A Vicarage Homecoming is the fourth book in Kate Hewitt’s Holley Sisters of Thornthwaite series. Each book tells the story of one of four daughters to Thornthwaite’s vicar and wife. By book four, the vicar, Roger, and his wife, Ruth, are on mission in China, and three of the four sisters are attached and happy. Then there’s number four, Miriam Holley, 23 and pregnant after one careless night with a stranger while she was on her travels ’round the globe. We meet Miriam, five months along and miserable. She’s considering giving the baby up for adoption, pondering how her life lacks viable work and purpose, and feeling like she’s let her family, church family, and herself down: how hard will it be to make sure she doesn’t drag this baby along in her desultory wake? As it turns out, harder than she thought.
Hewitt’s Vicarage Homecoming is not a romance, thought there’s a romantic interest in it. It’s very much the story of Miriam’s growth and awakening to the possibilities of family, friendship, and motherhood. The first half of the novel sees Miriam spend time working for the new vicar, her sister Anna’s fiancé, Simon Truesdell. At first, I thought he was the love interest, but no. Then, she runs into her sister Rachel’s former fiancé, Dan Taylor, and he offers her a place to stay, the annexe he’s renting, in exchange for answering the phone at his veterinary clinic and dealing with his chaotic paperwork.
Ah, I thought, here’s the love interest! But your sister’s ex-fiancé, there’s a “ew” factor there, except Miriam acknowledges it with the same expressive elegance. Working alongside Dan and having her own place bring Miriam to certain realizations: that she has a modicum of competence at caring at least for herself and that living alone, though she sowed her oats in hostels all over the world, is lonely. Miriam, despite being surrounded by well-meaning, loving family, friends, and neighbours, both craves company and avoids it. She wants to assert her independence, but she mistakes it for going it solo. One of the most important realizations Miriam has is that connection is vital to living a full life. At first, we learn about how she is conflicted about the baby. Another crucial scene to Miriam’s development is her visit to the hospital ultrasound and then adoption agency. The baby’s reality takes form and supersedes her own navel-gazing.
I thought Miriam lacked maturity and insight and she had many an unnecessarily querulous moment when all anyone was trying to do was help. But she grew on me and she grew, that is, she matured, had some maturity-enhancing realizations. Miriam realized that her reluctance to give her baby to adoptive parents had more to do with her lack of self-worth and belief in her ability to be a mother than a mature decision that didn’t involve bringing up a child. I never thought Hewitt was condemning, censuring, or denying any woman’s right to make this decision, but she showed, through her character’s growth, why this was the right decision for Miriam. With a little help from her friends and family. Maybe I should say “friend”, as Dan’s support and friendship were sustaining to Miriam. There were also great scenes with her sisters and lovely ones with her parents when they returned from China for Anna and Simon’s wedding and Miriam’s labour. The labour, btw, when it happens, is another terrific scene, funny, realistic, lacking in dignity and totally heart-warming and fitting.
With the novel’s focus being Miriam and her coming-of-age as an adult, the romance was etiolated. As a matter of fact, though Dan was in the “running” as hero, another character made an appearance and again I thought Miriam’s love-possibilities were about to take another turn. The cementing of the relationship with Miriam’s hero was late in the novel and comprised, at best, one nice, but hasty scene. About half way through the novel, however, I gave up on it as a romance and very much enjoyed Miriam’s story with her baby, the older sister shenanigans, Anna and Simon’s wedding, and the nicely-drawn village life. As long as you’re willing to do the same, you’ll very much enjoy this. With Miss Austen, we say Hewitt’s A Vicarage Homecoming offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Kate Hewitt’s A Vicarage Homecoming is published by Tule Publishing. It was released on May 28 and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-ARC from Tule Publishing via Netgalley.