Chasing Down a Dream is the eighth book in the popular Blessings series set in Henry Adams, Kansas, a fictional town representing the townships founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. In the first novel, Bring on the Blessings, Henry Adams had fallen onto such hard times that the town leaders decided to sell it on eBay. The series follows the lives of the residents, now racially mixed, as they rebuild the community and create a welcoming place where people can find a fresh start. Underlying all the activity is the desire to preserve the town’s African American history and culture. While this book can work as a standalone, potential readers may want to read the others beforehand in order to fully appreciate the backgrounds of all the characters who appear in the present story.
Each book focuses on a particular set of residents, and in this novel, we learn how life is treating people through three storylines. A tornado roars through rural Kansas, and within a few terrible minutes, an adoptive father is dead but his children, ten-year-old Lucas and eight-year-old Jaz, are left alone in a wrecked car with scrapes and bruises and an out of commission cellphone. The two begin walking in the hope of finding help, which arrives in the form of Gemma Dahl, a Henry Adams resident who picks them up and, with some help from the county sheriff and town leaders, takes the children home with her. Gemma is hoping to foster the children, but when the size of their inheritance becomes known, a great aunt appears to claim them. With a heavy heart and some trepidation, Gemma bids the siblings good-bye. Later, when Gemma gets a second chance to bring the children back into her home, she must face prejudice against a white woman trying to foster African American children.
Tamar July, the matriarch of the town, has never gotten along with certain members of her family, but at the request of her dying cousin, she opens her home to her and promises to arrange the cousin’s funeral. Tamar is described as a force of nature, and in this story she continues to make that force known. She puts an uppity Social Services agent in her place, meets her match in a sheriff’s deputy who has the audacity to write her a speeding ticket, and experiences a series of unsettling dreams in which her Black Seminole ancestor, First Tamar, returns to convey important messages.
The third storyline shows us how family can affect wedding plans. Jack, a widowed professor with a young son, and Rocky, a gal who wears leathers and travels by motorcycle, make an unlikely pair. The people of Henry Adams know love when they see it, though, and avidly support the couple. Rocky’s friends throw her a shower, and the town’s wealthy benefactress lends them her private jet for their honeymoon. However, not everyone is happy with Jack’s choice of bride. Helen, Jack’s cousin-by-marriage, comes for the wedding and has no qualms about making her displeasure known. Together Jack and Rocky travel with care through the land mines created by Helen’s unrequited love.
Ms. Jenkins’ writing style is sparse, yet deep. For example, few words are used for physical descriptions; more often than not, we learn what a person looks like through impressions and comments from another’s point of view. After an initial description, race or ethnicity of the characters is rarely mentioned but subtle reminders tell you what you need to know for the story. More language is used to show how the characters live and cope amid kindness, selfishness, jealousy, courage, stupidity, and every other virtue and vice in which we humans can excel.
Dreams and family are the main themes of this book while the rich racial history of the community weaves through the tale. The emotion on every page is heartfelt, often humorous, and underscores the power of family love, whether offered by blood kin or relatives of the heart. The flow of each story conjures up a vision of me sitting across the kitchen table from a favorite older aunt as she shares family tales and secrets over a cup of tea. Reading this book, you may recognize people in your own circle and empathize with their tears, smiles, losses and joys. The overall message is to love your neighbor, and we gain hope for our own lives as we meet people from Henry Adams who come into their own and find the strength to pursue their dreams.
Pick up a copy of Chasing Down a Dream, and stop awhile in Henry Adams where you’ll meet up with family, faith, sorrow, compassion, and hope. In a word – life. I’m sure you’ll want to come back.
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