by Lynne Hinton, contemporary (2003)
Harper, $13.95, ISBN 0-06-251747-3
Previously published in hardcover as Garden Of Faith; sequel to Friendship Cake.
Lynne Hinton, after a brief misstep with last year's The Things I Know Best, returns with Hope Springs. This book revisits the group of women of the Hope Springs community church garden club whose stories were first told in Friendship Cake.
Life goes on for our circle of friends Margaret, Beatrice, Jessie, Louise, and the pastor Charlotte. In this book, Charlotte is slowly losing her faith only to have it rekindled when she tries to comfort a woman depressed over the death of her daughter. Margaret discovers a lump in her breast - and it's malignant. Louise still grieves over the loss of her dear friend Roxie. Jessie worries over her family matters and a possibility of moving away from Hope Springs. Beatrice, the busybody pessimist in Friendship Cake, is once again at odds with the others: this time around, she's the happily married one trying to tamper her wedded bliss in the face of her friends' problems.
While these women face problems that are staples of feel-good Lifetime and Hallmark movies and the comforting feel-good happy ending is as predictable as they come, Lynne Hinton nonetheless manages to create a beautiful story of friendship that makes sentimentalism actually wonderful to read. Sure, this book can really be overpoweringly sweet at times, but the author's unoriginal use of gardening as a metaphor of her characters' lives (as opposed to cooking the last time around) actually works very well. The women feel real and the friendship convincing despite their differences. There is an underlying current of bittersweet realism underneath the apple pie Americana facade of this story that is made more appealing with often unexpected humor to lighten up the drama.
This book is an "inspirational novel" in the sense that there is a strong Christian theme running throughout the story. But Ms Hinton's brand of inspirational storytelling is gentle and tolerant - Louise is a lesbian - and the elements of faith are never in-your-faith. Ms Hinton no doubt prefers to tell a story of good and virtuous people rather than to have characters sprouting scriptures in a stilted story. Do note however that there are some very mild cussing and even milder sexual elements in this book that can offend the more conservative readers out there.
Still, readers looking for feel-good homespun story of love and friendship with a strong theme of faith without the more preachy and often rigid viewpoint of conservative inspirational romances should give this book a look. If it can make atheists like me sigh inside, hey, it may be good for the soul. Or something. Bottom line is, it's a nice story that can pack a punch when one least expects it.
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