Desert Isle Keeper
There is something about spring that is always warm and exciting and full of promise to me. But summer can go in any direction – it can be a warm and delightful season full of lazy heat, trips to the swimming pool, ice cream and baseball games. Or it can be ominously hot, full of air so heavy it almost hurts to breathe it, tempers so strained by the temperature they are endlessly at the breaking point, and that sense that promises storms of monumental proportions – storms that drain you physically, emotionally and mentally. Hurricanes that may not bring healing rain but only death and destruction everywhere you turn.
Ella Barron has weathered many such storms throughout her life and would not be surprised to find another heading her way. The proprietor of a boarding house, Ella rises with the dawn to make breakfast, scrub laundry in her old hand crank machine, and care for her fragile son Solly. She feels no portends in the endless heat of the Texas day. Not even when a knock on the door announces the presence of unexpected visitors.
David Rainwater needs a quiet place to stay while he sorts through the many changes his life is about to experience. His introduction to Mrs. Barron’s boarding house would hardly seem to fit that bill, since it involves a near fatal accident for her young son. Yet he is drawn to the immaculate home and quiet dignity of the lady running it. And to the fragile young man whom she guards so zealously. He pushes to have her accept him as a tenant, never realizing that he has altered all their destinies with that one simple act.
Sandra Brown is an author always willing to look the horrific right in the eye and this book is no exception. Here we are treated to all the things that made the Depression era so darn depressing. There are farmers with starving herds who are caught between shooting their cattle to benefit from a government program or losing their land and homes. There are shanty town dwellers, starving and unable to do anything to keep their children from that same fate. And everywhere there is prejudice. Prejudice against the poor. Prejudice against the different. Prejudice against those of another race.
And there is young Solly. A child with a disorder, autism, which has not yet been named. Whose mother has to stand against the doctor and against the rest of her community who feel that he should not be a part of their society, that he should be locked up and put away where the world doesn’t have to face him. He is severely affected, living completely in his own world where touch can not comfort him, change brings on the worst reactions, and there is no one seemingly who knows how to help.
With all that this tale should have been depressing. And it was – a bit. But it was also a story of triumph. Of how even when facing bullies backed by the law, individual people can shine and show us the direction we should be taking. And it is a love story, showing how two people can come together and create something beautiful in the seeming ugliest of situations.
This is not a romance for the squeamish. Ella Barron is a self-pronounced adulteress. Yes, her husband had deserted her but technically she is still married when she and Rainwater get together. And their HEA is far more an emotional thing than a traditional one. I am normally vehemently opposed to both those things in my novels – I am too aware of the injured party in a love triangle and read romance for the sugar-coated endings – but somehow Ms. Brown made this work for me. Perhaps it was the sheer wonderfulness of her characters. You could not ask for a better friend or mother than Ella Barron. And David Rainwater is the kind of champion that fought in the trenches of the Civil Rights Movement long before it even existed, back when the price for fighting was so darn high it could literally take your breath away. These characters are such solid, decent, real people that you can’t help but wish the earth was peopled by them.
And their love story is a perfect blend of the real and extraordinary. These two people, each with burdens difficult to bear, enter into the relationship dance almost unwillingly. But once there it is a dance well worth reading. I think it is because we know the heart of them so well and realize their love is so bittersweet. It really is a light shining in a world that feels extremely dark. But then that light becomes powerful enough to change the course of events in the small lives around it.
This novel won’t be for everyone. I know some simply can’t read without that HEA or want nothing to do with painful aspects of history in their leisure reading and believe me, I get that. But if you are looking for a romance with substance and heart, that reminds us that taking a chance on love can change everything, this may be the book for you. I almost didn’t read it. I’m glad I was fascinated enough by the concept to give it a chance.