Overview from www.bn.com: The rich atmosphere of South Carolina, Hilton Head and Charleston, is brought vividly to life by Dorothea Benton Frank, a South Carolina native who, with her exquisitely evocative prose, makes you smell the sea air, see the palmettos, and savor the sweet tea, but this time it comes with a side of antipasti.
Hilton Head, a South Carolina retirement heaven — at least it’s supposed to be, but for Big Al and Connie Russo, the move from New Jersey to this southern paradise has been fraught with just a few complications. Especially for their daughter, Grace.
Full of Grace defied my expectations. I found it through my library’s interlibrary loan system and didn’t expect much from it. In fact, I almost didn’t check it out, thinking it would be rather boring. After I took it home and started reading the first few pages my first thought was, “Oh no, I think this is a romance novel.” Needless to say, I am not a big fan of romance novels but the author’s approach seemed a little different so I thought I’d stick with it. I am so glad I did.
I loved this book. The plot, the characters, and even the setting were all great. Together they combined to make a great story. Also, my initial assessment was wrong- it was not a romance novel. Sure there was romance in it, but the real story had elements of chick lit and coming of age dramas along with a little humor thrown it. When I do my top ten list for the next year, I think this one might have a spot in there.
I love the character of Grace, aka Maria Graziella. She is tough and independent but at the same time she wants to please her family as much as possible without feeling like she’s being untrue to herself. As a newcomer to Charleston, South Carolina, she has fallen in love with both the city and a man.
His name is Michael Higgins and her family has dubbed him “the baby butcher” because of his job in stem cell research. He is a brilliant scientist, wonderful humanitarian, and a skeptic who is not so sure he believes in God. Grace understands him because she feels the same way, though she rarely discusses this with her family. And besides that, she must reconcile the fact that she is living with him in a house that her disapproving father pays the mortgage on, yet Michael is never invited to the family events at her parent’s house in Hilton Head.
Just when she thinks she might have finally started to make some headway on her problems with her life and her family, the bottom drops out. Michael is diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer that has a low survival rate. Her great job starts to seem more like a burden as it keeps her away from home and Michael, just when he needs her the most. On top of that, her visits to a local priest have her questioning everything she thought she believed about the Catholic Church as well as her family.
My favorite part was on page 202 where Grace describes her feelings about how her family’s every move when she was growing up revolved around the Catholic church. The way her family bribed her into going to mass reminded me of how my family did the same thing when I was very young, except my parents did it with donuts. Here’s how she describes her experience with Ash Wednesday:
“‘I don’t want ashes on my forehead. I just washed my hair,’ I would complain.
‘Come on, Grace,” my mother would say.
‘I’ll take you to Holstens for ice cream after,’ Nonno would say. ‘That’s a good girl.’
Well, for a trip to Holstens Brookdale Confections, you could smear ashes all over my face.”
Obviously, I am recommending this story with two thumbs up. (I’d give it four if I had them.) It was a great story, and one that I could relate to as well, with very little objectionable material. And, it had some great Italian-American characters. I hope you like it as much as I did.
Contains: very mild profanity, and some references to “living in sin” and “titty bars.”