Penny Sullivan has always been a capable, good natured, roll-with-the-punches kind of mom who had enough energy to hold down the fort at home, volunteer in Bryan’s classroom and pitch in with the church youth group. But the August afternoon she goes to the corner store for a Coke and sees an innocent couple get shot changes all that.
Soon she can’t even make a trip to the store or fill up the car with gas let alone meet with Bryan’s Grade two teacher. The fact that Tom is deployed to Iraq shortly after the incident and she’s half a country away from the rest of her family doesn’t help. In Stepping Into Sunlight, Sharon Hinck takes us into the mystifying world of post-traumatic stress disorder, as Penny seeks to understand what’s happening to her and escape the demons of panic and depression that haunt her days and nights.
As with other Hinck books, I enjoyed the quirky characters including Laura Beth, the well-meaning but always underfoot neighbor Dr. Marci, and the roomful of assorted misfits from cutters to gum-wrapper hoarders that make up Penny’s support group, and seven-year-old Bryan her lovable son. But I have to admit, I had a hard time liking Penny. I know her pattern of avoidance: the way she flip-flopped on keeping her promises to Bryan and all the panic attack drama were part of her stress disorder. Still I found myself reacting to her like she confessed to having felt herself: “I’d never had much patience with people moping through life and giving in to their moods.” However, this book did help me begin to understand a world of emotional pain that I can only imagine.
The book is about more than a super sensitive American housewife coping with the fallout of a traumatic event. Penny experiences a crisis of faith as she mulls over why the all-good, all-powerful God she believes in has allowed this to happen to her. Though the story shows Penny working through this dilemma, her eventual self-styled way of coping – she resolves to do at least one kind thing for someone every day – is the book’s redeeming feature. That project and Hinck’s always brilliant writing (“Her words blew across the embers of my shame and they flared to life, scorching my sore and tender psyche”) made the sometimes tedious slog through the story of Penny’s one-step-forward, two-steps-back recovery worthwhile.