Margaret Ann Spence Coming Home

Tides of the Heart

By Jean Stone
Random House, 2011

I couldn’t resist a story set partly in Martha’s Vineyard. That beautiful Island off the coast of Massachusetts has a special lure.

This novel is about Jess Randall’s search for the daughter she was forced to give up when she gave birth at fifteen, in 1968. The story is set thirty years later. The book was first published in 1998, and the 2011 edition demonstrates the book’s timeless theme. While there are many book sabout the children taken from their mothers in the time before legalized abortion and before unwed motherhood became more socially acceptable, this book is different. It involves three children born at the same time to young women who were sent to wait out their pregnancies under the care of an apparently kind woman named Miss Taylor.

Miss Taylor, however, was not as well-intentioned as she seemed. Nevertheless, she is an
intriguing character because she offered a safe, non-judgmental shelter for the girls, and the
portrayal of the unwed mothers’ home is gentle and convincing.

Jean Stone, a prolific romance writer, writes a densely plotted story with great characterization. The now grown-up adopted babies have turned out well. Yet their mothers’ stories are full of heart-ache because they never forgot their first children, never stopped wondering what happened to them.

The life stories of the two main protagonists, Jess and Ginny, who became friends as pregnant
teenagers, are very different from one another. Ms. Stone does a great job of creating larger than life characters, especially Ginny. She also weaves in believable and interesting relationships between parents and grown children, showing in the adoptive children a tremendous desire to please their parents. In contrast, a young adult who is secure in the knowledge of her genealogy because her parents were married, even if now divorced, is shown to openly express her occasionally petulant anger.

In the sometimes contested ground between romance and women’s fiction, I am not quite sure where this falls. I think I’m going to call it a belated coming-of- age story. Jess, the lead character, had her childhood torn from her when she became a mother at fifteen, only to suffer the traumatic loss of the baby. She suffered for the next thirty years in a state of limbo. Perhaps predictably, her marriage was unhappy. The story of her journey to find her first daughter and to accept what happened heals her, and will enable her, the reader feels, to launch the second half of her life with vigor and happiness.

If the plot of the book is intricate and at times far-fetched, Jess and Ginny’s story is a very common one for women in my age group. Maintaining an unwanted pregnancy and letting the resulting child achieve a happy life through adoption into a stable home is clearly the preferred option for this author. Yet this story unflinchingly shows the emotional damage done to the birth mother.

Another Ocean to Cross

By Ann Griffin
Georgic Publishing, 2018

Only occasionally do I find a book that keeps me reading till all hours, taunts me during the daytime with chapters yet to be read.

Such a book is Another Ocean to Cross. This debut novel is a riveting story of World War II. At first a story of escape from the impending Holocaust, the story moves outside Europe to show the war’s global reach. The illusion of safety crumbles, and the book’s main character is confronted with moral choices that take the story beyond the parameters of most historical fiction.

Renata Lowenthal, 18 years old, a promising artist, is flogged by a Nazi officer in front of her family for painting “degenerate art.” It’s the precipitating event that persuades her Jewish family to flee Germany in 1938. A harrowing journey takes Renata and her parents to Alexandria, Egypt, where for the moment, they find safety under British protection and Renata supports the family through her art sales. When the bombing starts, this income dwindles, and Renata’s mother urges her to find a husband among the Allied troops, someone whose passport will protect them all.

There are many books on the Holocaust, yet this book is different. Its focus on the experience of being a refugee, making a dangerous sea crossing to temporary shelter, is brilliantly brought to life by Griffin, and makes the story timely today. Another contemporary echo of problems faced by returning soldiers is PTSD and opioid addiction to wipe out the pain.

Griffin’s research must have been prodigious. Her writing is evocative and her characters spring from the page, their responses completely believable in their desperate situations. I look forwardto reading more work by this promising author.