The Shortest Way Home by Juliette Fay

Title:  The Shortest Way Home

Author:  Juliette Fay

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

Published:  October 2012 – Penguin

Paperback: 416 pages

Synopsis:  Sean has spent twenty years in Third World war zones and natural disaster areas, fully embracing what he’d always felt was his life’s mission. But when burnout sets in, Sean is reluctantly drawn home to Belham, Massachusetts, the setting of Fay’s much-loved Shelter Me. There, he discovers that his steely aunt, overly dramatic sister, and quirky nephew are having a little natural disaster of their own. When he reconnects with a woman from his past, Sean has to wonder if the bonds of love and loyalty might just rewrite his destiny. Completely relatable, The Shortest Way Home is another perfect serving of a slice of life from the irresistible Fay.

My take:  Sean Doran’s back is killing him and he’s feeling burnt out after years of nursing in third world countries. He takes a break and heads home to Belham, Mass. What he finds when he arrives home are family members who need him just as much, if not more, than the people he left in Africa. He also has to face the reason why he left home to begin with: Huntington’s disease – the cause of his mother’s early death. Has he managed to escape it? Will other family members be diagnosed with it? It hangs over him constantly.

Juliette Fay’s characters stole my heart from the first page. I understood Sean’s motivation, his sister Deirdre’s frustration, and his nephew Kevin’s issues. I loved Aunt Vivvy, Cormac the baker, and Rebecca, a former classmate and friend. By the time I finished reading The Shortest Way Home I felt like they were all family members – that’s how real they seemed. Completely relatable – as stated in the synopsis.

It really is a slice of life novel and it left me hoping Juliette Fay will write another “Belham novel” someday soon. I’m going to want an update on all of the Dorans!

Disclosure:  Review copy provided by the publisher. I was not compensated for my review.

Shelter Me by Juliette Fay

Shelter Me by Juliette Fay: Book Cover

From the back of the book: Four months after her husband’s death, Janie LaMarche remains undone by grief and anger. Her mourning is disrupted, however, by the unexpected arrival of a builder with a contract to add a porch onto her house. Stunned, Janie realizes the porch was meant to be a surprise from her husband—now his last gift to her.

As she reluctantly allows construction to begin, Janie clings to the familiar outposts of her sorrow—mothering her two small children with fierce protectiveness, avoiding friends and family, and stewing in a rage she can’t release. Yet Janie’s self-imposed isolation is breached by a cast of unlikely interventionists: her chattering, ipecac-toting aunt; her bossy, over-manicured neighbor; her muffin-bearing cousin; and even Tug, the contractor with a private grief all his own.
As the porch takes shape, Janie discovers that the unknowable terrain of the future is best navigated with the help of others—even those we least expect to call on, much less learn to love.

* * * * * *

Shelter Me by Juliette Fay is about grief. Not just the grief of a young widow but also grief caused by other loss – trust, innocence, hope, to name a few.

Janie LaMarche is barely coping after the tragic death of her husband when construction begins on a porch he’d contracted without her knowledge. Her never-married aunt is trying to convince her to take a self-defense course because she needs to be able to protect herself and her children. And while she’s at it, Janie may as well help her aunt at the soup kitchen. These are just a few of the ways Janie is forced to move forward with and through her grief.

Fay’s writing is so natural and her portrayal of the emotions of loss, true. I enjoyed the secondary characters. The bits of information I learned about them drew my own comparisons to people in my life. At first glance it may seem that the book bites off more than it can chew – so many people with their own issues (Janie’s brother, her mother, her parish priest, her son’s best friend’s mom, I could go on) but I think it all distills down to this: everyone deals with their own grief, in their own way and yet most try to move forward and most have people who love them, depend on them and need them to not give up – people who will also help to give shelter on the journey.

I recommend Shelter Me to everyone. I borrowed it from the library but will be buying a copy for my “keeper” shelf.