The Boy on the Porch
On the one-year anniversary of her husband Richard’s death, Annie Hunter comes home to find a 13-year-old boy asleep on her front porch. He says his name is Cullen, and Richard was his birth father. Though her first instinct is not to believe him, Annie soon has to face the possibility that it might be true. This is devastating to Annie, who spent years trying to conceive a child with Richard. In her search for the truth, she’s drawn into the world of Linc McCoy, the man who runs the home where the abandoned Cullen now lives. Linc has no use for rich women like her, but that doesn’t stop them from growing closer to one another.
The Boy on the Porch has a moderately interesting premise, but it’s lacking the main element that would make that premise worth reading about: characters that are likable or distinctive enough to make the reader care what happens to them. Most of the characters in this book weren’t interesting enough to justify spending 300 pages reading about them. There is only one sympathetic character in the entire book, and despite being the title character, he isn’t the main one. A thirteen-year-old who’s lived the life Cullen has is virtually guaranteed to win a reader’s sympathy, despite being a little too perfect for belief. His scenes are the only ones that offer anything worth following.
None of the other characters rise above their stereotypes to inspire any affection or concern. Annie is nothing but a victim in this book, so weak and frail it seems as though she might snap like a twig at any moment. By the time she finally showed some spine, I’d long since given up on her. It’s difficult to care about her hand-wringing about her husband and her marriage when she’s so tremulous about it all and there’s someone with real problems like Cullen hanging around.
Linc is one of those guys with a chip on his shoulder who acts like a jerk, but it’s supposed to be okay, because he’s poor. Mean and poor? Justified. Mean and rich? Well, then he’d have no excuses. Never mind that the way Linc often lashes out at Annie is hardly appealing. The author drags out that old chestnut of the class-difference romance: Linc was once involved with a wealthy woman who dumped him. You’d think having to struggle to keep a roof over the heads of the kids he’s helping would given him motive enough for some resentment against some of the frivolous rich people we meet in the book, but Holmes can’t let the cliché go unturned.
None of the supporting characters is any better. There’s the alcoholic birth mother, her creepy manipulative husband and their bratty spawn. There’s Annie’s screeching harpy of a sister-in-law, whose behavior is not made acceptable by what is later revealed about her. There’s Annie’s dopey mother, who idolizes the dead Richard. There’s Annie’s mean mother-in-law and aloof father-in-law. Except for the passages involving Cullen, this book offers scene after scene of these one-dimensional whiners winding their way through a plot that’s as dull and predictable as they are. Just one surprise, a single unexpected moment would have been so welcome at any point in this story. There isn’t one.
The Boy on the Porch is billed as a contemporary romance, but there isn’t much of a romance, as the “love story” between Annie and Linc gets lost among the subplots and the saga of poor, sad Annie. It’s less a story of one woman coming to terms with the truth about her marriage and learning to be satisfied with herself, than a story about a woman whose problems are solved when she gets the chance to play mommy. It’s nice to get the message from yet another romance author that all a woman needs to be happy is a kid in her life. This is no exaggeration. Annie goes from being brittle and cool to practically weeping in relief that Cullen has come into her life. When other characters point out, quite rightly, that she has no real claim to the boy or ties to him, she is stunned that anyone would suggest this dear child shouldn’t be hers forever when he’s finally made her complete.
Ultimately, Annie and Linc have something of a happy ending, though it’s hardly the stuff great romances are made of. It’s doubtful any ending could have saved this one. Mostly I wished the boy on the porch could have stumbled into a better story, far, far away from all of these people.