Heartwarming and thought-provoking, Where the Heart Is: A Homecoming by D.L. Norris is a novel in which love, parenthood, and family history intertwine, exploring the many-faceted legacy that new generations inherit from those who came before.
When Jenna and Marcus learn from Aunt Lee that Jenna’s father has passed away, they decide to move back to the old family manor house in Tilden, Nebraska. It’s a new life for all of them – 9-year-old Ben learns to grieve for his beloved grandad with a new maturity, 6-year-old Allie discovers a different style of life by bonding with an Amish girl, and Aunt Lee’s narrow views are challenged by the family’s younger generations.
Marcus and Jenna, with baby Landers on his way, are glad to rediscover the beauty of their birthplace, which awakens many golden memories. However, family history is never straightforward – while exploring the manor, Jenna stumbles upon her forebears’ secrets, which shake her to the bone. Will she and her loving family be able to dispel the manor’s darker side?
With a pen both sweet and sharp, Norris writes a layered and absorbing story, offering the readers a vivid picture of Tilden and its thriving community, mostly descended from Scandinavian settlers. Far from being a purely sentimental portrait, Norris succeeds in bringing to the page light and darkness, hope and grief, humanity and prejudice, and the occasion to reflect on complex themes such as homophobia, racism, and the oppression of women.
Imbued with a sense of the divine, the novel captures the conflict between old-fashioned views and the open-minded attitude of a new generation of believers, showing how the only way forward is to embrace the changes that will improve the future for everyone. Not only do Jenna and Marcus try to open Aunt Lee’s eyes on many issues, but their friend Leah confronts the patriarchal system in her Amish community, and Micah and Hanna fight against their parents’ reactionary mindset to build their own kind of happiness.
Through each of the protagonists, the reader glimpses the bigger picture about these issues, and sees how hurtful biases from the past can still affect the present, illustrating how this is not a one-family struggle, but a hurtful clash that runs through society, and only by learning to be kind and respectful of everyone can the community flourish in the new century. It’s a vital and important message, and one that is woven well into the overall family drama.
Where the Heart Is, A Homecoming is a beautifully written and emotionally resonant story that offers inspiration and hope without shying away from the real difficulties people face, for a moving and multilayered work of contemporary fiction. ~ SPR