A Hometown Boy
By Janice Kay Johnson
Publisher: Harlequin (Superromance)
Release Date: January 2, 2013
David Owens and Acadia Henderson grew up as neighbors in the small town of Tucannon, Washington. Acadia had a crush on the older David, but at thirteen when her parents divorced, she moved to California with her mother. Except for one brief, magical summer, David became part of her past. Now they are both returning to Tucannon, but the Tucannon that awaits them is not the idyllic town they knew as children. It has become a scene from a nightmare, a horror so great that even David, a prosecutor, and Acadia, a trauma nurse, aren’t really prepared for it.
Robbie Owen, David’s older brother and a paranoid schizophrenic, has killed six of his neighbors and himself with guns stolen from his dead father’s gun safe. One of the victims is Charlie Henderson, Acadia’s mild-mannered, book-loving father. It is in these circumstances that Davis and Acadia meet again and are drawn together by their grief and regret, by their memories, and by an attraction that flourishes amid the tragedy and heartbreak that are the grim legacies of a few moments of terror.
David and Acadia are decent, intelligent, complex people. In addition to feelings of horror and loss, they are both struggling with guilt. David, the good son who never gave his parents a moment’s trouble, must face the resentment he felt over his parents’ immersion in his brother’s illness and the haunting questions of whether different choices could have prevented the horrific ending of his brother’s life. Acadia never fully forgave her father for not fighting to keep his family, and she is inundated with remorse over all the time she failed to spend with him and all the words she never said to him. It is easy to hope that somehow they can nurture the feelings they have for each other and find a way to build a life together despite the odds they face.
But this book is more than a romance. It is also the story of a town and its people caught in the aftermath of an unimaginable act. It is the story of the dead—a humorless grouch, an ex-marine who was heroic to the end, a kindly pharmacist who always had a smile for everyone and candy for kids—and the living—a mother broken by grief for the son she loved despite what his disease made of him and by the guilt that somehow she could have stopped him, the police officer who combines dedication and intelligence with compassion, the young mechanic coping with survivor’s guilt and the conviction that a hero died to save a coward like him. It is the story of how tragedy exposes the baseness and self-centeredness of some and the grace and great-heartedness of others. It is the story of the cost mental illness exacts from those who suffer with it, from their families, and ultimately from the social system so poorly prepared to deal with mental illness.
There will be readers who fault this book for being dark and anything but romantic. Others will find the book moving, haunting, and ultimately an affirmation of the transformative power of love in many forms. Janice Kay Johnson has long been one of my autobuy authors, and I was aware of her ability to weave unforgettable stories rich in their complexity and completeness. But even for so gifted a writer, A Hometown Boy is an extraordinary book, one that, in the wake of recent events, carries layers never expected by the author or the publisher. It is a reminder of all the stories that remain untold by the headlines in newspapers and magazines. This is one I can’t forget, and it should silence forever those who label category romance as inevitably lightweight and insubstantial.
I was unprepared for the story A Hometown Boy gave me. What was the last book that surprised you by being a larger, more important story than you expected?
Harlequin Superromance is my favorite category imprint. A number of my auto-buy authors write for this line. I was delighted when I learned that beginning in January 2013, the stories in this line would be longer and more complex. And the books I have read have more than fulfilled my expectations. I’ll follow today’s review with other January HSR reviews tomorrow and
Wednesday Thursday. On Thursday Friday,
one randomly selected commenter will win her/his choice of the HSRs I review.
(With apologies to international readers, this contest is open to U. S.