Flawed characters find joy in ‘Any Dream Will Do’

Debbie Macomber
Debbie Macomber

Debbie Macomber‘s latest, “Any Dream Will Do,” greets readers with an inviting front door framed with gorgeous blooms. But this is a nod to the adage of not judging a book by its cover.

“Any Dream Will Do” doesn’t create the antiseptic world of rainbow perfection that Hallmark has created in bringing Macomber’s works to the screen. Instead, Macomber offers readers a gritty tale of redemption and hope.

Her flawed characters stumble through issues of class as they struggle with the growing attraction and eventual relationship between Shay Benson and pastor Drew Douglas.

Shay grows up poor in Seattle with many of the problems that seem a prerequisite to modern-day poverty: violence from an abusive parent and an abusive boyfriend and more bad choices than good ones.

She spends three years in prison for embezzlement, but she was basically stupid enough to believe her younger brother was going to get the money back to her before it was discovered missing.

She is released at midnight and takes a bus back to Seattle with no clue on how to restart her life. The bus drops her in front of a church and Shay wanders in seeking answers and a place to keep warm.

While in a pew in back of the church, Drew is at the front, trying to find a way out of the cloud of grief from his wife’s death that has shrouded his life and that of their two children. He is in crisis, his ministry is lagging and he doesn’t know how to turn it around.

His offer to help Shay is a lifeline for both of them. As their attraction goes, few people see Shay in this light. The congregation has been patiently waiting for Drew to emerge from mourning and it seems everyone has the ideal woman for him. No one is backing Shay, except Drew and his children.

There is chemistry between Drew and Shay, though neither has enough experience to truly know how to explore it. Watching them test the waters is delightful.

Each is surrounded by supporting characters who enrich the storyline.

Macomber doesn’t sugar-coat the classist and judgmental rejection Shay receives from Drew’s congregation. Their hypocritical refusal to accept Shay because she has a prison record is stinging.

Shay’s transformation from cynical felon to a woman with hopes and dreams is key to the narrative, but so is Drew’s emergence from grief. In one deft scene, Drew’s children are surprised to see him smiling because he has been sad for so long.

Macomber introduces readers in the prologue to the hard knocks of Shay’s life. It’s bleak and depressing. Shay’s bitterness with her lot in life is palatable.

There’s never an effort to hide Shay’s past. Instead, the skeletons of her life refuse to stay in the closet and help push the story along.

The story is told in first-person, alternating chapters between Shay’s and Drew’s perspectives.

This approach presents a well-balanced storyline that moves seamlessly. Macomber makes her characters work for their happily-ever-after, and the payoff for readers in outstanding.

Any Dream Will Do

  • By Debbie Macomber
  • Ballantine, $27