Every once in a blue moon a book comes along that can make you laugh in one sentence and the next have you crying your heart out. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is one such book. I was surprised to learn that this was written by a first-time novelist because it is that darn incredible.
Samuel Lake takes his wife Willadee and their three children to his wife’s family reunion in a small rural town in Arkansas, leaving them with her parents while he goes to the annual Methodist Convention. Samuel expects to discover what city his family will move to for the upcoming year but instead is informed the Methodists don’t have a church for him – he’s too outspoken with views contrary to the average church, such as bringing people to church from the poorest side of town to rub elbows with everyday folk.
At the same time Samuel is discovering he is a preacher without a church, his wife’s family has a tragedy of their own during the middle of the annual reunion. This tragedy and the loss of a church home leaves the Lake’s at Willadee’s parents’ home. But the story truly begins when Swan Lake, Willadee and Samuel’s eleven year old daughter witnesses 8 year old neighbor, Blade, being abused by his father, Ras Ballenger.
Around the town, Ras is known as the devil – he is a cruel, evil man who enjoys beating his family into submission. Swan and her brothers become obsessed with saving Blade from the horrific beatings from his father. Enlisting the help of beloved characters like Grandma Calla and Uncle Toy, the Lake children spend the summer attempting to save Blade, break through the silent brick wall Uncle Toy has erected and figuring out where they belong in the world now that they are no longer “preacher’s kids.”
A beautiful book, both heart-warming and tragic – Swan has been compared to Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird and I would daresay the southernisms affectionately portrayed put me in mind of The Secret Life of Bees. Highly recommended.
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