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Saturday, February 25, 2012

With A Name Like Love, written by Tess Hilmo. Farrar Straus Giroux, Douglas & McIntyre, 2011. $18.95 ages 9 and up

"Moody didn't ask Ollie why she wanted to go to the Koppel place. Unlike Sheriff Burton, he didn't warn her against the horrible things that would happen to her precious soul if she befriended the boy. Unlike Mrs. Mahoney, he didn't assume she'd be over her head in trouble. He just pointed out the way and let her go."

Here's a family you won't soon forget! And, the mystery that draws them to the people of the small town of Binder, Arkansas makes it a compelling and quick read.  It's hard to put down once started.

When the Reverend Everlasting Love and his family set up in a farmer's field just outside town for their three day revival meetings, they have no idea that Binder is a town with secrets. It is Olivene (called Ollie) who makes the discovery and asks her father for help in getting Jimmy's mother our of jail. What Ollie has learned from Jimmy is that his mother is not guilty of his abusive father's death and she is wasting away in jail for admitting to it. Why?

That is the mystery. Everyone in town believes she did it. How can the Love family help? Well, there is no excuse for someone being accused unjustly of a murder she did not commit. As Ollie comes to know more about Jimmy and his family, her heart opens and she convinces her own family that they MUST stay longer this time. They must put aside their travelling ways to make a difference in this small town. Perhaps the church with the covered-up windows is the answer. Her father can stay, help the town heal and provide Sunday inspiration to those needing it. It is a difficult decision for the Reverend Love.

"Ollie knew Jimmy was happy and trying to share his joy, but could see her daddy wasn't taking it. It made her sad, and she thought again of what Martha had said, about how you can't change a person's wandering spirit. Maybe asking her daddy to stay was like asking a stream to sit and visit for a while. Nature just wouldn't allow it."

In her debut novel, Tess Hilmo creates a cast of characters worthy of our admiration. Life in the Love family is pretty normal, except for their constant travel. There are five girls and they do not always get along. We catch glimpses of each unique personality with every new encounter. The family works hard to keep food on the table, to move from place to place bringing a positive message of love and peace and they each find solace in helping others. Jimmy is a young boy, struggling to live on his own, visiting his mother daily and using his deep and abiding love of frogs to bring some joy to his life. Moody is a kind and supportive neighbor who helps Jimmy as much as he can, and worries about the hand the young boy and his mother have been dealt. Mrs. Mahoney is wise and generous, offering a home and hope. The Carters, Sheriff Burton and his son, and even the deceased brute who was Jimmy's father are well-drawn and play an integral part in the unfolding drama. The writing is wondrous!

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