Father To Be
by Marilyn Pappano, contemporary/angel (1999)
Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-57985-1

Don't be fooled by the nice, cute the-stork's-on-the-way cover. A cheerful, sunny stories about finding love and babies on the doorstep is the last thing this book is. To those in the know, Marilyn Pappano doesn't write romances without putting in a lot of emotional trauma, dysfunction, insecurities, and other jolly stuff. Sometimes she's very good at what she writes, and I get a good tear-jerking read. At other times she is Antidepressants, Inc and her books reads like an exaggerated TV Movie Of The Week.

Thankfully, Father To Be is pretty good. It's a wholesome, family-value story that is just right. The emotional richness is there, not too overwhelming to make me reach for a bottle of Prozac, and not too little to insult my intelligence.

Caleb Brown is a twelve-year old boy who is shoplifting to keep his three siblings alive. His mother has abandoned them two years ago and his father walked out on them recently. One day Caleb is caught red-handed stealing food. It's off to the social welfare people. Only that the angel Noelle (who also appears in the previous two books in the Bethlehem trilogy) steps in and sneakily lets a shrink who is new in town, JD Grayson, be their foster daddy. For a month only, Noelle promises. Yeah right!

Also new in town is social worker Kelsey Malone. She is definitely surprised to find JD suddenly becoming the foster dad to these games. Wait a minute... she checks the papers. No one seem to have authorize this thing at all. She heads of to the Grayson residence to see to things.

If you expect to read about Mary Poppins 1999, forget it. No happy jovial kid here. We have three sullen, quiet brats led by a rebellious boy mustering hatred and bitterness way more than any other boy his age. Caleb is not your laughing doctor who also owns a Stairmaster. He's a recovering alcoholic who has major dose of guilt over a tragedy in his past, and he is determined not to take the kids in. Kelsey and the few townsfolks that make an appearance are the only bright spark in an otherwise really bleak landscape of characters. This is definitely not a lightweight, laugh-a-minute romance.

Noelle is a more significant character here than she was in Some Enchanted Season, but sometimes I question her wisdom, even if she's an angel, in foisting Caleb and his siblings on JD. JD and Caleb only reinforce each other's worse traits. Caleb's stubborn refusal to accept JD's reluctant overtures only makes the Doc's determination to keep things temporary grow much stronger. As a result, JD acts gruff, cold, and totally insensitive at times, which only confirms Caleb's suspicion that JD is a scum, an untrustworthy scum who would kick them all out at the earliest opportunity. Hence Caleb cranks up the rebel factor. Reading about these Donkeys Senior and Junior gave me such a big headache that I so dearly wanted to step into the story and wave my vacuum cleaner around.

Thankfully Kelsey steps in and she puts her foot down on these two silly people's nonsense. This is one heroine who doesn't let her man act up his nonsense. JD may be mired in self pity and guilt, but even he winces at Kelsey's often brutally candid snap out of it statements. My favorite scene is one, where JD - as usual - bungles up in comforting Caleb after the boy's encounter with bullies. She was definitely furious when she realized JD is on purpose trying to drive the kids away and hence only reinforcing Caleb's nasty habits. Unlike some silly woman who would melt in the hero's arms after trying to say a few angry sentences, Kelsey tells that man off in a manner that made me want to applaud.

The other siblings Jacob, Noah, and Gracie bloom under Kelsey's gentle care and JD's reluctant one. I have to hand it to JD - his eventually realization that he does care for the brats is wonderful. JD isn't a stupid man totally self-absorbed. I was smiling in glee when he decides, two thirds into the book, That's it! I'm not letting that woman get away from me. Gotta pull up my socks and put my act together! Atta boy! That's my kind of hero.

Oh, and parents of adult brats, rejoice. Vindication is here. When JD is stumped, he calls his daddy for help. Smart boy.

I must admit getting slightly peeved at one aspect of this book: Caleb. I never liked reading about children who trample over other people while their idiotic parents watch and smile. I never liked these people when they are starting a food fight at the next table in the restaurant, and I definitely don't want to read about them in my books. Someone should have taken Caleb to task long ago about his tantrums. It is one thing to be gentle and loving, but this boy, in my opinion, crosses the line one too many times. I hate to see children getting beaten up, but this boy deserves a spanking. Too bad JD doesn't deliver one, or the whole drama at the end wouldn't have happened. Tsk tsk. Towards the end, I'm still not convinced that Caleb is not going to end up a card-holder of Parolees Anonymous On Welfare. Oh well.

This book didn't exactly move me to tears or anything, but it's good enough, well written enough, rich enough in emotions and love and strength - good enough for a place in my keeper shelf.

Rating: 86

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