It’s rare that books actually make me cry. Don’t get me wrong, books often make me emotional—they make me feel a certain way, and they might even bring the beginnings of tears to my eyes, but very rarely do they actually make me start crying, to the point where there are tears on my cheeks.
All the Way Home by Ann Tatlock was one of those books.
“Augie Schuyler,” as the blurb on the back of the book proclaims, “is desperate for love.” Her broken family is far from quenching the thirst for love in her heart. Fortunately, when she meets Sunny Yamagata, she finds the home she has been aching for all her young life. Sunny’s Japanese family welcomes Augie in with open arms, and for a time, Augie’s scars begin to heal.
Then Pearl Harbor is bombed.
Several decades later, Augie and Sunny miraculously meet again, just in time to face yet another example of hatred and racial prejudice. This time, it is in the deep South, where the threats of the Klu Klux Klan dominate life. Is there a way to forgive so many evil offenders? Is there a way to defeat hatred—even in their own lives? Is there a way for Augie to find a real home, a real belonging place?
From a technical standpoint, All the Way Home is superb—the plot flowed along smoothly, the latter half of the book satisfyingly tied in to the former, and the prose was a delight. The characters were well-drawn as well. Augie was relatable, and although flawed, she was certainly a character I wanted to root for. I especially appreciate the way Tatlock portrayed the complexity of all characters—even the not-so-nice ones had redeeming qualities, and even the “good guys” had flaws. In a book dedicated to the topic of prejudice and hatred, Tatlock masterfully avoided stereotypes and portraying anyone in a black-and-white way. Instead, she hit home the point that all people have value, despite their inevitable failings.
However, the true value of this book arose from the themes it spread and the way it portrayed those themes. All too often fiction of this sort—especially in the Christian genre—come off as preachy or introduce the Christian element too soon. However, Tatlock portrayed a non-Christian family who was still capable of loving a girl in the way she needed. No, it was not a perfect love, but it still mirrored the Biblical love we are exhorted to have. By doing so, she broke down any barriers non-Christians may have when approaching this book. Later, when she introduced faith in the story, she did so at the perfect time with the perfect amount so that it made sense in the context of the plot and enhanced it, rather than detracting from it.
Let me point out that this book is not just philosophical ponderings. There is quite a lot of adventure and suspense, especially during the time when the adult Augie is investigating a Klu Klux Klan story. I stayed up way too late, heart thumping, during those scenes. I found the depictions of America at two crucial, complex times in its history to be fascinating. All Americans should be aware of the racial struggles our nation went through (and is still suffering from.) There is also a romance which I really enjoyed (and take note, for I am not easily satisfied with most romances in books these days—they are either too cliche, too shallow, too physical … I could go on for a while). This one, however, did not dominate the book, but like the faith message fit perfectly with the plot and added depth to the themes.
Speaking of which, some of the themes this book explores are hatred, prejudice, family, race, forgiveness, the power of music, what makes a meaningful life, and faith. To show you a small glimpse of these messages and the lovely prose of the book, here are some quotes:
How do you say good-bye in Japanese? In all my time with the Yamagatas, I had never once bothered to learn how to say good-bye.
Sunny thought a moment, then said, “It takes a certain greatness to see beyond your own ambitions, let alone sacrifice those ambitions for the sake of other people. Cedric Frohmann is a good man, but I’m not sure he’s a great man.”
And I realized maybe that’s what prayer was after all, the simple cry of the heart, a crying out to the one who was faithful enough to bring on the morning at the end of every night.
Who knows, maybe something is hopeless only when we’re not willing to sing anymore.
I had imagined it a lofty place, this artist’s solitude, this cozy corner where the Muse and I lingered and plotted and schemed, creating our little world of words. But it was only an empty room after all, with nothing in it. Nothing but my own cloistered and well-protected self.
I will warn you, this book can be depressing in places, especially when describing her childhood home, with her mother going insane and her drunken uncle. However, there is nothing graphic, and the ultimately hopeful and beautiful message of the book is worth the pain.
If you are looking for a meaningful read that will move, instruct, and challenge you, this is it.