I have told you that I'm a card-carrying member of the Lisa Samson fan club, haven't I? Instead of standing out on the street today freezing my patoot off, I stayed inside and finished Embrace Me, a wonderful story of two very wounded people who needed to both accept and give forgiveness. Valentine's face was badly burned by Drano years ago. Since that time she has made her living as "The Lizard Lady" in a carnival side-show. She dresses in a lovely green sequined gown and people can stare at her scarred face, and the effect is lizard-like. She is friends with "The Cocoon Girl", Lella, who has no arms or legs. During the summer they travel with a small circus; during the winter they live in a boarding house in Mount Oak, the setting of two other Samson books: The Church Ladies (my review ) and Songbird (my review). Charmaine from Songbird is a strong secondary character in Embrace Me; Poppy from The Church Ladies makes a cameo appearance, but "knowing" them from the other books doesn't add much to your understanding of Embrace Me. Valentine longs for a real home, a real sense of belonging, and like most people, she needs to be needed.
The other main character is Drew. He is the son of a powerful politician. He was a preacher in Mount Oak and built his church into a mega-church. He became involved in the TV ministry of Charmaine Hopewell and her husband, and one day woke up and realized that what he was building wasn't for God. He quits his job, and walks into the local Catholic church, where he wants to go to confession. He is unable get his confession out, and the priest tells him to write it down, and then come back and they'll talk. Fr. Brian becomes his spiritual director/confessor and we read about Drew's background as he tells Fr. Brian the story.
In some ways the story was unrealistic; Samson herself in an Afterward notes that putting the disabled on display as side-show oddities is, thankfully, a thing of the past, but that she took literary license to use them as a metaphor.
Another character is Gus, who is a street minister and a member of an informal monastic community. It is praying the Liturgy of the Hours with this community that opens Valentine to the grace that God wants to give her. Rick is a member of the side-show troupe who is in love with Valentine.
Lisa Samson is a re-vert to Catholicism. She was raised Catholic, at least to some extent, left the Church for many years, and recently returned. In some ways, this book is a bridge between the Catholic and Protestant worlds. Drew isn't Catholic, but seeks reconciliation through confession, a Catholic sacrament. Fr. Brian is a good guy in the book, and, when reflecting on his church-building experiences, Drew notes that there are advantages to the parish system. Gus, and the members of his coed monastic community pray the Liturgy of the Hours, a Catholic prayer, and take the traditional monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but they are not Catholic.
The chapters alternate between Drew and Valentine and are told in the first person. Drew's chapters are dated about six years before Valentine's until at some point the stories merge. I found it effective; I know some people don't like that writing style though. I love Samson's writing, not just her stories, and there are not many authors about whom I say that. Grade: A