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Book Review: Watch Over Me by Christa Parrish

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Abbi works a regular shift at the local grocery. Her husband Benjamin Patil is a member of the local police force. But Ben’s tour of duty in Afghanistan has changed things between them. They’re no longer the easy-going newlyweds they were when they first came to Beck County, South Dakota.

The day Ben finds a newborn girl abandoned in a grocery bag beside a dried-out stream near town starts a chain of events that alters their lives forever. When Ben can’t find out who the baby belongs to, he and Abbi agree to foster it. They call the little girl Silvia, and over time looking after her draws them together. Abbi stops stalking the laxative aisle, and Ben begins sleeping at home again instead of at the station. The crowd at church, oblivious to their problems, welcomes them back as the happy family they are becoming.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Matthew Savoie wonders what his medical condition will take from him next. The brilliant but deaf math whiz lives with his aunt and her four daughters. In an attempt to raise money to visit his father – maybe, just maybe he’ll agree to give Matt the kidney he so desperately needs – he gets a job helping Abbi and Ben cut the grass and look after Silvia. His involvement with them leads to the uncovering of a tangled web of relationships, emotions and coping strategies. Watch Over Me is a tour de force of a second novel by Christa Parrish.

Parrish’s very real and flawed characters make this book a delight. They are drawn with a particularity that brings them to life and makes them feel like people one has met. Abbi is especially convincing with her hippie outlook, her anti-establishment views and her veganism (she’s even true to the latter in her bulimia, binging on bags of baby carrots). War-shocked Ben is often unpredictable, though one can’t miss his sterling qualities especially as little Silvia brings them out. The cultural tension between Abbi and Ben’s immigrant parents feels believable. Matthew the brilliant is the most sympathetic of the three. Who couldn’t like a kid who looks after his little cousins like a mother and takes comfort during hours of dialysis with thoughts of how God is like his favorite math concept:

“In pi he saw the reflection of God. Pi was constant, always the same – today, tomorrow, and forever. It was irrational, like the cross, foolishness to those who didn’t believe. It was transcendental; no finite sequence of operations on integers could ever create it.

It never ended.” pp. 50, 51.

Parrish’s writing is also a treat – brisk, particular, gritty and poetic. Note, for example, how this description of eating cereal rings true:

“The cereal, a store brand that came in a huge plastic bag, lost its crunch before Matthew sucked the first bite off the spoon. Still, he finished it, the soggy flakes filling the pits in his molars. He dug the mush out with his tongue, a silvery pain shooting through his jaw as he brushed the cavity he needed to have filled.”  p. 21

In another poetic passage she brings together the setting with the emotional state of Abbi and Ben:

“He heard Abbi come out of the bedroom, the swollen door opening with a sticky pop. Everything swelled in the heat. Problems. Fears. Sins. All puffed with humidity and ready to rain out with the slightest change in air pressure.” p. 27

In telling the story she alternates between Abbi, Ben and Matthew’s viewpoints (all third person) – giving us a rich experience of the workings of three very different personalities. The dialogue rings true. Deaf-and-dumb Matthew’s notepad contributions, rendered within the book in a hand-printed-type font, deliver an unexpected but effective layer of realism.

The book takes on some heavy issues. Parrish weighs in on things like love, marriage, family, the church, forgiveness, and redemption. Though it has many bleak moments, the story left me feeling hopeful about my very flawed self and the ability of God to redeem the most unlikely situation.

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