The Secret Stones
In Dee Holmes’ latest book The Secret Stones, we find a family torn apart not only by divorce but also by tragedy. Mattie Caulfield’s oldest daughter Jessica has been in a car accident and is in a coma. Mattie rushes to the hospital to find her ex-husband Stephen already there. The two discover that not only was their daughter with someone who was not one of her usual friends but that Jessica was also pregnant. The accident and their discovery of the pregnancy serves as a catalyst that brings many unsolved family issues to the surface for this seemingly “together” family.
When Mattie and Stephen divorced they were very careful to let their daughters, Jessica and Hannah, know that they still loved them and would be there for them. But it’s really no secret to anyone that Stephen wants to get back together with Mattie, even though the divorce was caused by his resentment over her becoming primary breadwinner while he couldn’t find a new job in his field. It’s obvious that Stephen is willing to use Jessica’s illness as an opportunity to get Mattie back. But Mattie has a new man in her life, Wayne Landry, and sees through Stephen’s ploy. She doesn’t want to marry Stephen again and is often annoyed by his heavy handed and presumptive behavior. But her parents and younger daughter both pressure her to patch things up with her ex, and as Mattie finds out more about Jessica’s life, she worries that the divorce may have done a lot of harm. Naturally, this adds to her guilt.
Stephen is not the only person using Jessica’s accident as an excuse to behave inappropriately. Hannah, their younger daughter, has become unruly and defiant. She’s taking over Jessica’s best friend and boyfriend and going out of her way to prove something that she can be just as popular as her sister. She seems to give little thought to her sister lying in the hospital, unless she’s ticked off because it seems to be “all about Jessica.” With this pressure, Mattie begins to wonder what she should do. She really loves Wayne (who is a pretty nice guy by the way) but she’s also so concerned with her family that she tends to let herself be manipulated, even when she seems quite aware of exactly what is happening.
The story held a lot of promise, but it failed for me because of its characters; I disliked many of the important ones. Stephen was a smarmy manipulator right off the bat. Hannah came off as a selfish little shrew that cared about no one. Teenagers can be a little self-absorbed, but I found it hard to believe she could be so callous when her sister was in a coma. Mattie’s parents seemed to be somehow frozen in another time. Their blatant disregard for their daughter’s feelings and their endless worshipp at the altar of Stephen was too much. Even Mattie herself was very hard to like. I tried putting her actions in perspective; after all, her daughter was in the hospital in a coma and she had learned things that caused her to question choices she had made. But she seemed to jump from one conclusion to the next without learning anything, or she’d end up doing some backpedaling. First she was with Wayne, then she wasn’t, and then she was with him again. Then she’d wonder whether she should reconcile with Stephen. Would that be the best thing to do for the spoiled Hannah? Wayne and his nephew Kevin were the only likable people in the book. Wayne was truly the epitome of a long suffering boyfriend. He put up with a heck of a lot, including assumptions made about his nephew and Jessica, who used to date.
There were also a few things about the plot didn’t mesh. There was a side story about a high school guidance counselor that seemed to have been tossed in to add some scandal. There was also a Big Secret concerning Jessica that a lot of readers will find it distasteful. It wasn’t discovered until near the end of the story. There are absolutely no clues leading up to it; the reader is just blindsided with it. I was fairly surprised and it happened late in the book.
Because this is a work of fiction and not a romance, Wayne and Mattie’s story is by no means the most important part of the book. The ending is not wrapped up with a traditional romance HEA; while appropriate to the story, it may leave some readers feeling let down. Fiction differs from romance in that its characters don’t have to be likable for a book to work, but there has to be something compelling about them that allows the reader to feel for them regardless. While The Secret Stones is an interesting portrayal of a family in crisis, most of the characters failed to engage me; as a result, I didn’t care what happened to them. The author does tell an interesting tale, fans of her previous The Caleb Trees may well enjoy this book more than I did.