Thursday, 1 December 2011

Naomi's Gift - Amy Clipston


After having her heart broken more than once, Naomi King has given up on love and resigned herself to remaining at home and helping her mother care for her siblings. It isn’t until widower Caleb Schmucker returns from Ohio for the holidays, along with his eight year old daughter, Susie, that she begins to wonder whether God will grant her another second chance. Caleb has been told many times that Susie needs a mother and that he should remarry, but he wants to find a woman who will love Susie as much as she loves him. When Susie captures the eye of Naomi while at a farmer’s market, Susie latches on to the older woman and the two become fast friends. Soon Caleb is spending more time with his daughter and her new best friend than he would have expected, especially considering the rumours circulating about Naomi and the way that she supposedly chases after single men. But with Caleb cautious about courting again after the death of his wife, and his sister determined to match him up with someone other than Naomi, will anything come of this new friendship? 

Amy Clipston is one of the first authors I read when I discovered the Amish genre, so she’ll always hold a special place in my heart. I adore her Kauffman Amish Bakery series and I’m always eagerly awaiting the next instalment, so I was glad that she’d chosen to revisit one of the reoccurring characters, Naomi, in her Christmas novella. As much as I love Amy’s stories, I’m always cautious when it comes to novellas as their shortness often leaves little room for character development, which can make some novellas seem predictable or rushed. I’m pleased to say that I was rather satisfied with Amy’s attempts in Naomi’s Gift, and while the story did rely a little too much on the “love at first sight” idea, I enjoyed witnessing Naomi and Caleb overcome their past difficulties and become open to new relationships. 

The underlying theme in Naomi’s Gift is that God is always willing to give us another chance, no matter how many mistakes we’ve made. Those who are familiar with the Kauffman Amish Bakery series will recall that Naomi, in her younger years, was apt to throw her attentions at young men, often without thinking through her actions properly, and was then led along by another man who had no interest in marrying her. As a result of this, by the start of Naomi’s Gift, she’s convinced that love and marriage are not what God has planned for her since she’s been hurt so many times before. Caleb is also hurting because of the loss of his wife and although duty suggests that he should remarry for Susie’s sake, he can’t bear to marry someone who doesn’t care for both of them. While Naomi and Caleb are instantly attracted to each other, they hasten to deny it and bond over their love of Susie and the fact that neither of them feels ready for a relationship at that moment. While the chemistry is present between them from the start of the story, it was nice to see their friendship develop gently and naturally. 

Of course, well-meaning friends and relatives are apt to suspect that something more is going on between Caleb and Naomi, and in particular, Caleb’s sister Sadie, who is convinced that her friend, Irene, is a better match for Caleb. Repeating malicious rumours that she’s heard about Naomi, Sadie tries to push a wedge between the couple and convince him that Irene is more suited for him than Naomi. Here, Caleb’s desire to find a woman who loves Susie as much as she loves him comes into play, and it was so encouraging to see the way that Susie played a role in all of his relationships. Sometimes children are inserted into a story for entertainment and to give a book the “Aww!” factor, but Susie was a character in her own right who interacted with everyone. Caleb includes his daughter in every decision he makes, therefore how a woman treats his daughter is essential if he’s considering marriage to her. 

I really struggled with Sadie’s character, particularly because her gossiping and self-centred mannerisms are not in keeping with what one would expect from an Amish woman. As much as I would love to write off her character as an illustration of how gossip can infiltrate even the Amish way of life and hurt people, showing that no one is perfect, I could not see any motivation for Sadie acting the way she did. She constantly bad-mouthed poor Naomi and pressed Irene on Caleb at every opportunity without checking whether he actually liked the woman. In the end, she apologies, but I didn’t find her character terribly realistic or her actions believable, so ultimately it seemed as if she was acting as she did purely to move the plot along and create conflict. This is one of the problems with novellas, and Sadie definitely suffers from lack of character development. I felt the same way about David in Amy’s other novella, A Plain and Simple Christmas, who is stubborn throughout the entire story, refusing to listen to any of his wife’s ideas and suggestions until she goes behind his back and ultimately makes him realise that he was wrong, where upon he eventually apologies. Sadie’s stubbornness and belief that she knew what was best for Caleb and his daughter definitely reminded me of David, which is the main pitfall of this otherwise lovely novella. 

Despite the lack of development in secondary characters as can be naturally expected in a short novella, Naomi’s Gift is a sweet and endearing love story. A couple who don’t ever expect to experience love again stumble upon it at Christmastime with the help of Caleb’s adorable daughter, reminding readers that one of the gifts God gave us is the possibility to always have a second chance. 

Review title provided courtesy of Zondervan.

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