Written by T. M. Gaouette
(T. M. Gaouette, 2012)
Reviewed by Colin Kerr
It’s not an easy thing for an author to share her views about the extraordinary gift that Catholic family life is, or, at least, is meant to be. The number one danger for such art is making the good seem uninteresting, to fasten on to superlatives, to turn drama in paean or very poor pastoral. Too many Catholic writers have been able to do little more than this. It seems like there is this kind of thing, or there is Flannery O’Connor. It’s too bad. I am initiating myself into O’Connor and finding myself rather enjoying her darkness, but I can well imagine that she is not for everyone, particularly not for young readers. So what about their needs?
Sunshine Ranch starts off strong. A young man, Benedict, in foster care gets in trouble at school, only to have his foster mother get into trouble soon after. He and the little girl he lives with have to be moved. He ends us at the titular ranch, and the whole thing suddenly starts to feel a bit campy, almost like a Provident Films movie. Perhaps the fault is mine, since I was city-reared and a ‘ranch’ has all the feel to me of sappy Americana. That feeling doesn’t last too long, though, and Gaouette soon finds her stride and fall into a more natural rhythm.
She is a good writer. In her desire to set a scene she sometimes says too much, nevertheless, she generally has a knack for choosing the right word. The characters all seem to have depth and authenticity and they manage to avoid devolving, on the one hand, into caricature, or, on the other, into meanness.
“The truth was that Benedict wasn’t really sure that running away was the answer to his fear. As he sat in the darkness, he had heard his foster brothers and sisters calling out to him, and it made him realize that he’d found people who actually cared about him. And what if David and Martha found a way to keep them together? he wondered. It was unlikely, but it wasn’t impossible, and so he’d miss out on that. And so, even though he wasn’t sure whether his decision to return to Sunshine Ranch was based on his fear of missing out or a sudden faith that it would all work out, but he didn’t care right then…” (p. 107)
Overall, the story is a good one. Although I found that my expectation of a happy-ending tended to dilute some of the tension, there are enough bumps and bruises along the way to keep a reader emotionally invested. By the end, the story-telling becomes quite powerful, and, I think, that many will find this to be a book that will stay with them for quite some time. I look forward to reading Gaouette’s other self-published work, Freeing Tanner Rose.
This is a book young people will enjoy, and the occasional adult. No, I don’t think good apologetics means good story-telling, but there is enough of each in Sunshine Ranch to make it both interesting and edifying for young readers.