Living up to its name in the best possible way, who’d have thought that a reader could be so charmed by a story that took place on the eve of a historical catastrophe, World War II? This book invests its readers, inviting us into a small-town Kentucky and leading its reader into a deep understanding and pull to care about what goes on in the lives of Kate Merritt and her family along with newcomer Jay Tanner – who, I don’t mind saying, completely won me over as an all-American “good guy” hero. Telling the “grown-up” story of Kate who I understand played an important role in Ann’s prior novel, Angel Sister, this book may not be branded a “sequel,” but it is a kind of follow-up. While I didn’t become wrapped up in this story immediately (more later on for the reason why), there was something in the writing that beckons us to look beyond the surface, to continue with its rich story and discover the story of Kate’s life – and subsequently what would come between her and Jay. Ann Gabhart crafted a unique, sweet romance between the small-town girl and the would-be bad boy. There are several “cute” flirtatious moments between them and those moments were too few – whether Jay was learning what it meant to be a part of a family or the comical “tease” between he and Kate over the suggestion they’d elope, the book sparkled with personality even set against a turbulent time of war and oppressive sorrow.
Before the last page is closed, readers come to appreciate this novel as so much more than a “romance.” It has a deep heart. Emotional issues like alcoholism are confronted or rather the aftermath of that is more prominent – it’s purpose being to demonstrate the sacrifice certain characters made when loving someone so deeply, and also the consuming freedom forgiveness can set free inside a person. Ann does a beautiful job of representing “real” issues families can face and the path (choices) they make to overcome them in a productive way with God at the center of those familial relationships. Kate and her father share rare time alone but I found their one prominent scene together affecting and very indicative of their past – even to a reader who had not “known” them back then.
Cons: The opening of the novel seemed to drag on too long to compel a reader to keep going. What could have been capsulated in a shorter space seemed to clog up the story. It was accepted because what those first 75 plus pages do (which is incidentally the length of the first eight chapters and also the same event being chronicled) is cement the beginning of Jay and Kate’s relationship while also providing us with background on Kate’s once upon a time infatuation with Mike.
There are some cliché moments that lead to awkward misunderstandings, which I know some potential readers will be bothered by. However, I did feel as if most of these were warranted and “acceptable” in their presentation.
Conclusion: In its simplest form, this book is darling, and being dubbed as such is a compliment of the highest regard. Small Town Girl is a lovely story of family, faith and forgiveness. Since reviews are merely a reflection of the reader, I will also briefly share that anyone who doesn’t enjoy courtships that seem “rushed” or underdeveloped between couples may not find this relationship “genuine.” I did and appreciated also the circumstances involved in their romance. The narrative opens up old wounds, and bonds new relationships. The ending is unusually bittersweet but any other wouldn’t have had the same emotional punch – nor been nearly as realistic. There’s a touch of fairytale to the story as is and it yields some nice, albeit emotional results that all cumulated in a beautiful piece of historical fiction – history that is expertly woven into each thread. It was one novel I almost passed up, but am delighted to have uncovered as page after page, I was continually impressed and enjoyed Kate and Jay as people – both as individuals and as a couple.
Synopsis: In the autumn of 1941, rumors of war whisper through Rosey Corner. The town practically vibrates in anticipation, as if it is holding its breath. But for Kate Merritt, it seems life is letting out a prolonged sigh. As Kate watches her sister marry the man Kate has loved since she was fifteen, her heart is silently breaking. And even the attentions of Jay Tanner, the handsome best man, can’t draw her interest.
Then suddenly, Pearl Harbor changes everything. Kate’s friends are rushing to get married before the boys go off to war. The newspapers talk of women making airplanes and bombs. Everyone in town begins rolling bandages, planting victory gardens, collecting scrap metal. Kate finds herself drawn to Jay in surprising ways, and when he enlists she can hardly breathe worrying about him getting killed. Could she truly be in love with him? And if she is, will she ever see him again?
With thanks to the publisher for providing a complimentary copy of this book for reviewing purposes