Heidi Elliott is busy, busy, busy. Now that she and Jake are parents of a kindergartner, Heidi has a to-do list a mile long. Like deep clean the kitchen cabinets. Volunteer in Nora’s classroom. Create sparkly USA ninja warrior Halloween costumes for two. Repaint several pieces of household furniture. Meddle in her best friends’ relationships. Grieve her most recent failed pregnancy. Find her misplaced hope. Jake wants to adopt. Nora plans to pray a sibling into existence. And Heidi keeps moving to avoid thinking about anything other than paint colors. Thoughtlessness, of course, leads to mistakes and misunderstandings, and in the space of a month, Heidi manages to lose control of a group of kindergartners, make a terrible impression on the social worker, and damage—possibly irreparably—her closest friendships. And then she remembers. She doesn’t have to go it alone. Sometimes we really are better together.
Jake sat on the opposite end of the couch, chin in his hands. He seemed very far away. I stared at him while I sipped from a glass of water. Why did ice cream make a person so ridiculously thirsty? Was there a lot of salt in ice cream? I opened my mouth to ask Jake but he interrupted my thoughts.
“We need to move on.” He turned his gaze from the TV. “We can’t do this anymore.”
I made a face. “Fine. I thought you liked the mysteries, but we can find another show. You tried to pretend you didn’t like Gilmore Girls, but I think you secretly did. Like the episode when Kirk does an interpretive dance of his own birth?”
Jake rounded his shoulders. Eyes still on the television, he said, “I’m talking about us. Our sadness. We wear it like clothes, and I think we have to stop.”
I bristled. “Grief isn’t like that.” My voice had a hard edge. “You can’t just will it away.”
He shook his head. “I’m not saying we can get rid of the grief. I’m not sure that ever really happens.” His voice caught and we sat in a yawning silence. I felt my heart starting to race. This was exactly why I’d asked the yoga pants to be my constant companion, why the English vicar-turned-detective was such a good friend to me. I was tired of thinking about my empty uterus.
I didn’t want to think.
I wanted to eat toasted almond fudge.
“I’m not trying to hurry us,” Jake finally said. He turned to face me with a weary expression. “But we need to take the next baby step.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, which was the opposite of making them googly. “First, I hate your pun. And second, what does that mean?”
He shrugged. “Go out of the house at night?”
“Geez,” I said with a huff. “Fine. I didn’t realize the TV-watching was such a raw topic for you.”
Jake continued. “Go back to church.”
I bit my lower lip. “Not sure if I’m ready for that. God feels like He’s taken a road trip lately, and I’m not sure I want to track Him down.”
Jake nodded. “Absolutely. But he can handle those feelings. We aren’t the first and won’t be the last to be angry with God.”
I sighed. “What else, since it sounds like you’ve put some thought into this?”
Jake held my gaze. “We need to have sex.”
Just in time, I swallowed my groan. “Not yet.”
He shook his head. “Of course I won’t pressure you or hurry you. I would hope you know that about me.” His eyes flashed. “But I also will fight for us. The us we were and the us we have to become after . . . all this. And part of that fight is facing that we need to be together again, in every way. We’re living in this house like roommates. And I hated all my roommates until you.”
I slouched even farther into the couch. “That’s just because I smell better and I wash my hair.”
“It’s that and a few other things.” Jake moved to my side of the couch. He took both of my hands in his. “Heidi, I love you.”
I nodded. The lump in my throat was making it difficult to speak. “I know you do. But I don’t want to try for another baby. I can’t do this anymore.” Though I was saying those words out loud for the first time, I knew them to be completely true.
It takes a talented author to choose a subject as sensitive as miscarriage and create a story that is both poignant and humorous. Kimberly Stuart is just such a talented author! The wry humour in this novel is the perfect counterbalance for the emotional journey at its core, relieving the tension without minimising Heidi’s struggles, and even inducing snort-laughter on occasion.
Better Together is the third novel featuring Heidi Elliott, and although you may have a better understanding of the characters if you have read the previous novels, this can be read as a stand-alone. That said, if the humour strikes the same chord with you as it did with me, you’ll be keen to get your hands on both Balancing Act and Bottom Line (the previous two books in the series), along with any other novel published by Kimberly Stuart.
In one way, it is difficult to review this novel, because so many of the things I loved are moments along the way – and I don’t want to spoil the story! But since I’ve mentioned it a few times already, I’ll start by saying the humour is one of the biggest reasons this novel stands out from the crowd for me. There was something very refreshing about viewing Heidi’s emotional struggle through her dry, gently sardonic sense of humour. She’s honest, unpretentious, and human – so easy to relate to, even though I have not experienced her particular sorrow. And she understands glitter is from Satan. What mother can’t relate to that?!
Although the novel is written entirely in Heidi’s first-person point of view, Jake plays his role in the humour of the novel in the way he relates to Heidi and Nora. He is so delightfully, typically male at times, and yet Kimberly Stuart avoids denigrating those traits or making him a stereotype or cliché. Beneath that laidback, playful, and sometimes facetious exterior lies a hardworking, loving, and committed husband and father; one who is actually quite sensitive to Heidi’s needs – even at the expense of his own.
And on that subject, marital intimacy is referred to candidly on a few occasions, but always very tastefully. I think the novel would have been less for not addressing the way in which a struggle like this can affect a marriage, and it was done with the same wonderful balance of humour and sincerity as the rest of the story.
I should also quickly mention how beautifully the character of Nora embodies the essence of childhood: the innocence, the laughter, and especially those profound moments of insight and faith that catch you completely off guard and make you realise why Jesus once said we must become like a little child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
As for the story, I was hooked from the very first page when Heidi and Jake arrive with Nora for her first day of school. It’s a day of conflicting emotions in any parent’s life, and provided the perfect setting to introduce these characters, their personalities, and their sense of humour. It also very cleverly foreshadows Heidi’s emotional state as she prepares to have a conversation with Jake where caution wars with hope in epic proportions. And then, having built to the moment with a perfect sense of timing, we have a whole scene contained in five simple, devastating words. Folks, this is a writer who understands the power in economy of words, and allowing the reader to simply feel!
From here, Heidi’s story is one of coming to terms with (or perhaps, trying to ignore) her bitter reality, her distance from God, and her emotional exhaustion. Meanwhile, while her husband launches into exploring adoption, and two of her closest friends experience the exciting emotional rush of moving into a new stage in their own lives.
Heidi responds to each of these situations in different ways, but the end result is the same: she slowly isolates herself from everyone who loves her – and hurts them in the process. It was so easy to understand the good intentions behind her actions, but it was also easy to see how holding our struggles close to our chests places a barrier between us and those we love – especially God. But there is the hope of reconciliation, and I loved the way Heidi and Nora put this lesson into practice together.
Really, all this is a long winded-way of saying, “I loved this book!” It’s a delightful hybrid of chick-lit and women’s fiction, humour and heart, and comes highly recommended by this book lover.
I received a copy of this novel from the author. This has not influenced the content of my review.
Release date: 31 October 2016
Publisher: Blom BooksAuthor’s website: http://kimberlystuart.com/