(Image from Barnes & Noble)
As much as I love Christmastime, with all its beautiful carols, heartwarming holiday movies, and tales of forgiveness and hope, there's one thing I can't abide: sap. Okay, I can take a little. Just not a lot. I'm not saying I don't enjoy inspirational Christmas stories (I'm not that heartless!), but I don't like holiday novels (or any other kind) that try too hard to be touching. Give me a subtle lesson, not a saccharine one, you know? Because I'm sort of Scrooge-y like that, I gave Jason F. Wright's first Christmas novel, Christmas Jars, a scathing review, calling it "the kind of book that sacrifices good storytelling for sentimental sermonizing." Harsh, but true.
Although I vowed not to, I have read more of Wright's books over the years and I have to give the man credit—he's getting better. His newest, The 13th Day of Christmas, shows how far he's come since Christmas Jars. Is his latest a perfect novel? Not by any means, but at least (some of) the characters have personality. And, although it's thin, there is a plot. Coincidence still plays a major role in the story, which is (alas) filled with sappy moments. Still, I enjoyed the book much more than other novels of its type (like, say, Christmas Jars).
The 13th Day of Christmas tells a riches-to-rags story about a family who's going through some hard times. Financially, they're in trouble. Emotionally, they're spent. As a unit, they're struggling. Looking for a chance to start over, the Alexanders move into a double wide at the 27 Homes trailer park in a town where no one knows them. None of them are happy about their new situation, but 9-year-old Charlee decides to see what the neighborhood has to offer. Her explorations lead her to Marva Ferguson, an 81-year-old widow who lives in a real house on the edge of the trailer park. Charlee's drawn to the elderly woman, with her kind smile and gentle ways. She's entranced by Marva's expansive apron collection as well as her charming Christmas house (which the widow begins decorating in October). Marva loves Charlee's enthusiasm, her sweet innocence. Before long, the two are inseparable.
Then Charlee receives a shocking diagnosis (okay, it's cancer—it's always cancer in these kinds of stories). Faced with not just the threat of a critical illness, but also with the bleak prospect of spending the Christmas season in the hospital, the girl's spirit sags. Until, on December 12th, a mysterious gift appears. An accompanying note promises Charlee more gifts and letters to celebrate the twelve days leading up to Christmas. The child perks up as she tries to figure out who's sending the secret messages. She'd suspect Marva, except the widow is having serious problems of her own ...
So, yeah, the story's another exuberant-child-and-elderly-person-ease-each-other's-pain kind of thing, but at least it's got a little spunk. The characters are likable, if not unique, and the whole 12 Days of Christmas thing is sort of fun. It gets silly fast, but yeah ... once again, Wright is offering up one of his own family traditions and encouraging his readers to adopt it as their own. Will it catch on like the Christmas Jars have? Only time will tell. As far as the actual story goes, it was pretty much what I expected—predictable, sentimental, tearjerker-y, etc. Once I looked past all that, though, I found The 13th Day of Christmas to be a quick, enjoyable read that really did help me get into the spirit of Christmas. My verdict, then? Holidays novels will never be my cup of cocoa, but in small amounts, I can tolerate them. Maybe even enjoy them. Who knew?
(Readalikes: Reminds me of other holiday novels like Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright)
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for very mild sexual innuendo