Leah Norcross is a rather unlikely hero. Nine years old, painfully shy, usually shunned by other children because of her stammer, and she would rather watch her birthday party from atop the hill, sitting hidden by the two pine trees than come down and have to talk to people. She also has a nervous habit of rubbing one thumbnail with her other thumbnail which makes a hole. Her family has recently moved to Mattingly. Her father, Tom, a psychiatrist, has cut back his practice in the big city to 3 days a week to devote more time to his family in a small town setting. Her mother, Ellen, says “he loves too much” which Leah doesn’t really understand but knows it’s why her parents aren’t getting along well the way they used to. Tom can’t leave his practice at the office and he sees God, or rather his patient’s belief in God, as the one thing keeping her in an extremely dangerous situation.
The story begins with the birthday party about which Leah’s new friend Allie says, “Not even the carnival’s this nice.” In addition to the whole town being invited, and the temporary amusement park set up by Celebration Time, Barney Moore and his wife Mabel have come with a beautiful wooden easel commissioned by Leah’s parents as a special birthday present. The Moores have fallen on tough times. Mabel had a stroke which left her in a wheelchair and her only communication is “I love you” which is more of a response than the doctors ever expected her to have. Their toy store, The Treasure Chest, is dusty and deserted. But Leah loves Mabel and Barney, and is less shy around them. However, she is so lonely that she has found an imaginary friend she calls “Rainbow Man.” This is when the magic begins: seven days before the carnival!
Some people attribute the magic to the easel; some feel it’s attached to the place. Many people believe in Leah’s Rainbow Man; but even more feel it’s dangerous, bordering on sinful. Leah paints a picture to thank Barney for the easel and it’s like nothing a nine-year-old ever painted before. It’s a beautiful, country scene and when Barney looks at it, he sees numbers. He uses them for his lottery ticket and wins the jackpot! The Reverend Goggins is aghast! He is also envious. Why is little Leah receiving revelations when the Reverend, who has sought Him all his life, devoted himself to speaking for the Lord, and now no longer hears the “still small voice”? Before long, half the town wants the Norcross’ out of town, and the other half believes the miracles. But Leah’s paintings take a darker turn, and even threaten the carnival.
This novel is most unusual. It’s almost like a children’s fantasy but it contains elements that make it very much an adult book. It tells of faith and lack thereof, fear and certainty, trust and betrayal. It tells of different approaches to God, and the afterlife. Coffey has based his story around his daughter’s childhood friend. He says,
She was four when he appeared at the edge of her bed — bright and friendly and sparkling. I would hear the whispers coming from her room late at night. . . They got along famously.
It’s a story about believing in Higher Things — in things unseen! * * * * *
I received a free copy of this book from Book Look Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.