Henry Hood and Sam Rakestraw have been living together in the house Henry grew up in. One day Henry receives a call from his sister’s neighbor telling him to come pick up his seven-year-old nephew, Ishmael, whom his sister abandoned several days ago. While the people of Vinegar Bend, Mississippi have overlooked Hen and Sam’s relationship, once they add Ishy into the mix, they all feel the need to voice their opinion on the matter.
Hen lost his shine when his parents tragically died. Now forced to raise his sister’s kid, he struggles with opening his heart to this needy child. As the three try to find their footing, outside forces and ghosts from Hen’s past threaten to tear them apart. Then Hen’s sister returns and their world is thrown into chaos. Can Sam help Henry and Ishy find their shine?
This book is not your traditional romance book; it’s better because it could be torn out of a page of real life. This novel transports readers to Vinegar Bend, Mississippi where despite the townspeople desperately wanting to hang on to traditional Christian ways of life, they are beginning to embrace modernity in the form of Walmarts and liquor sales.
Readers should be warned that this book touches on some disturbing topics: racism, homophobia, rape, and child abuse. The author doesn’t candy coat any of the topics, but instead, brings them front and center, surrounded by humor and love.
Henry and Sam have been best friends forever. Falling in love with each other, they’ve lived off the radar of most of the people in their small town until they take in Hen’s sister’s kid when she abandons him to go off partying. Now, it appears, everyone seems to have an opinion on whether two gay men have the right to raise a child, even if that child is one of their flesh and blood. While some give them unconditional support, others feel that Ishy would be better off in state care than in a home where he is loved and cared for by homosexuals.
Henry is the type of character that takes a while to grow on you. Initially, he isn’t thrilled and doesn’t know how to deal with his nephew. Once he begins to let his guard down and let Ishy into his heart, he literally turns into a mother “Hen” who will fight til the death to protect his little chick.
Sam is the character that you immediately fall in love with and continue to love him throughout. For better or worse, he isn’t going to leave Hen’s side, no matter how hard Hen tries to push him away. He teaches Hen how to open his heart to a little boy who needs them.
Ishy is quite the character. Withdrawn and insecure, he begins to blossom under Hen’s and Sam’s care. Despite what his mother has done to him, he continues to love her and wishes for her to come back to him. It was heartbreaking and I found myself reaching for the tissues.
Sarah, Sam’s sister, became pregnant as a young teenager and was forced to have the child by her parents. While initially I was prepared to hate her for abandoning her child, I found that it was impossible given the circumstances.
The other secondary characters really bring this story alive. The people of Vinegar Bend live in a place where religion is at the center of their lives. They are proud to have made time stand still on moral issues, yet at the same time they are beginning to move themselves into modernity by embracing Walmarts and alcohol sales. Surprisingly, Hen’s biggest supporter was Sister Ascension who provided more than spiritual guidance to Henry.
Having never read any of Nick Wilgus’ previous works, I was overwhelmed with the realness his writing brings through. Days after reading the story, I find myself still reflecting on the message within. While it is set in rural Mississippi, it could be set pretty much anywhere and you will still find people like the characters in the story who aren’t perfect – we all have our flaws, our beliefs, and our differences from others…yet, we can all learn to love one another. If you only read one book this year, this should be the book you read! Highly recommend!
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.