So many of my book-loving friends have told me about how much they enjoyed this book. Now I finally see what they were talking about. I actually came to the author through his Cork O’Connor mysteries. Those are quite delightful. So far I’ve read three and I’m looking forward to the remaining twelve. This novel, however is different; it goes beyond the mysterious and digs deeper into the lives of the people and the culture of that family and community.
I want to tell you about Ordinary Grace without letting any spoilers pop out. It will be difficult as I, truthfully, want to just gush on about it. Frank Drum is a thirteen-year-old boy living in a small town in Minnesota. He is the one telling us the story of the events of the summer in 1961. Frank lives with his father, a Methodist minister, his mother, his older sister who is set to soon attend Juilliard and his younger brother who has a stuttering problem. There’s also Gus who lives in the basement of the church but who is also a good friend to both of the boys.
The novel opens when Frank and his brother discover a dead body by the railroad tracks. We are told at the very beginning that there will be more deaths that summer. The boys had few rules by today’s standards. They were free to roam the town with only a few cautions. This is, remember, 1961. Like many kids his age, Frank had an insatiable curiosity about the adult world. He was quite ingenious in his knowledge of the best places to be to overhear adult conversations. In particular, he liked the conversations between his mom and dad and those between his dad and his dad’s parishioners. This skill of his made him an excellent storyteller, even if the story was just to us, the readers of this novel.
Life was not easy for the Drum family. Frank’s father was the minister for three small churches and his mother lead the choir and his older sister played the piano. Sundays were extremely busy. Frank could sense that there were things not quite right. What and who killed the boy on the tracks? Why was his sister sneaking out late at night? Why did the stranger down by the tracks have a box of hidden treasures that came from various people Frank knew? What secrets were being kept by the famous muscian who was blind and his sister who was deaf?
I couldn’t help but love and feel for Frank and his kid-brother. That was truly a summer filled with trauma for the whole family. There were times when the boys were nearly overlooked. The adults were so involved in their own pain that they forgot to notice that the boys were hurting too. Because the boys were trying so hard to understand what was happening with the adults, they were the ones to solve most of the mystery.
I agree with those who have said this was both a mystery novel and a coming-of-age novel. On top of those two qualities this novel also had such a sense of sweetness that occurred at the end. It tied the title and the whole novel together beautifully. And then, if that weren’t enough, there was a heartening interview with the author at the very end. It may be that this only occurred on the audiobook version which is how I read this book. Bottom line: This book is an excellent story that I can strongly recommend. If possible, listen to it.