"You know what freedom is? It's something people say they want when they're afraid they can't have what we all really crave: somebody to love. You think love is just these little, these little kissing games of the world you play..."
In Kissing Games of the World, author Sandi Kahn Shelton details an unconventional family, making their way through life, without the typical parameters of what defines a household.
Jamie, an artist and a single mom, is raising her five-year-old son, Arley, in the same house as Harris, a 60-something construction worker raising his five-year-old grandson, Christopher, on his family's Connecticut farm.
The group came together in the most unlikely of ways, but despite the unusual conditions, their situation works...and there's nothing physical to it, despite what everyone in town speculates. Arley and Christopher are best friends, raised like brothers, with the four coming as close to a family as any of them has ever known.
The two have complicated pasts, with Jamie having moved to Connecticut to escape a relationship with an unpredictable graffiti artist who is unfit to parent their child, and Harris having taken on his grandson when his equally unpredictable son, Nate, is unable to raise him after his wife's sudden death. For Harris, it's a way to make right his past, having left his wife and young son years earlier.
But, when Harris up and dies one day from a heart attack, Jamie's carefully constructed world is thrown up in the air. Her permission to stay on in the house is questioned, especially when Nate returns to (somewhat reluctantly) collect his son and settle his father's estate. Nate is estranged from the family, having spent the past five years on the road as a successful salesman, but with no stability and no knowledge of how to reacquaint himself with his son and raise him in his chaotic lifestyle.
Nate takes Christopher on the road with him, and Jamie and Arley move back into her sister's condo...and they try to navigate in their new worlds, with hits and misses along the way.
This book is both heart-breaking and heart-warming, and Shelton's writing is immediately engaging and sustains itself throughout. She makes us care about all of these characters...and keep caring about them even through questionable decisions and actions.
There is a lot of emotion here, with the breakup of the two close-knit boys, each having already experienced a fair amount of loss in their short lifetimes. At its heart, though, are the journeys and evolutions of Jamie and Nate, as they struggle to find out who they really are and what they really want, and need, from life.
I'm going to have to go back and read Shelton's earlier work, What Comes After Crazy and A Piece of Normal now that she is on my radar. Highly recommended...