Reviewed by Doris
Jackie McMullen is an Army nurse who has done three tours in Afghanistan and seen horrors that stream through her nightmares every night. Her blessings are her husband Jimmy and son Charlie who idolizes his New York firefighter dad. Then the worst horror of all happens—Jimmy McMullen is killed when a burning roof collapses on him. Jackie and Charlie are devastated and Charlie goes from being happy and full of life to severely depressed. Haunted by her own depression and sense of overwhelming loss, Jackie decides they need to go back to her family on Sullivan’s Island for the summer.
Annie Britt is Jackie’s mom and she has been praying for her family to come home. Annie is funny, determined to have her way, and terrified her child and grandchild will not recover from the loss of their beloved Jimmy. She hopes that by leaving the porch light on and making the summer perfect, Jackie and Charlie will stay where they belong—with her, her estranged husband Buster, and her friend Deb. She knows getting Jackie to stay will take a small miracle because Annie’s and Jackie’s relationship has never been easy, but more than life itself, Annie loves Jackie and Charlie and knows they need family and Sullivan’s Island to heal.
Porch Light is touching, funny, warm, and sweet. Frank uses family at the core of all her books and this one is the same. Jackie has some growing up to do and she needs to see her mother with new eyes. Annie needs a new perspective on her daughter and Frank weaves their story together with real skill. Told in alternating voices and chapters, Annie and Jackie both amuse and annoy you as they learn new things about each other and come to common ground. Charlie just takes your heart. Then there’s Buster, Jackie’s dad and Annie’s husband, who moved out eleven years ago because he’d had enough of Annie’s pretensions and need to control. Throw in Deb whose heart is broken by a loss and you have a family that has weathered life’s worst and survived stronger and happier together.
Frank introduces some intriguing Low country history through Porch Lights. Annie has a fascination with Edgar Allan Poe who lived on Sullivan’s Island for a time, even setting his story “The Gold Bug” on an island like Sullivan’s. Annie tells Charlie about Poe and about the pirates who roamed the shores of North and South Carolina and may have left behind treasure. Using Poe’s “The Gold Bug”as the framework for Charlie’s adventures, Frank weaves facts and speculation into the fabric of the summer so her readers are as enchanted as Charlie.
If you are looking for a strong plot Porch Lights will disappoint you. It is more a laying out of thought and feelings than an action page turner. All about family bonds, the resilience of the heart, and healing, you can identify with these characters. While the romance parts are predictable they are not the core of the book so who cares? Sullivan’s Island is almost a character in the story so if you cannot get to the beach this summer, you can read Dorothea Benton Frank and feel the sun on your face.