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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner

The Janviers live the perfect life. Amanda and Neil both have good jobs, and their teenage twins are doing well in school. They feel good about their stable family life, so that's why they take in their niece Tally to live with them-so she can see how a good family functions. Since her grandmother died and her father is traipsing all over the world in search of a treasure, they think she deserves it. But what the Janviers don't know is that in the midst of their perfect family, things are not right. Discord has been sneaking in right under their noses, ready to tear them apart.

Their son, Chase, has been struggling with the memories of a house fire he thinks he started as a four-year-old. Every time he sees fire, he thinks it's calling him, wanting revenge for the time he escaped from it. He tries to forget this as he and Tally work on a school project-interviewing two Holocaust survivors living in an assisted living establishment.

As is her new trend, Susan Meissner has been paralleling true history with a fictional present to make for an interesting story. But contrary to my previous beliefs, White Picket Fences is nothing like The Shape of Mercy. They are entirely different books, and it is a good thing to see that Susan can write with such diversity.

As usual, the characters of White Picket Fences are realistic because they are imperfect and they have personalities. This is such a welcome addition to Christian fiction because authors often overlook the importance of characters having personalities. I'm glad Susan understands that.

The Holocaust story actually plays a very small part in the plot. Most of the book is about Chase's struggles with fire and Amanda's struggles at her workplace. Susan captured the frequent denial of imperfection so many "perfect families" have throughout their lives in a very realistic way through these two subplots.

Tally's strange family life also plays an important part in the book. Sporadic letters from her father and flashbacks to her former life help the reader understand what she's been through. It's not only realistic, but intriguing.

This book came so close to being five stars. Two things kept it from receiving this honor. First, Chase's subplot ends perfectly, and second, there is a strange convenient connection at the end of the book that serves no purpose whatsoever. Susan could have easily removed these two things and it would have been five stars.

All in all, there were several imperfect things that occur ed at the end that I am very pleased with. I know Susan Meissner has a deep-seated originality within her, but sometimes it gets covered up.

4.5 stars

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