As a mother of three Ellen Moore and her husband are committed to raising their children in a safe and secure home. As a seasoned social worker in Cedar City, Iowa Ellen is sworn to make sure the children of Cedar City get the same kind of upbringing. She has seen the worst of humanity and she fights to keep the children under her watch safe. It is a hot, steamy summer morning when Ellen gets a call from one of her young charges who has locked herself in a bathroom to avoid their mother's abusive boyfriend. Ellen races to the rescue and forgets one very important fact. Her baby daughter, Avery was in her car seat in the back. In a matter of minutes Ellen's world is turned upside down and she is turned into the very thing she has dedicated her career to destroy. A child abuser.
Even though Jenny Briard is just ten years old, she has lived a thousand lives with her mother and abusive step-father. When she was four, her father swooped in and rescued her from the abusive home. Now at ten years old Jenny and her father are getting ready to leave their home in Nebraska for a new, better life in Dubuque, Iowa. Jenny is on the bus waiting for her father when something horrible happens and the bus ends up leaving without her dad on board. She decides to get off the bus in Cedar City because her grandmother once lived there and she stumbles into a diner where she meets Maudene, a kind waitress who finds it in her heart to help Jenny. At first it appears that Ellen and Jenny would have nothing in common, but there is a history between the two of them that when revealed, will shock you to your core. Little Mercies is told in the alternating voices of Jenny and Ellen and while each story told alone would capture your heart, when they weave together it creates an unforgettable story that will stick with you for a long, long time.
It seems like we can't make it through a summer without hearing about a baby tragically being left in a hot car. We know that 99% of these tragedies are just horrific accidents, but some of the people of Cedar City believe that Ellen should be punished to the full extent of the law. For Ellen it was a great eye opener, being moved through the very "system" that she has sent hundreds of parents. She experienced first hand the very emotions that her clients experience and it was gut-wrenching. Then there is poor Jenny. Ugh. That poor child, more than once I wished I could just wrap my arms around her and let her know that she will be okay. Heather Gudenkauf was quite masterful at tugging at the heartstrings in Little Mercies. You could "hear" the anguish in Ellen's voice and the fear in Jenny's. Both of them are struggling to just make it through each day and that comes across so clearly, I promise you will cry. While Heather Gudenkauf wrapped things up nicely for her characters, I couldn't help but think of those thousands of kiddos that don't get such a happy ending. It is truly heartbreaking.
Bottom line, Little Mercies is a thought provoking novel about survival, priorities, and the sacrifices we make in life. The characters are written so well it feels like you could reach out and hug them. There is a readers guide included in the book, so be sure to put Little Mercies on the list for your next book club selection. You won't go wrong. I promise.