Magic Hour: A Novel - Kristin Hannah
You know when something completely coincidental happens but the result is so serendipitous you'd swear it was fate, the universe, or a deity of some kind pulling strings? I think that is what happened with this book. Kristin Hannah has written a lot of books, but this is the only one I've really been drawn to reading (the others seem like they would make me really ragey or really sad). While raiding my sister's bookshelves to trade out another book I found this one, untouched and a little dusty under a pile of other books. The one book from this author I want to read and my sister just happens to have a brand new copy? Of course I was stealing borrowing it! Praise the Book Gods that orchestrated this meeting of reader and book. I loved, LOVED, this book. It made me ragey. It made me sad. It made me happy. And that roller coaster of emotion is what made this book great. They came from the story and not cheap, emotional manipulation. The characters felt very real. They were flawed but likable. Their motivations were clear and they acted within reason.Dr. Julia Cates's life is in shambles. Her professional career has been destroyed by the unforeseeable actions of one of her patients. She has been hauled into court, and had her name dragged through the mud in the national news. Having lost the man she was in love with awhile ago, and then losing all of her patients she was at rock bottom when her big sister, Ellie, calls her for a favor that requires her to return to the tiny town of Rain Valley where she grew up – a place that doesn't hold many fond memories for her. At the start of the book I thought she was an ass, but then as the story unfolded I could clearly see why. It was a defense mechanism. As her work with the Girl progressed she became the most amazing character to me. I absolutely loved her.Ellie Cates, Rain Valley's sheriff, was an ass, too, but it was obvious her character was meant to be self-absorbed in that way. It's clear she loved her sister and everyone else in her life, but she refused to do so at the expense of herself. The reader can tell she's a good person, but at 39 she still had some growing up to do. The secondary characters, particularly Cal, Peanut, and Max were all well drawn characters that I loved as well. Even if they were behaving in ways I didn't understand. Finding the Girl, and attempting to help her, lead all the characters, but especially Julia and Ellie, through a journey of self-discovery that changed their view of the world and themselves. It was all fantastically done and never did I think it was unrealistic. Except in the case of George. He was another character where you could tell he did love, but he was ultimately very selfish. For some reason it had to be all or nothing with him and it didn't need to be that way. It was for his best interests, not the person he loved. He refused to listen to everything he was being told about the situation and went forward with what he wanted and needed. The abrupt ending with regard to him was the only part of the book I felt was stretching. I could see him doing what he did, just not as quickly. The Girl, later named Alice, absolutely killed me. She appears, dirty, wild, and clutching a wolf pup in a Rain Valley park. She can't communicate, or refuses to, and no one is sure if she can be saved. With Girl we were given some of the cutest moments as well as some of the saddest. The book was told in third person limited and it would periodically shift to Girl's POV and her voice, while incredibly poignant, could be uneven. Sometimes she knew things and sometimes she didn't. For instance, she started off calling "snow" the "the falling white" but then later refers to it by name. However, her view of the world was always clear. Her terror of being in this place that is wholly new to her, her confusion, her sadness, her longing, the depth of the damage that was done to her, and her frustration at not being understood. This was one of those books where you could tell the author did a massive amount or research and really tried to faithfully answer the "what if" of the situation. Girl could have been written in such a way that I couldn't connect with her because nothing about her seems real. Instead, I damn near gave my heart to that little girl. I loved her as the characters came to love her. She didn't feel overdrawn at all and her response to the trauma she suffered and the developmental delays forced on her seemed natural. While reading her scenes I'd vacillate between saying, "Oh, my God, this poor baby." To, "Oh, my God she is just the cutest, sweetest thing ever." My heart broke for her a thousand times but it also swelled with love for her as well. I don't remember the last time I loved a character this much. It's been a couple of weeks since I finished this book and I still have a physical reaction when I think about her. Julia's work with Girl was fully fleshed out as well. The results of her work may have happened quickly but it was at least detailed. I wasn't scratching my head saying, "But, wait, how did she…?" Their interaction reminded me a bit of The Miracle Worker in the way Annie Sullivan got through to Hellen Keller. There was a Q&A with Kristin Hannah in my copy of the book and when asked why Magic Hour is one of her favorite books she's written she says: The answer to that is easy: Alice. I have written a lot of characters over the years but few of them have stayed with me the way that Alice has. I fell in love with everything about her–the way she perceived the world, her remarkable courage and strength, her capacity to love. I did a lot of research on feral and abused children in the creation of Alice, and honestly the stories of these children were absolutely heartbreaking. I felt a real burden to make Alice true to her circumstances and yet give her the tools for a normal life.This doesn't surprise me at all because it's exactly the way I feel about her and Hannah feeling that way really came through in her crafting of the character. As did all of her research.There were two possible directions in which Hannah could have taken the story. I'm glad the story unfolded the way it did and not the other route that was, I guess, a red herring. The latter would have been infuriating whereas the former created a truly complex scenario that didn't have an easy answer. Once the direction of the story became apparent the ending was very predictable. The thing is: I really don't care. It would have killed me had it worked out any other way and would have been the greatest disservice to the most important character. As it was, by this point, I was sobbing so hard I had to put the book down. And then I actually couldn't stop crying. I haven't had that sort of reaction to a book since, "Fred's eyes stared without seeing, the ghost of his last laugh still etched upon his face." This book is definitely a tearjerker, but it wasn't cheap to me. Like those certain authors who write endings where they create some contrived plot twist to screw with your emotions. I feel like the flow of the story was natural and it just happened to make me bawl my eyes out. Mostly because of how well written the characters were and my love for them. While I maintain that the resolution felt like it came too quickly, I can at least buy it because of the severity of what was happening. Any father who claims to love his daughter would have to do what is best for her seeing her mutilate herself like that. The thing that gets me is why he couldn't allow for a transition. Even if he was going to be selfish and take her away from the woman she had come to love why couldn't he move slowly enough for her to get to know him instead of abruptly taking her away? He didn't listen to a word they said and then was shocked at the results. This isn't the only book like this where, for some reason, there was some excuse for not transitioning the kid from one caregiver to the other. It's not appropriate to make a clean break. Which is why things went so badly so quickly thus prompting George to return Alice almost immediately. It was what had to happen without creating more monsters. The relationships between the main characters and secondary characters evolved throughout the story as well. There was a romance that actually felt fully formed. There are a lot of novels where the romance is the focus of the entire book and they are not as successful. There are plenty of scenes that have nothing to do with the primary storyline but they were handled with such grace that I didn't feel as though we were straying too far from the point. Usually I'd be yelling, "OMG, get back to the freaking story!" but I didn't even think about it reading this book.I was left with some lingering questions, What happened with Julia's reputation, or George's? What did the investigators glean from the site where Girl was held in the forest? There is very little Alice tells us and there is no reason to make her remember, so it would have been nice to get some more information from the crime scene itself., but nothing that pesters me to the point of overshadowing what was so amazing about this story. Yeah . . . my sister definitely isn't getting this book back. And I'll be looking for more Kristin Hannah books to read.