REVIEW: Barefoot in the Grass by Judith Arnold
Dear Ms Arnold,
“Barefoot in the Grass” is a novel I’ve heard a lot of good things about over the years. First pubbed in 1996, I think that the use of this issue as the main theme of a romance book was more notable then than it is today but I want to say kudos for being a groundbreaker and focusing on a topic that many still shy away from. It’s a wonderful that book doesn’t wallow in angst. Beth is a fighter which is a great message to take away for anyone in any circumstance. She’s faced terrible and come through it.
Unfortunately most women know or know of a woman with breast cancer. I’ve known four – three who (knock wood and thank God) have made it and one who didn’t. I think it’s an issue most women don’t want to think about and which we try and push to the backs of our minds until we’re forced to check ourselves monthly and go through our annual ta-ta squishing. Of course the pink ribbons and pink themed things help too in a good way. Maybe one day all this research will save our daughters. /stepping off soapbox
The New Hampshire location sounds charming – except for the black flies. I would love to have seen more directly about NH though as after a few place setting things get mentioned and the heroine is warned about the upcoming snow, this could be Small Town Anywhere, USA. But thank you for not making it the epicenter of all that is good and an escape for the heroine from NYC where all is bad. As Ryan says, Devon has it’s share of asses.
The issues about the book are hammered home a lot early on. Beth has to face her own thoughts on her body and her imperfection as she and society might and do see it. Mention is made of how the various people in her survivor group have faced this and the people in their lives acted so she does have reason to be worried. But she also, through one particular woman, has reason to hope. Beth is worried about facing a man sexually and feels inadequate in the potential face of Ryan’s overwhelming handsomeness. She’s not ready for a relationship and isn’t quite past how her last one ended. She just knows that he’ll reject her should their friendship progress any further. These themes are repeated several times just to be sure we get them. I can understand a woman in this position feeling these thoughts but maybe less reiterations? Just to keep the book moving?
Another issue is Beth’s view on life and how the cancer has changed that. She’s decided that life in a big, hectic city with a high powered also hectic career is not what she wants to continue. She wants to own a home, with a dog and be able to “walk barefoot in the grass.” The offer from her law school friend and Cindy’s husband comes at a perfect time for Beth. Now she can accomplish some of the things that she doesn’t want to regret not doing should the bad news come tomorrow. A lesson for us all.
I enjoy books which truly show the professions and jobs of the characters in them and you’ve done a marvelous job here. Beth the lawyer handles her clients contract issues with ease remaining cool and calm as she parses legal phrases and clauses. Ryan is the “hands on” part of the Walker Construction team and can pull together a renovation proposal as easily as he can direct the earth moving equipment. I would happily hand over my kitchen renovations to him.
The romance starts, as many do, with a “meet cute” moment complete with a pet accomplice. It continues somewhat that way, at least on Ryan’s part, for a little while though for Beth, she is immediately faced with the fear of continuing it further since she knows she’s not physically perfect – and that any man who gets involved with her will have to face the “or for worse” part of wedding vows from the start of the relationship. But the time she stalls on beginning physical intimacy allows Ryan to get to know the inner Beth – the funny, caring, smart woman she is beyond the beautiful woman he sees – or thinks he sees – from the outside.
I had thought that the relationship between Beth and Ryan would be the main conflict resolution needed here – how Beth would reveal her health issues to Ryan, how he would deal with them, what their intimate relationship would be. And this is the main gist of the novel and it’s handled beautifully. The scene where Ryan finds out and reacts to it is wrenching. Watching Beth cry as she cuddles the one male in her life who won’t ever care what she looks like is emotional. Seeing Ryan conquer his fears and be as fearless as Beth is uplifting. So I didn’t know what the rest of the book would be about. Until you dropped the bomb on us all.
To me, Beth’s courage as she faces a setback is the most gut kicking thing in the book. The way she describes the fear she lives with daily, the strength she shows in the face of it and a scare that the worst might be happening all over again are so visceral I can get a glimpse of what cancer survivors must feel. It humbles me. Usually heroines who act the martyr set my teeth on edge. Here Beth’s actions actually make sense as they’re presented. And she doesn’t reject Ryan as much as she leaves the door open and lets him make the choice. She knows what he’d have to face should they continue. Ryan’s ultimate choice is one that also takes courage. He’s now got a quick peek at the uncertainty he would have to live with, the scares that might occur at any time, the fact that he could fall in love with this woman and lose her to an early death. As seen in Beth’s previous boyfriend, some people don’t have what it takes to deal with it. Ryan is a cool hero who does.
The epilogue – oh dear. True it’s nice to see everyone so happy. Yes, Beth’s five year anniversary is great to celebrate but beyond that, this one goes on far too long without much of a reason for the length.
I’m delighted that you are reissuing to many of your older books and at such a nice price. I had managed to find some of them in UBSs over the years but not everyone was so fortunate and this is a great opportunity to (re) discover you. “Barefoot in the Grass” deals with an emotional issue but in a non preachy way. It delivers some gut punches but also a message of hope and strength. I’m glad I’ve finally got the chance to read it and agree with the accolades it’s garnered. A-