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Book Review: Renovating Becky Miller by Sharon Hinck

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The saga of supermom Becky Miller continues in Sharon Hinck’s second novel, Renovating Becky Miller. Becky’s part-time job at the church is now firing on all cylinders. The kids are growing, two are in school and are constantly needing to be dropped off or picked up. Husband Kevin is angling for a bigger house. Yet Becky manages to keep it all together – even finding time to spread her own brand of rescue-retardant on the various hot spots that threaten to flare up at work and home – without letting the knee she wrecked in The Secret Life of Becky Miller slow her down.

But if you think the early pages of Renovating are full of potholes, wait till a rambling fixer-upper, Kevin’s Mom, and Becky’s sister enter the picture. The story becomes a comedy of errors with poor Becky lurching from one crisis to the next as she attempts to juggle job, kids, friendships, elder- and sister-care, renovating a house, and her relationship with Kevin.

Again Hinck’s writing shimmers. The style is snappy and energetic with few interludes in the action. Becky’s humorous mom-lit voice and the suburban setting will resonate with the anyone who’s ever had to break up a sibling fight, practically lives in the family’s van, or regularly looks for favorite hockey socks in the bottom of the hamper.

Hinck uses the same pre-chapter (Walter Mitty) vignette device she did in Secret Life to introduce each chapter’s action. In this book they are all derived from scenes in well-known movies – adding entertainment value by giving the reader a little cinematic trivia on which to test memory. I thought the choice of movies for some of the scenes especially clever (e.g.,the scene of Becky and Kevin wading the decks of the Titanic introduces a chapter in which the pipes burst at the new house).

As far as characters go, Becky is certainly the most well-developed. Though she does make many discoveries about herself in the course of the story, she keeps making the same mistakes over and over to the extent I longed to sit her down and give her a copy of Boundaries – or offer an afternoon of babysitting so she’d have a few hours to maybe figure out on her own that she will never be able to fix everyone’s problems. Becky’s kids are wonderful as usual. Other characters like Rose, Judy and Teresa, though entertaining, seemed one-dimensional in their lack of change and self-awareness. However, they certainly do a good job of being the sandpaper in Becky’s life!

Despite the rollicking nature of the book, Hinck does address some serious themes. The matter of others’ expectations is a big issue for Becky as she feels the need to constantly come to the rescue of anyone with a problem and not let anyone down by saying no. Various viewpoints of mothering are explored through Kevin's Mom Rose and again through Becky – who comes across as a wonderful mother.

The role of the church and the demands made by ministry at the expense of family is another story theme. Becky’s personal reliance on her Christian faith to help her cope becomes more prominent as the story unfolds. This was one of the main take-away aspects of the story for me.

All in all, I found Renovating Becky Miller entertaining and well-written with lots of thoughtful stuff sneaked in under cover of all that hammering, painting, multitasking, and slapstick. It’s a contemporary fiction experience you don’t want to miss.

An Appendix containing a list of the movies used in the pre-chapter bits and a Book Group Discussion Guide round out the offering.

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