It’s always a pleasure to discover a new author, especially one who is prolific. Such is the case with my discovery of Lisa Wingate and her novel, Dandelion Summer.
Set in contemporary Texas, this is a character-rich story with two polar opposites. Imagine Henry Fonda from his role in On Golden Pond and a teenage Queen Latifah, you then would have Norman Alvord and Epiphany Jones, better known as J. Norm and Epie. Thrown together against their will, they reluctantly form a truce of temperaments as they launch out on a journey of discovery together.
One of the more delightful aspects of the novel is how Wingate swings the viewpoint from J.Norm’s to Epie’s, allowing the reader to fully realize the entire picture. Norman is a recent widower, ailing not only in health, but in regrets. He is at odds with his only child, Deborah, a resentful professional woman who believes her efforts to run her father’s life is merely a way to honor her promise to her deceased, beloved mother. Epiphany is a troubled biracial sixteen year old who has it tough at home and at school. Both Epie and J. Norm want to break free of their circumstances and solve the mystery of who they really are. The varying viewpoints provides the balance of age and youth, and it isn’t long before it’s clear that no matter a person’s age, status, or experience the basic need of family is foremost. Epie and J. Norm form a family bond of sorts and what could have become oversweet in outcome turns into a realistic story of two hurting individuals who learn to rely on someone they least suspect of being a means of help to their situation.
My biggest takeaway from the novel is Norman’s letter to his daughter, Deborah. He knows he wasn’t there for her when she was growing up and his letter is an apology, yet it is also an instructive that all fathers can learn from. I plan on slipping this to my sons someday (never mind there aren’t married, or even have serious girlfriends yet), and maybe I can convince my pastor to read it for next Father’s Day. Here is an excerpt:
Words do not come easily for so many men. We are taught to be strong, to provide, to put away our emotions. A father can work his way through his days and never see that his years are going by. If I could go back in time, I would say some things to that young father as he holds, somewhat uncertainly, his daughter for the very first time. These are the things I would say:
When you hear the first whimper in the nights, go to the nursery and leave your wife sleeping. Rock in a chair, walk the floor, sing a lullaby so that she will know a man can be gentle.
When Mother is away for the evening, come home from work, do the babysitting. Learn to cook a hotdog or a pot of spaghetti, so that your daughter will know a man can serve another’s needs.
The letter continues with sound advice and lyrical admonition to be all a man can be by being the best father a daughter can have and remember. I read this to my writing compadres and the “oohs” and “aahs” circled around the table.
Dandelion Summer is definitely a book for perfect for the summer read list, yet its warmth resonates long after the last word is read.