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Book Review

‘Ordinary Grace’


bookCourtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Shirley Shiffler

Atria Books

March 26, 2013


CNA - Stop HIV Iowa

307 pp.

“All the dying that summer began with the death of a child…”

Yikes. I have to admit after reading this first line of “Ordinary Grace,” I wasn’t sure it was my cup of tea. But by the time I finished the first page, I was hooked.

Frank Drum is a typical 13 year old who has no reason to expect his summer in a small Minnesota town in 1961 will turn to tragedy. The novel is set in a time and place where kids could roam the streets, wander the fields outside of town and spend hours down by the river. The novel begins with the accidental death of a 12-year-old-boy, followed days later when Frank and his brother come across the body of a homeless man, dead due to natural causes. The drama develops as we meet the characters who comprise Frank’s world and comes to a climax when he discovers another body. This time it is murder.

Frank’s family includes his younger brother, who feels things deeply but has trouble expressing himself; his older sister, popular and extremely talented with mixed feelings about heading off to college; his father, a devout minister who abandoned his original plan to become a lawyer. Last we have his mother, who has reluctantly taken on the role of the minister’s wife. She is able to bring out the best of the musicians in the congregation while having a questionable relationship of her own with God.

Throughout the book, whispering at the back of my mind was, “Where is this Ordinary Grace?” When the answer came, it brought tears to my eyes. It is a beautiful gift from a young boy, simply bestowed on the group of people around him. If we are lucky, we recognize this kind of moment when it happens to us. CV

Shirley Shiffler grew up in Urbandale, graduated from Drake University (twice!), and lives happily in Beaverdale. If she seems tired, it’s probably because she stayed up too late reading!

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