to be a jolly Santa type. Instead she finds sexy Joe Burgett, and they share an instant attraction. Because of this attraction, Joe can’t bring himself to send her packing, and now Allison is conflicted in multiple ways. First, she more than half wants to protect Joe from River Roads, and second, she wants Joe to like her but is afraid to get involved with him because of Maggie.
Korbel deals with Down’s Syndrome issue and all of its related problems in a thorough and yet completely sympathetic way. Both Allison and Joe need to confront it honestly before they can decide anything about the future. And it’s certainly a big problem. But how they confront it reveals the depth of all their characters. They act in real and yet mature ways. Joe is kind and funny and empathetic, Allison should win the Mother of the Year award for her loving care of Maggie, and even six-month old Maggie herself has her own quirky personality. They are all wonderfully drawn.
In addition there were a number of deft little touches that Korbel inserted to lighten up the tone and make this an unpredictably fun read. First, in between chapters we meet Joe’s monsters – the Binkley Brothers – in little excerpts from his books. The problems the monsters face mirror the problems the hero and heroine face. Very clever. And then there’s the character of Joe. About halfway through this book I started thinking, “Carpenter. Interested in woman with problematic child. Hmmm. Duh! He’s St. Joseph minus the angel Gabriel and the mid-winter trip to Bethlehem.” A very sexy St. Joseph with a saxophone. This was another nice touch.
A Rose for Maggie is a very good book. It’s well written, it has charming and very likable characters, and it introduces an interesting problem that is resolved in a very touching way. Korbel deserved her RITA award for this, there’s no doubt about it. The only reason that I didn’t award it Desert Isle Keeper status – and I realize that this makes me sound about as deep as a Texas mud puddle – is that I really wanted Allison, Joe, and most especially Maggie to have a happier ending. I wished there was some way to heal Maggie so that she wouldn’t have to suffer any more, so that her mom wouldn’t have to spend any more terrifying nights in the ER, so that no one would ever be able to mock Maggie or make her feel bad about herself. But of course that’s impossible.
Still I would not let the heaviness of the subject matter dissuade you from reading this book. It’s a very wonderful, life-affirming story. I was so impressed with it that I went back to that same UBS and sought out as much of her back list as they had available. I’m very much looking forward to delving into it. If you’re looking for a thoughtful, touching, meaty read in a short format, A Rose for Maggie is the book for you.