Crazy in Love

Ex and the Single Girl

Maybe Baby

A Little Ray of Sunshine
by Lani Diane Rich
(NAL, $14, G) ISBN  978-0-451-22296-1
Another winner by Rich opens with a broken-down Toyota and a bored gas station clerk. EJ (short for Emmy James, although her mother is the only one to call her Emmy - yes, she was named for the award) would probably have said if she'd known what kind of trouble the blonde in the parking lot was going to cause, she'd have left her alone. When EJ offers to help, the woman announces that she is an angel - which, she explains, means her car has broken down in this particular spot for a reason.

Jess decides that EJ is that reason, and insists on helping her. EJ doesn't want help; she's grown somewhat bitter in the six years since she packed up and left her home. She also thinks Jess is nuts, but curiosity prevails, and Jess ends up at EJ's trailer making pancakes.

As fate (or the "Universe," as Jess would tell you) would have it, one of her best friends from childhood and the brother of EJ's ex-boyfriend, shows up at the same time. Digs tells EJ that his father, who basically raised her, is finally remarrying after decades of widowhood. EJ is ecstatic for him until the other shoe falls: Danny is marrying EJ's mother, Lillie Lorraine.  Lillie is a former child star who had delusions of grandeur and little time for her only child. She's a big part of why EJ left Fletcher, Oregon, the day after Luke proposed, and Lillie is an even bigger chunk of the reason why EJ has never gone back.

That, and EJ's a bit of a coward.

Jess seems to realize that EJ is lying about her plans to return for the wedding, and kidnaps EJ. Somewhere along the line, EJ comes to terms with the fact that, not only would she have to go home someday, she wanted to. Danny and Digs are the same as ever, but Lillie and Luke are both unwelcome changes. Lillie has morphed into the earthly type EJ wanted her to be for the first 24 years of her life, and Luke has changed from the easygoing free spirit EJ remembers to a work-driven grump.

A Little Ray of Sunshine is about building, maintaining, and mending relationships--heavy on the mending. The relationship with Lillie is just as compelling as EJ's former and current relationships with Luke, the love of her life. Jess is an absorbing character as well, and waiting for and watching her blossom is a pleasure. The dynamics of the dysfunctional Greene family are clear as well, and all of this is accomplished in a relatively small book. It is not perfunctory in any way; the author could have gotten away with a longer novel, but nothing about this drags and it thankfully lacks the incessant details that have plagued a lot of books this spring.

This book will make you chuckle, generate a few tears, and occasionally make you roll your eyes. The history here is poignant, and EJ's interactions even in the present-day are bittersweet because of the way she left. She spends a great deal of time trying to make up for what she did and failing miserably because she can't come to terms with what about her made her do it. When Jess collapses, EJ pulls a few minor miracles of her very own, and proves to herself that she may be more worthy than she thought. A feel-good read that is absolutely not shallow, but is also not so deep that you spend the time reading it wallowing through trivial bits and pieces much better left unsaid (or, in this case, unwritten).

--Sarrah Knight

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