Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: A mother’s anguish, a small town’s deadly secrets

Review of: Seven Wings to Glory
Author: Kathleen M. Rodgers
Publisher: Camel Press
Source: Purchase, Barnes & Noble
Grade: B

For young Cade Kitchen, becoming a soldier fulfilled a long-held dream. For his parents, sending a son to war halfway around the world from their peaceful small town of Portion, Texas, was a long-dreaded nightmare. Cade’s mother Johnnie’s father died in Vietnam when she was barely old enough to remember him, but she has lived the decades since in the shadow of her mother’s grief. And with each news report from Afghanistan, with each time she passes the war memorial on the main square of her picture-perfect small town, she fears reliving that earlier tragedy.

But not until the memorial becomes the site of a racist attack on Whit, Johnnie’s African-American best friend, does she realize that terror also hides behind the outwardly sunny façade of her hometown. Johnnie will struggle with the impact of the two wars, one outer, one internal, in the course of Kathleen M. Rodgers’ latest novel, Seven Wings to Glory.

This is the second of Rodgers’ novels featuring the Kitchen family – wife Johnnie, husband Dale, and their children Cade, B.J., and Callie Ann. Johnnie, a recovering bulimic, has only recently reconnected with her mother, who disappeared more than 20 years earlier, leaving her young daughter to be raised by grandparents. In the interim between the first Kitchen family story, Johnnie Come Lately, and Seven Wings to Glory, Johnnie’s beloved grandmother, Opal Grubbs, has died, leaving Johnnie to deal with her grandparents’ house full of memories.

Kathleen M. Rodgers
Among these is a picture of five-year-old Johnnie with her father, taken shortly before his death. Johnnie’s parents had never married. She knows little about her father except his name. She has never heard from his family. Are they still alive? Do they even know of Johnnie’s existence?

Under less fraught circumstances, Johnnie might have tried to locate these missing grandparents, but she already has more than enough personal drama to deal with. Besides her recent enrollment at a nearby community college and part time work as columnist for the local newspaper, there’s a house, husband, and her youngest child, daughter Callie Ann, still in high school. It’s almost – but not quite -- enough to push even her ever-simmering fear about son safety into the background.

Rodgers also dealt with military issues in her previous books, The Final Salute, as well as Johnnie Come Lately. In her latest, Seven Wings to Glory, she adds both spiritual elements and concerns with racial injustice, as one of Johnnie Kitchen’s newspaper columns acts as a catalyst, bringing to light incidents of horrific violence in her town’s past, incidents that still trouble the town’s outwardly placid surface decades later.

Although I applaud her efforts, I’ll admit having qualms about the “magical Negro” effect of some of her otherwise delightful new characters.

However, the newcomers, both white and black, are as varied, as flawed and wounded as the Kitchen family itself. There’s enough warmth, heart string tugging and heartbreak in Rodgers’ blend of an imminently lovable protagonist, a postcard pretty small town, and a cast of quirky townsfolk to give fans of the Kitchen family hope for more adventures to come.

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