Second Chance Christmas by Lori Wilde is another superb recommendation from retired librarian extraordinaire Susan Chatfield Griswold. Isabella is fourteen and a new mother of a baby boy. Her beloved grandmother is dead, and she’s feeling “hopeless:”
What on earth was she going to do?
Three days before Christmas and she had no money, no food, and no place to stay. Every measly thing she owned was tucked inside the battered backpack weighing heavily on her thin shoulders.
Shivering in her threadbare jean jacket. . .winter storm. . .she was all on her own.
. . .Last year, Granny had put the [nail] polish in her Christmas stocking. This year there would be no stocking, no presents, no loving grandmother, nothing.
Ironically, the book is set in Twilight, Texas. Isabella has discovered the harsh reality that the good people of Texas who claim to be “pro-life” lack a sense of Christian charity once the baby is born. She was desperate. She spotted a church nativity display and a young couple nearby. She took the risk of leaving Gabriel in the manger with a note written on a diaper. Spoiler alert: It’s rom-com. It worked.
Jana Gerard and Joel MacGregor are good friends who are volunteering for the church. They find Gabriel and hope the mother will keep her promise and return for him by New Year’s Day. Jana is a product of the foster care system and passionately wants to protect Gabriel from a similar fate: “You were this feisty little kitten, all claws and teeth.” Joel has been secretly in love with her for two years and has been patiently waiting for her heart to open. Again, it’s rom-com.
Since neither has a clue what to do with a newborn, they take Gabriel to Pastor Tom Luther’s home. He starts a call tree. The same people who had passed harsh judgment on Isabella and turned her away suddenly find their Christmas spirits. They rush to donate everything Gabriel needs from formula and a car seat to clothes and a thorough physical.
Joel makes the executive decision that the trio will bunk out at his house until New Year’s Day. Jana confronts him about his girlfriend Ursula and learns they broke up two months ago. They get into a minor tiff over who gets to cuddle with Gabriel, and Joel suggests they all share his king-size bed. Let the rom-com roll!
As romance blossoms over the Christmas holidays, Jana gives Joel an education about the abuse she experienced in her foster home. After her foster father attempted to sexually assault her, she became a teen runaway: “We shoplifted, did drugs, and had risky sex.” She got involved with a handsome older man who physically abused her. She was terrified he’d kill her and ended up in Twilight when she ran out of gas.
Because I was just like you once.
Spoiler alert: The reason I’m recommending this book so highly is that the author got real about how we find the best help from survivors who have walked in our shoes:
Jana’s heart went out to [Isabella]. As a teenager, she’d gotten trapped in an abusive relationship too. She knew what it was like to be gaslighted and trauma-bonded, trying to please an unpleasable monster.
She understood what it was like to be unable to break free from a tyrant’s grip. . .crippling dynamics between abuser and prey. . .Abusers lived for conflict. The more you struggled, the more they came at you. Giving in to them was how you survived. . .
Jana knew firsthand how much courage it took to walk away from an abuser that you knew could hunt you down and kill you for having the audacity to leave. . .She’d been there. Knew exactly how it felt.
I read Second Chance Christmas several weeks ago but didn’t have time to review it. The book seems more relevant now given the recent leaked release of the draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. The first chapter of the book nails what it is like for a fourteen year old mother all alone to survive the best that she can. . .or not. The final chapters capture the vulnerability, trust issues, and feelings of abandonment experienced by child abuse survivors.
However, for most of the book, Ms. Wilde dons her rose-colored, rom-com, Texas glasses and minimizes the hypocrisy of the “pro-life” crowd for what happens to teen mothers after the baby is born as well as the hard choices which must be made about keeping the baby or putting it up for adoption. There aren’t many Joel MacGregors out there willing to wait while a young woman navigates the arduous path from surviving to thriving to hopefully finding joy. Isabella is damned lucky someone who had been a pregnant teen and escaped foster care found Gabriel and persuaded the sheriff to characterize it as “babysitting” rather than child abandonment.
At the end of the day, a good rom-com can be a terrific way to escape and relax, eh?