Second-Chance Family, by Karina Bliss
As a long time divorcée who shares custody with her ex (and trust me, he may be a jerk to me, but he loves his kids), and the daughter of people whose divorce was just slightly less ominous than the Cuban missile crisis, I usually find the basic premise in Second-Chance Family very hard to believe. The fact that not only did I believe it this time, but that I devoured the book in one sitting, will perhaps give you an idea of just how good Ms Bliss’ writing is.
Still, if you’ve experienced custody fights *raising hand* keep in mind that there is a guaranteed happy ending to this particular battle, and that while some of the very real ugliness of such situations is shown, it is mostly glossed over quickly.
Here’s the back cover blurb (which neglects to mention that the story is set in New Zealand, a fact quite relevant to the story in several ways):
He’s inherited an entire family…
Just when he has accepted that he’ll never be a father, Jack Galloway inherits not one, but three kids. Then he gets the knockout punch:
He’s supposed to raise this family with his ex!
And his ex-wife, Rosalind, has her own ideas about parenting. She’s already doling out domestic duties, as if he had all the time away from his office. She’s also got some crazy notion that, thanks to their unexpected “family”, the two of them have been handed a second chance. As if he’ll let his heart get broken again.
But the real knockout punch? That part of him that thinks he and Rosalind could fall back in love.
Suddenly a Parent – Life will never be the same.
After a crash kills their parents while on vacation, fifteen year old Sam, six year old Liam and three year old Cassie, are left in a precarious position. Since their parents’ guardianship wishes were written, their paternal grandmother, the first named guardian, is long dead, and their paternal uncle has lost his own baby and divorced his wife. The next option is their maternal aunt and her family—in England! To make matters even more complicated, Sam is not actually related to Jack by blood, and his biological father’s family, really bad news in any light, is luring him away from his younger half-siblings.
What I like about this story is that it doesn’t shy away from the dark places in any of the characters’ past—from Jack and Rosalind, who are still trying to come to terms with the death of their baby six years prior, to Fiona, who not only feels responsible for her sister and her husband’s accident, but is struggling to find fulfillment in her own life.
Yes, there is an underlying optimism—this is after all a romance novel and we readers expect our happy ending—but the conflictive emotions and the struggles each one of these people go through are very very real.
An otherwise healthy child, Jack and Roz’s baby’s death is ruled SID—aka crib death. Since he was alone with Thomas at the time, Jack has struggled with guilt ever since, to the point of pushing Roz out of his life to punish himself for “killing” her baby. For her part, Roz sought therapy and had a rebound marriage to a genuinely nice man who still cares for her, which ended in a second divorce merely eighteen months later.
Being named guardians of these children forces both Jack and Roz to face their feelings for each other as well as to assess how much—if any—they have healed since they lost their own son, in order to truly put the orphans’ wellbeing before their own.
After a slightly…well, unrealistic is the word that comes to mind, first couple of chapters, the raw emotion behind both Roz’s and Jack’s reactions to the children and each other take over, grabbing the reader by the throat pretty much to the end.
As for the children themselves…I am one of those readers who find it difficult to read fictional children. Too often they are simply plot devices with little to no resemblance to any child I’ve ever met. You can imagine my relief in finding these characters realistic most of the time (the exception being Cassie—but then, I haven’t been around a three year old in over a dozen years, thank you so much). Ms Bliss allows these children to show us the situation from their own perspective.
Sam is a typical adolescent who is trying to cope with such a grievous loss as well as with hormones, peer influence, and his age. He is acutely aware that he has no blood relationship with Jack, let alone Roz, and as a result he is angry, lonely, scared and desperately sad. Liam is aware that his life has changed forever, but he is still too young to truly understand how or why. He is also the most sympathetic of the three, because his thought processes, his emotions and his actions, truly reflect those of an intelligent child of that age. He is neither too precious nor a miniature adult—he’s a child, dependent on the adults around him to protect him and love him.
There are a couple of short secondary plot threads dealing with Jack’s and Roz’s careers, as well as with Sam’s school problems, but there is nothing truly extraneous or unnecessary to the story.
My only quibble: the obligatory happy family epilogue. Have I mentioned before how much I hate those? True, this one is set as the last chapter of the book with a “twelve months later” tag, plus it is mercifully brief and definitely not confectionary style syrupy, but still…
Second-Chance Family gets 7.75 out of 10