I tried not to like How I Came to Sparkle Again, a new novel my Kaya McLaren.
Really, I tried.
My gut reaction was to vote against the sentimental double entendre title and the cover photo that simply oozes hope and goodwill.
Paging through the book before reading it, I was annoyed by the fantastically deep snow reports that headline each chapter. Really? “You think this is how we report snow in Colorado?” I asked. “In our dreams,” I answered myself. “Even at Wolf Creek, it’s not this deep in April.” (And, yes, I do realize that this could be a cumulative snow report, but the daily reports go up and down.) Count that as three strikes against the book.
I started reading. Unlike many books where the thanks come at the end, the Advance Readers’ Edition places the author’s Acknowledgements at the beginning. Since I can’t help but read every page put in front of me (yes, I was one of those people who read the lengthy, dry introductions and scholarly essays that preceded every work of literature assigned in college), I read her words of thanks.
McLaren is a tele-skier: that’s one point in favor. She spent a winter at Wolf Creek: point number two. She definitely did her research, thanking OB/GYN nurses, EMS fire fighters, ski patrol and even a divorce attorney. Three points for effort, but as a mom, I’m wary of books involving OB/GYN nurses and divorce attorneys. This often foreshadows trouble.
Thou Shalt Not Judge
The biggest strike however came when she thanks a friend for insight into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and worries in writing that a close LDS friend might be offended by the book (apparently she wasn’t). McLaren then explains her intention to show how destructive it is when people judge one another.
My reaction? Full-on judgment. “Ahem,” I thought, mentally trying to get the author’s attention. “I’m here to read a sentimental novel about love, sex and renewal in an incredibly snowy ski town. Religion and judgment, really? Do you have to bring that in? Do we have to get serious, here?”
And Yet, I Liked It
Thus, I began How I Came to Sparkle Again with four strikes against and three points in favor.
And, darn it, at the end, I liked it.
I really liked this book. Not in a “This is a classic that I’ll recommend to all my friends,” way. It’s not that sort of book.
But rather in a “This is really growing on me, I like these characters. Beyond the stale pot smoke, the alcohol abuse and the casual sex, these are darn good people” way.
Three Lives Undone
And, darn good people, they are. The prologue to the book is a bit overwhelming. We’re introduced to Jill, a nurse who recently miscarried and is despondent. Coming home from work early one day, she catches her husband cheating. Silently snapping a photo on her phone, she leaves, bound for Colorado and the town of Sparkle where she spent her teenage years.
Next, we meet Cassie. A talented ten-year old ski racer who lives in Sparkle, Cassie recently lost her mom to breast cancer. With her firefighter father pulling 24-hour shifts, Cassie is left at home with a boring baby sitter who has adenoid problems. Thanksgiving is coming and she believes she has nothing for which to be thankful.
Come Chapter One, we meet Lisa, a life-long Sparkle resident who grew up with ski bum culture. Problem is, she can’t quite seem to find her way out of it and into adult life. In the worst sentence in the book, Lisa comes to the realization that she needs “to repent for treating her body as if it were a cheap motel instead of a temple,” and that she wants to return to her Catholic roots (What? More religion?).
Nineteen pages into the book and I was worn out.
The Book Hits It’s Stride
Although I didn’t really like the full-court press of introductions, and sad stories, it turns out that McLaren (who by the way has published two other novels) knows what she is doing. By Chapter Two, I was sucked in.
Frontloading the tragedy, despair and resignation, gives McLaren room to introduce more characters and let the story unfold more naturally.
Some of the male characters are perfect, dead-on ski town types. There’s Jill’s Uncle Howard, with whom she lived as a teen when recovering from an eating disorder (yes, I know). Howard lives on the mountain, provides the early morning snow report and spouts a brand of literary philosophy closely associated with Herman Hesse (Siddhartha makes several cameo appearances). He has a good heart, although no one really understand what he’s saying.
Living next door to Lisa, in a clapped together single wide known as “The Kennel” are Tom, Hans and Eric, three tomcatting ski bums who are too old to be acting they way they do. They are ripe for change and the dawning of a delayed maturity. While good-natured and holding down jobs (Tom is the head of the ski patrol. Hans and Eric drive snowcats), you wouldn’t want your sons to grow up and be like them. But you also wouldn’t mind sharing some laughs with them, either.
Give It A Try
Since you already know that someone is “going to Sparkle again,” I won’t be giving anything away by saying that the ending is happy. But that’s all I’m going to say. For the twists and turns, the genuine insights into loss, loneliness and despair (which come not from Uncle Howard, but from the women themselves), you’ll have to read the book.
It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s definitely romantic, and it’s sentimental, while being a fairly close portrayal of life in a fairyland, when the fairyland gets gritty.
As for the religious aspects, they are dealt with completely in context with each character. Jill has to resolve her feelings about the LDS church and her place within her family, while Lisa is rediscovering a faith that she’d left behind. Each character approaches this from a personal perspective, raising doubts and beliefs unique to her situation. Even Cassie is introduced to faith by the writings of her deceased mother. While I was wary, I have to say McLaren handled the topic of faith with skill and without preaching.
How I Came To Sparkle Again, is indeed, likeable. You don’t have to be a skier to enjoy this book. But if you are, the details of life on the slopes and in a ski town, combined with the empathetic characters, make it all the more enjoyable.
St. Martin’s Press has kindly donated one copy of How I Came to Sparkle Again for a giveaway. If you would like to win this book (and you would, I promise), please leave a comment. For an extra entry, please like Kaya McLaren on Facebook.
One winner will be chosen in a random drawing on Tuesday, October 2.
To facilitate this post, I received an Advance Readers’ Copy of How I Came To Sparkle Again. As always, all opinions are my own and are exactly what I would tell my family and friends.
This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Tina!
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