Susannah Pelton has spent the last several years taking care of her elderly mother and working in a low-level job. Her fiancé backed out of their engagement because he did not want her to care for her mother at home. After her mother's death, Susannah decides to avoid attachments and spend some time accomplishing a long list of life goals. To do this, she sells the family home, quits her job, and starts traveling.
One of Susannah's life goals is to "create something beautiful and lasting." She is currently in North Carolina and sees a beautiful mosaic created by local artist Ryan Whitepath. She decides to see if he will give her some lessons so that she can create a mosaic of her own.
Ryan is a very busy man. He has a number of orders for mosaics and he has a six-year-old daughter, Nia, who is having problems. Even though Nia has lived with him since she was born, the death of her mother has left her withdrawn, clinging, and having panic attacks and nightmares. Even the counseling sessions have not helped very much. Ryan's grandmother, Nana Sipsey, has had a vision that predicts a wounded redbird will come to help Nia, but Ryan is not sure he believes it. When Susannah asks for the lessons, he tells her no.
Nia, however, makes a quick connection to Susannah. Despite Susannah's plan to not get attached to anyone, she is a natural nurturer. Ryan discovers the connection between his daughter and Susannah and decides to give the lessons hoping that Nia will improve just being around their guest. He doesn't tell Susannah that he changed his mind because of his daughter. Susannah has made it clear that she is only passing through and wants no attachments.
This is a lovely story. Susannah’s motivation and courage to pursuit her goals after so many years of restrictions are inspiring. The pursuit is not done frivolously. She has planned and managed her money and even acknowledges that she might not reach every one of the goals before she has to stop, but she keeps trying.
Ryan is a nurturer, too. He is the oldest son who stepped in to help his mother, grandmother, and siblings after his parents divorced and his father moved away. He is so desperate to help his daughter that he goes against his nature and doesn't tell Susannah the whole truth. As he falls in love with her, he does his best not to push her into staying, but quietly goes about trying to give her what she needs to stay.
Nia is neither an easy child nor a hopeless child. While Susannah and Nia quickly connect, it is not an instant fix. Her behavior is puzzling and the reason for it, when it is revealed late in the story, makes perfect sense.
Ryan and his family are descendants of the few Cherokees in the area who managed to avoid the Trail of Tears removal. The author portrays the many different ways the members of the community relate to Cherokee culture and history in modern times. I particularly liked the glimpses of legends such as how the redbird got red feathers.
Christmas on Snowbird Mountain conveys a number of beautiful images such as the descriptions of Ryan's mosaics and the winter scenery in the North Carolina hills. It also shows two very nice people who seem to be going two different directions find a joint path. Hot cocoa and the scent of evergreens are the perfect accompaniments.
--B. Kathy Leitle