REVIEW: Coming Home by Shelley Shepard Gray
In Woodland Park, a small town nestled in the foothills of Pikes Peak, Anderson Kelly and Chelsea Davis were once the high school “it” couple—the star quarterback and the valedictorian. They broke up when Anderson joined the army and one poor decision at a fraternity party changed Chelsea’s life. Now, she works long shifts in a senior center to support her nine-year-old son, Jack.
After multiple tours in Afghanistan, Anderson has changed, too—physically scarred but mentally strong—and he decides to move back to Woodland Park. Anderson and Chelsea steer clear of each other to avoid reopening old wounds, until they are forced to reconnect through the senior center. They soon discover that the love they once shared never completely vanished. But it will take a fire, a dangerous collision, and the love of one little boy to help Anderson and Chelsea see that the future they’ve always yearned for is in sight…
Dear Ms. Shepard Gray,
The cover looked so nice and the blurb sounded as if there might be just enough angst to make a good read without going overboard. I had hesitated to request it because I worried that it would be too much of an inspie given that you have written a lot of Amish books. But it turned out that I had worried unnecessarily. The MC characters are religious but there’s no preaching or proselytizing.
Anderson and some of his former Army unit buddies now work at the fire department of his small Colorado hometown. They all came home with some scars – both internal and external – but they’re doing okay now. For almost a year, Anderson has been avoiding his former girlfriend, Chelsea. He knows he screwed up in how he handled the news she told him and that’s after how he screwed up their relationship when he enlisted. They were both young and despite being in love, he listened to people who gave him bad advice and also wanted to fit in with his training squad. Almost ten years later, he deeply regrets it.
Chelsea has worked hard to graduate from college then support and bring up her young son, Jack. She was also trying to fit in, drank too much at a party, and then woke up in bed with a guy she really didn’t know. When she told him about her pregnancy, he had no interest and has had no part in Jack’s life. Now she works at a local senior center, goes out a little, and also tries to avoid Anderson.
It’s a small town but honestly how could they have not met at least once in nearly a year? Eventually it had to happen and to Chelsea’s dismay, it’s while Jack is with her. Anderson is kind and invites them to watch him play ball with some off duty firefighters – and Jack is getting to the age when he’s starting to expand his friend group and be more independent – then to visit the station. Neither Chelsea nor Anderson are ready for anything beyond talking about the past which – thank goodness – they do rationally and calmly. When the inevitable Something Happens to focus both on what they stand to lose, will they admit to the feelings that have never died?
Both of them admit that they made mistakes and that maybe it was a good thing they had time to mature as neither was ready for marriage then. Anderson (yay!) tells Chelsea he was wrong to judge her and what happened and that he thinks she’s done a wonderful job with Jack. The man does know how to “make right.” Still they back away from anything more until they’ve gotten to know who they are now. I was so on board for all this and the slow way they began to get back together. Chelsea even dates another guy who, though he’s nice and polite, turns out to not be The One she’s interested in.
Chelsea and Jack have a wonderful relationship. Jack acts like an almost nine year old boy. He loves his mom but yes, he is at the stage when kids begin to move past being mainly with their parents. Anderson maintains a good rapport with him and offers short, silent prayers that he, Anderson, doesn’t screw things up. I was pleased that while some characters in the book weren’t thrilled about Chelsea choosing single motherhood (her parents) and Anderson initially reacted badly, no one else slut shamed her and the tone of the book itself was positive about Chelsea’s decision.
There are subtle reminders that Anderson came back with some PTSD that can, and for a short while after a fire event, does flare up. He deals with it but also thinks and worries about how this might affect his relationship with Chelsea. I was also glad to see this incorporated into the story.
Another thread focuses on an older couple and how one deals with her pushy adult children trying to decide what’s right for their mother. As a daughter who has just had to make slightly similar decisions, I could sympathise and see both sides. Hurrah that this wasn’t played as “ah, look at the oldsters falling in love. How cute.”
When the proposal occurs, it is after Anderson and Chelsea have already said their new relationship “I love yous” so I didn’t think anything felt rushed. They already had a pretty good foundation which had survived their years apart so I’m totally “go” with it and looking forward to the sequel. B