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Monday, April 2, 2012

The Center of the Storm by Ann Simko

The Center of the Storm by Ann Simko
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Inspirational
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full length (247 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Facing the things you run from can either release you, or snap the fragile tether that keeps you grounded in the center of the storm.

Abandonment, neglect, drugs and a little blood letting. Dodge Landry and his fifteen-year-old son, Chris have a lot in common. But while Dodge only narrowly survived his childhood, Chris may not.

Navigating the murky waters of the foster care system in the mid-1970’s, Dodge hit the mother load when he is sent to live with Kate Landry on her small Pennsylvania horse farm. Through her functionally dysfunctional family, and with the help of an abused mess of a horse named Storm, Kate shows Dodge no one needs to be perfect to be worthy of love. It is a lesson Dodge desperately wants to share with Chris. The problem is, Chris isn’t interested in listening and Dodge fears his adopted son is headed down the same road Dodge once walked. Suicide.

A slow-burning plot and a well-rounded cast of characters wrestle with one of the toughest questions one could ask: does love really conquer all?

Ms. Simko’s book is an honest peek at what it’s like to live with someone who has bounced from one foster home to the next and is struggling with painful memories of abuse and neglect. She neither sugarcoats the emotional challenges faced by people with these backgrounds nor sensationalizes their stories. These are not issues that magically disappear after adoption or that can be solved in a few simple paragraphs and I really appreciate how realistically and sympathetically she deals with sensitive material without talking down to her audience or relying on pat answers.

Unfortunately it was difficult for me to connect with teenage Dodge because his experiences were so heavily tinged by adult Dodge’s presence. Even in the most exciting scenes I had trouble forgetting these were the memories of a much older person and wasn’t able to become as emotionally invested in what happened next as I did with Dodge’s son, Chris, or Storm. This concept would have worked better if the stories were separated into two different books so more time could have been spent on Dodge’s journey from an angry, troubled teenager to the peace he finds in adulthood.

I really wanted to give The Center of the Storm a higher rating. The story, while at times fairly predictable, includes incredibly likeable characters and a well-paced plot. The climax fulfills the reader’s desire for closure without ignoring character development or earlier foreshadowing but clunky dialogue and some grammar and other editing issues in this book were distracting, especially when they occurred during otherwise compelling scenes.

Despite these flaws The Center of the Storm is at heart a wonderful tale about love, redemption and the unshakable bonds of family and I can certainly recommend it.

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