The only thing Benedict remembers is a life of being shuttled from one abusive foster family to the next. So, when he is sent to Sunshine Ranch, he is sure this good thing cannot last. Gradually, he is drawn into the lives of his foster parents and his nine foster brothers and sisters, each with their own history of loss, abuse and trauma. Despite the hurdles that come their way, the children bond and begin to heal from their experiences through the love of family.
Full of feel-good moments and character-focused side plots, this is a delightful slice-of-life story set on an idyllic horse ranch. Fans of Anne of Green Gables or the DC movie, Shazam will find much to love in this book. This is a character-driven story that jumps among the points of view of different foster kids at the ranch. The prologue and epilogue of the story follow the adult Benedict as he is reflecting on his life on the ranch and coming to terms with his past to decide the sort of adult he wants to become.
Though the children have all experienced various forms of trauma such as neglect, parents with addictions and even physical abuse—those experiences never become so graphic that the book becomes inappropriate for readers as young as 13. The main focus is about how these children learn to open up to unconditional love when it is offered to them—a lesson even adults struggle with. The book is also a great pick if you want to read books with a racially diverse cast, although the different issues each child deals with because of their different backgrounds is never explored in depth. The main focus is on each child’s individual growth and healing.
This story is beautiful and inspiring without becoming a lifetime drama, though there are a few moments of that too. Gaouette doesn’t flinch from the hard aspects of life these children have had to endure, but the main theme of the book is how sometimes the scariest thing is accepting that good things can happen too. There is Tommie, who avoids unwanted attention by hiding herself under baggy clothes and piercings, Sebastian, the oldest, afraid that growing up means he’ll have the leave the home he’s finally found. There is Eva who mothers everyone because she was never given the chance to be the child in an alcoholic household, fearful Isabella who wrestles with anxiety and the new boy Micah who lives with a debilitating heart condition, lost parents and grandparents but not his strong faith. There are also a whole pack of toddlers in the house. Micah and Benedict’s relationship is especially interesting because at first Benedict frustrated by how much loss Micah has endured and yet he still believes in God. With patience and forgiveness, Micah gradually wears down Benedict’s defenses until the two become close brothers.
Though the family regularly attends mass, the Catholic themes and motifs of this story are more of the universal Christian values-kind, making this a good read to share with your Protestant friends. The only flaw is that the pacing lags a bit, and when the family is at risk of losing their home, the solution seems to come out of nowhere. But if you take this as a slice of life story with the pacing of a book like Anne of Green Gables, you’ll not be disappointed. It means something when I—as an often-jaded cynic—tell you that this book will leave you with the best of warm fuzzy feelings.