My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Goodreads: As a teenager, Hannah Benson ran away from home in order to save herself. Now, twenty years later, the past comes calling and delivers life-changing news: her mother and sister have passed away, leaving Hannah the guardian of her fifteen-year-old niece.
Returning home to bitter memories and devastating secrets, Hannah must overcome her painful past to pave a future with her niece, the last best chance at a family for both of them. She begins to create a new, happier life with her niece and rekindles a relationship with Grady Steadman, one of the few people she's ever called a friend.
But she can't forget what she cannot forgive, or lay to rest those ghosts that will not die. Will love and trust--and the truth--give her the strength to stand her ground and fight for what she deserves?
My take: Hannah disappeared when she was 16. The people of the small town assumed she'd probably been murdered by her abusive father. Little rumors had been circling for a bit about him being alcoholic, the broken bones, unexplained bruises, etc. But there is a collective agreement to turn the other way in order to not be responsible for Hannah or their family.
It's 20 years later when the book opens. Grady, the new sheriff, and Hannah's one teenage love, knows she is alive and well in Baltimore. He finally makes the call to reconnect but also to drop the bomb that her mother has just died. Her beloved sister, Ruth, has been gone for a few years and, surprise! Ruthie had a daughter who is now 15 and needs a home. Hannah protests but finally agrees to meet Anna, her niece. So Hannah returns to her loathsome home town where her heinous childhood took place and still haunts her.
The story of Hannah's childhood and the blossoming of the romance between Hannah and Grady during their teenage years is slowly and sweetly revealed in flashbacks. Also remembered and voiced are the horrendous memories of abuse suffered by both her father, in an effort to control, and her mother, in fear. The time spent in Clearfield, getting to know Anna and her friends (coincidentally, they are Grady's children), getting reacquainted with Grady and his mother and Grady is a single father, by the way, is also punctuated by Hannah's cleaning out the old Benson home, haunted by the memories of her childhood yet symbolically, Hannah is cleaning out the anger and resentment she has clung to through the years.
Peripherally, Hannah speaks often to Joe, her mentor, former business partner, and dear friend in Baltimore. Joe, a religious and God-loving man, plays the part of reason and learning to trust and have faith. With the help of all of these supporting characters, Hannah finds who she really is, faces her past, and releases her demons. She has secrets. Many secrets that she is afraid to allow to see the light. How does one heal from such terrible experiences? How does a self-sufficient woman like Hannah forgive those who wronged her? Can she make room in her life for Anna? Will Anna accept her? What if the secrets she holds are shared? Might it jeopardize her taking guardianship of Anna? Can there be a romance for Hannah?
Good, solid chick lit with spiritual overtones of faith and forgiveness. Clean enough for an older teenager (teenage sex implied and one "f" word).