Nora’s Pride by Carol Stephenson
(Silh. Sp. Ed. #1470, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-24470-3
***
To enjoy Nora’s Pride one has to believe that there are truly hateful people who can mask their feelings from others to the point that they become a respected, powerful member of their town. I have trouble with this premise and therefore cannot heartedly recommend Carol Stephenson’s debut novel.

As a child, Nora McCall took the responsibility of protecting her two sisters from her mother’s boyfriends. Nora learned about love from her Aunt Abigail, who took in the three children when their mother OD’d. At eighteen, Nora learned about passion from a one-night affair with Connor Devlin. And she learned about motherhood from the result of that passion: her daughter, Abby.

Connor Devlin learned about hate, bitterness and pride from his childhood. His father unknown, Connor was raised by his mother, Reverend Sheila Devlin. Here is where I struggled. To the town, Sheila is the epitome of a devout person, leading the town in piety, serving on the town council and the school board and respected by all.

But underneath that exterior, Sheila is full of hate. She never treats her son with warmth, even as a young child. She punished him physically when he was little, but was mentally cruel for the majority of his life. He reacted by living up to her predictions of disaster. Connor became the town bad boy. And when Sheila realized Connor cared for Nora, Sheila’s threats drove them apart.

Now it is 12 years later, and Connor has returned to this small Ohio town to pay a debt. One man, Ed Miller, befriended Connor when he was young, taught him about flowers and was a surrogate father to him. Upon Ed’s death, Connor was made his heir and asked to turn Ed’s land into a greenhouse/nursery in honor of Ed’s wife.

This is right up Connor’s line of expertise. When he left, he started a nursery and it has grown into a franchise business. Connor starts the nursery and then sells the license to a local. He has nurseries all over Florida. In addition, Connor has been cultivating roses and crossbreeding them, developing a new hybrid which he plans to call “Nora’s Pride.”

Now that Connor is back, Nora must decide how to tell Connor about Abby, keep Sheila from following through on her threat and help Abby understand all this. Connor must deal with his old reputation, his mother, and the discovery about his daughter. Both struggle with their childhood memories of abuse, and their rekindled love.

Connor is a good man who realistically battles his love for Nora, his need to show the town he has some good in him, and his animosity towards his mother. He has become a kind, loving man, presumably due to the influence of Ed Miller. (I have a little difficulty swallowing this - he has endured years of hatefulness from his mother and yet, just a few years of attention from this kind farmer seem to be so influencing.)

Nora, too, has overcome her parental influence to become a strong person with close family ties and a good heart. At least in her case, she has had the strong influence of being raised by Aunt Abigail to account for it. Her struggles with her rekindled love are realistic and tempered by the hurt she incurred when Connor left so suddenly. She also wants to protect Abby from hurt when Connor leaves again. But Connor has decided to stay.

Abby is an “old” 12-year-old. She is involved in parties with high school age kids that seem a bit out of sync. Her acceptance of Connor as her father is a little too easily accomplished and inconsistent with her contented childhood. The sisters are not well-developed characters and have little impact on the story. The townspeople come and go only to suit the story.

Which brings us full circle to Sheila and her influence in the town. The resolutions of all the conflicts revolve around this issue. It is just so hard to believe that someone of this much influence could be so controlling for all these years and so easily defeated in the end.

The strength of this debut author is in her main characters. As a couple, their interactions brought a smile of contentment to my face, and their passion is hot. Unfortunately, Nora’s Pride has too many other factors that are not convincing.

--Shirley Lyons


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