What She Wants for Christmas
What She Wants for Christmas is an idiotically titled book, that is, nonetheless, a very touching story of striving and acceptance.
Teresa Burkett has just moved her small family from the big city to the small town of White Horse. Her ten-year-old son is fine with the move, but her teenage daughter, Nicole, is less pleased with her new surroundings. Teresa also has her own problems related to setting up her veterinary practice. She bought into a standing practice, but has run into a brick wall of resistance from the local farmers. They don’t want a woman, and a small woman at that, treating their livestock. Teresa has no clue how to change their minds, and while she sits around, her veterinary partner is overworked.
The Hughes family offers some assistance in initiating Teresa into the community. Teresa meets logger Joe Hughes when she contracts with him to cut down a few of her trees. She’s immediately attracted to him and shows it. They go out, they have a wonderful time, and she starts falling for him – he’s so sweet and so good-looking! Joe is happy to introduce her about and use his extensive community ties to smooth things for her. He also has a teenage nephew who takes an interest in Nicole. All is going great, but Teresa, for all of her infatuation with Joe, still senses that she doesn’t really know him. He’s holding something back. She fears that it’s something serious, and she doesn’t know they can have a relationship if he’s unwilling to communicate with her.
Joe does have a secret, and it’s kind of a big one: he can’t read. He’s severely dyslexic, and school was a nightmare of failure for him. He gets along fine in White Horse because his family has connections and everyone already knows about his limitations. Joe has actually succeeded well beyond anyone’s expectations for him. He was able to start his own logging business, and its done very well. Joe may not be able to read, but he has an excellent head for math. Joe is very self-aware; he knows his boundaries, but he is very much afraid that advanced-degreed Teresa is well beyond those boundaries. What would such a bright, beautiful, well-educated woman want with a dumb logger?
I like Johnson primarily because she has a way of making the ordinary seem interesting. If you look at this story objectively, nothing exciting happens. Teresa meets Joe, they like each other, they go out, they fall in love, and there are problems. The book’s only truly unique feature is Joe’s disability, and, really, how compelling is that? Joe has dyslexia. Big whoop.
But it is a big whoop to Joe. He’s tortured by his inability to do something an average first grader can accomplish. He may be monetarily successful, and he may be very attractive, but inside he’s still that kid sitting outside the classroom struggling with remedial reading and advanced humiliation. Johnson brings this out in such a skillful way, and Joe absolutely comes to life. His character is strongly reminiscent of one of my favorite heroes – Will Parker from LaVyrle Spencer’s Morning Glory. Joe may be angry and discouraged occasionally, but he is never self-pitying, and he always has his dignity.
Teresa is a pretty interesting character too. She’s made a life’s work out of never letting anything hold her back. This has some interesting consequences with how she relates to Joe. It was refreshing to see a character who was so open about what she wanted and how she planned to achieve it. The chemistry between Teresa and Joe was also very sharp. Their first meeting absolutely sparkles with sexual tension, and while the book’s sensuality level falls well within the “warm” rating I gave it, the love scenes individually seem pretty hot. It’s obvious these two can’t keep their hands off each other.
Teresa’s daughter, Nicole, is also well developed. The reader frequently sees things from her point of view, and she’s an authentic teenager, fairly self-involved. Perhaps her transition from sullen to accepting was a bit quick, but it was well done all the same. The last third of the book does lose some momentum, though, because we get into Nicole’s head so much. What was going on with Joe and Teresa was more interesting, and it got neglected towards the end. The story’s resolution got things back on track, though. It was affecting and just a little different from what you might expect from a romance.
What She Wants for Christmas is the second book I’ve read by Janice Kay Johnson, and right now she’s two for two with me. Johnson writes in a way that conveys real life very well and, at the same time, makes romance seem possible for normal people in everyday places. If you’ve never tried her, please do.