|Have you ever noticed how many contemporary romance novels are set in Texas? I’ve never done an official count, but is sure seems to me that, given there are forty-nine other states (and over a hundred countries) which could serve as an interesting backdrop to a novel, the Texas setting – and especially the small town Texas setting – has much too much prominence. And yet, here I am recommending a book that is the epitome of said sub-genre. Fact is, in my opinion, nobody does small town Texas better than Jodie Thomas.
The town is Harmony, a small, not very exciting farming community of less than 15,000 souls a couple of hours south of Amarillo. But for sixteen-year old Reagan Moore, Harmony has become a lodestone. A product of the Oklahoma City foster care system, Reagan met and became friends with Miss Beverly Truman while working in a nursing home. Miss Beverly had told the lonesome young girl all about her hometown and its people, including her crusty old brother, Jeremiah. Reagan decided that Harmony is her hometown and she runs away from the shelter where she has been living to see the place. She introduces herself as Reagan Truman, Miss Beverly’s granddaughter, and before she knows it, she has been deposited at the Truman homestead and thrust into a whole new life.
Welcome to Harmony is romantic, but not a romance. Rather, it is a mosaic-like portrait of a number of the characters who live in the town. It has a variety of threads which are loosely tied together by the normal interactions of small-town living. The first thread is the story of Reagan and Jeremiah. The eighty-six year old man and the sixteen year old girl may seem like an odd pair, but both are alone in the world. Both have, of necessity, developed thick armor against the world’s hurts. Reagan is pretty sure that Jeremiah knows she’s not really his niece, but when he offers her a place and a life, she begins to hope that she truly has come home.
The second thread centers on the relationship between the town’s fire chief and its sheriff. Hank Matheson is a local rancher but he is also head of Harmony’s volunteer fire department. Hank takes his position seriously. He knows full well how dangerous fire is in this very dry part of the country. He also takes quite seriously his responsibility for Alexandra (Alex) McAllen, the town’s sheriff. Alex is the sister of Hank’s best friend, a state trooper who died in his arms after being shot in the line of duty. Alex had followed her brother into law enforcement and every now and then the hurt from her loss and guilt lead Alex to acting foolishly, and Hank is always there to protect her. This does not result in warm feelings on Alex’s part.
The third thread describes Reagan’s growing friendship with one of her classmates, Noah “Preacher” McAllen, Alex’s younger brother. While Noah may be gangly and bad-complexioned now, he shows every promise of growing into a good looking young man. And he is nice; he finds the prickly Reagan fascinating. Noah, son of a rodeo champion, is an aspiring bull rider. Through his friendship, Reagan finds her way into another part of Harmony.
The next thread centers on the local undertaker, Tyler Wright. In his early forties, Tyler feels that life has passed him by. Then he meets a woman one evening at a near-by lodge and begins an email correspondence. For the first time, he finds himself relating to a woman. (It isn’t easy to be an undertaker and date, as Tyler has discovered. But he and “Kate” can “talk” for hours and share much if not all of their lives.
The final thread ties the others together to a certain degree. It gradually becomes apparent that there is an arsonist targeting Harmony. Forced to work together, Hank and Alex begin to move towards a romantic relationship. And before the story is over, all of the characters will have to deal with the threat and reality of fire in dry grassland.
An inveterate categorizer, I’m not quite sure how to fit Welcome to Harmony in to my usual organizational scheme. It’s clearly not a romance novel, but it’s not exactly women’s fiction either. It’s obviously the first in a planned series about the town, (obvious because there’s an excerpt from the next book in the back), so it leaves a lot of threads hanging. Is there some genre called “small town Texas fiction?” Because that’s the best description I can come up with.
But however we identify Welcome to Harmony, the fact is that this is an entertaining, amusing and sometimes moving story with a host of well-developed characters, both major and minor. Thomas made me care about these people and got me involved in their stories. I sure like the Texas she creates, even if I don’t quite believe in it.