Rating: 4.5 stars
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A job opportunity just brought Daniel Sobel to a small Midwestern town, a move he is now regretting. The location and population of his new place has quickly made Dan feel like the only Jewish gay man in town, especially with the approach of Hanukkah. Dan is feeling isolated and lonely, removed from his large Jewish family and his culture. The only welcoming sight is his new neighbor’s rainbow flag hung in the window of the condo next door, the only color in a sea of blandness. On the first night of Hanukkah, Dan is missing the items he needs to celebrate the holiday, things that cannot be purchased in this small town. But with a ring of a doorbell and a misplaced package everything changes.
Christian Parsons, neighbor and owner of the rainbow flag, is standing at his door holding a package from Dan’s grandmother. Inside is a menorah, candles, a dreidel, some chocolate coins, and a tin of cookies shaped like a Star of David. Delighted and overcome with the love and warmth of family, Dan invites Christian in and is soon explaining the meaning of the contents of the box and Hanukkah. Chris is unfamiliar with the Jewish religion and its holidays, but if it means he can spend time with Dan, he happily accepts. Soon the men are spending each night together, lighting a candle and discovering more about each other. Flirting turns to fun and games and then something deeper. What will happen when the eight days of Hanukkah are over?
A Small Miracle Happened by Mari Donne is a lovely, warmhearted romance set against the backdrop of the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah. Two young men, one Christian (literally) and one Jewish, have recently moved into neighboring condos. Dan and Chris are people out of place in this homogeneous Midwestern town, one by religion and both by their sexuality. The author employs the much used plot device of a “misdirected package” to bring Dan and Chris together, then turns that happening into a book richly textured with the story of Hanukkah and Dan’s warm and loving Jewish family.
I loved the manner in which Donne relays the facts behind Hanukkah and the elements associated with the holiday, from the menorah (in all its aspects) to the making of the latkes. It’s all gently incorporated into the story with an appreciation and love for Jewish ritual and Judaism. That’s not to say its not without its humor, because there is plenty of that to be found within A Small Miracle Happened as well. The meaning behind the letters found on the side of a top called a dreidel are revealed during a very sexy game of “Strip Dreidel.” And the nightly dinners, researched and cooked by Chris, are used to define and explore kashrut law, keeping kosher as it were.
As Dan teaches Chris, a reader unfamiliar with Hanukkah and Judaism learns as well. It’s a wonderful technique, lovingly employed here by Donne. It enriches the story while adding depth to the characters. I loved both Dan and Chris, neither of which is the typical gorgeous gay single guy. Dan is overexcitable, family oriented, and comfortable in his homosexuality. Chris is none of those things. Chris’ family is not eager to accept his gayness and is just as happy for him not to appear at the Thanksgiving or Christmas celebrations at home. Chris is tall, awkward, and shy. Yet Donne makes their relationship and attraction believable and endearing.
A Small Miracle Happened is a short story at 79 pages, but the author makes the most of this length to deliver a book that feels much larger in heart and scope. It has been divided into eight chapters, one for each night of Hanukkah. And then the author goes one step further and gives the reader a delightful epilogue that made the story even better. I try my best to avoid the avalanche of overly saccharine stories that appear at this time of the year and I know I am not alone in that. But A Small Miracle Happened is that marvelous seasonal read that sidesteps most of the holiday story pitfalls while retaining the charm and joy of the season. I loved A Small Miracle Happened and think you will too. Make it part of your holiday reading list. I highly recommend it.
Cover art by April Martinez is simple and effective. I thought it was perfect for the story within.