"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Friday, August 14, 2015

Review #34: When I Found You, by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I snagged When I Found You from JB's bookshelf. The book had been a gift from someone, and the inscription inside mentioned that it was a story about true unconditional love. And it is. When I Found You is a story about the bonds between humans, about the unspoken connection we sometimes find in other people, about the strength and patience it takes to love someone, even (and especially) when they are most unlovable.

Accountant Nathan McCann is out duck hunting one chilly fall morning when he and his dog stumble across the body of an infant, wrapped in a sweater and wearing a tiny knit cap, at the base of a tree. Shocked, Nathan assumes at first that the baby is dead, but then notices movement, and as carefully and quickly as possible leaves his shotgun behind and rushes to the hospital. The doctors don't give the baby good odds - he's brand new and it was a cold night - but the baby survives, and Nathan tells his wife he wants to adopt him. His wife flatly refuses, although his desires are rendered moot when the boy's grandmother steps in. Nathan makes the grandmother promise to keep him apprised of the baby's progress, and the grandmother reluctantly agrees, even naming the child Nat in a sort of homage to his savior.

Fifteen years go by, years that see Nathan burying his wife, and checking on Nat, delivering presents on his birthday and Christmas, but never making contact with the boy until one day, the grandmother appears on Nathan's doorstep with Nat, saying that she is washing her hands of him, and surrendering him to Nathan. Nathan simply opens the door wider, pulling Nat in to the house, as the grandmother drives away without so much as a backward glance. Nat is understandably angry, sullen, and scared. He's a fifteen year old boy who has been lied to and abandoned, not just at birth, but again at fifteen, and so he retreats in to himself. Nathan, for his part, is woefully unprepared to deal with Nat's needs, particularly in the first fragile moments, but he approaches the situation with the same calm resolve that he approaches everything else in life. And as Nat grows - often with two steps forward and three steps back - Nathan is there to guide him every step of the way, with his simple advice and his steady heart.

Nathan is an extraordinarily patient man. He loves Nat in the way that parents love their children: inexplicably, and with every single breath. Nat, in the way of teenagers everywhere, throws that love back at him, testing him at every turn, but Nathan is steady, unwavering, and even when a Nat experiences a life-changing event - more than one, actually - Nathan is there. This could have easily turned in to a sappy Hallmark story, full of wise words from Nathan and wise-ass moves from Nat. "Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates," and all that nonsense. But Hyde deftly avoids the Very Special Episode Syndrome and instead gives the reader a story that feels honest and true, and she doesn't shy away from the ugliness that happens when we hurt the ones we love.

Someone once told me that having children is like having someone break your heart in to a million pieces every day, and every day, picking it up, giving it back to them, saying, "Again". To be fair, it's not always like that. Lots of times it's perfectly nice having a child, and lots of times it's about the most awesome experience in the world, but there are also times - many, many times - that my heart has been shattered, and I have picked it up, given it back to the Kid, and whispered, "Again". When I Found You is Nat, breaking Nathan's heart over and over again, and Nathan, picking up the pieces and saying, "Again".

Read this. Have tissues. Lots and lots of tissues.

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