Book Review: “Secret Graces,” by Kathryn Magendie

Secret Graces is the second book in a trilogy by Kathryn Magendie that features the unforgettable voice of Virginia Kate Carey. As in the first book, Tender Graces, the story alternates between the present, when Virginia Kate returns to the West Virginia mountains upon the death of her mother, and her turbulent journey from adolescence to womanhood in her current home in Louisiana.

When Tender Graces ended, Virginia Kate was an adolescent struggling with the need to bond with her biological mother, who sent her away, and the warmth of her second family, anchored by saintly step-mother, Rebekha. As Secret Graces begins, Virginia Kate is a university student pursued by Dylan, who is smitten and courts her with dogged determination. Virginia Kate is hopelessly conflicted about Dylan and Magendie deftly describes her state of mind, drawing on setting and other elements to underscore her emotions.

She stood under an oak tree when Dylan spotted her for the first time. As she looked back from the perspective of a middle-aged woman, she reflects, “I remember that girl. That girl had been afraid all her life. That girl had tried to pretend she wasn’t afraid. And she gained and she lost and she knew she never had what she thought was hers, because she never fully gave of herself.”

Later, young Virginia Kate senses her step-mother wants to know about Dylan. “I knew Rebekha wanted me to talk to her about Dylan, but those feelings were easier to keep stuffed down where they were safe. If I talked about him, words would be released into the air, faster and faster until I’d be sucked asunder by a tornado, mad-whirled, scattering feelings and actions willy nilly.” And so Virginia Kate remained ambivalent, frustrating Dylan as his longing for her becomes more intense.

Despite serious misgivings, Virginia Kate convinced herself she and Dylan could have a happy life together. “He would make me love him back and I would be a part of someone, a half to a whole. I would make my own home with my own children…I’d never again be see-through or worry about lonely again.” But her fears proved well-founded.

The story ends on a hopeful note, setting the stage for the final act of this trilogy.

As with the first book, Virginia Kate’s authentic voice engages the reader right away. She is at times funny, vulnerable, perceptive, and unsure of her instincts. In other words, she embodies the imperfections and hope in each of us.




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