Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review: Love Walked In and Belong to me- Marisa de los Santos

There are books you read simply because you love books. You flip through the pages, discovering the characters, and taking a look into their lives.

Then there are books that touch something inside your heart. The characters are more than just people on paper, they become a part of your life, their lives intertwine with yours. You can feel what they feel, their happiness, their fears, their apprehensions.

Love Walked in, and Belong to me belong in latter category. At least for me.

I read Love Walked In first. I had come across it while looking for books in Paperback Swap several months ago. In all honesty, it was the author's name that first incited my curiosity. I love reading Spanish/Latin authors, and her name made me wonder about her heritage. Still that wasn't enough for me to request the book. Months passed before I stumbled upon it again and this time I decided to give it a shot and see what it is about. I'm glad I did.

The main characters in this novel are Cornelia and Clare. Cornelia is a coffee shop manager in Philadelphia, and Clare is an 11 year old girl. In the first chapters in the book, we meet them and find out that Cornelia is still trying to figure out the rest of her life, loves her family even if they can drive her crazy at times (isn't that true of all families?). Clare is an only child who has never met her father. She has an eccentric mother and has begun to worry that her mom is off because of her erratic behavior.

I have to admit, the first few chapters I simply didn't understand how these two characters would find their way to each other. And that was the reason I kept on reading the book. I was hooked then.

A handsome man walks in the coffee shop one day and Cornelia, who is a fan of old Hollywood movies, believes this is the man of her dreams. We see how their relationship develops and how Cornelia begins to suspect that, perhaps, she was too quick on her assessment of him being the perfect guy.

So where is the love that walked in, as the title suggests? It isn't a romantic love. Clare turns out to be the daughter of Cornelia's boyfriend, the one he never mentioned until Clare showed at his doorsteps, having been abandoned by her bipolar mother.

It is the love between Clare and Cornelia that touched my heart, the love that walked in. Once she gets over the initial shock, Cornelia realizes that Clare has no one and needs her. And she begins to realize how much she needs Clare too.

Through the book, we see the bond between Cornelia and Clare grow stronger, until they become family. Don't we all have those people in our life, who weren't born into our blood family but are family nonetheless? I know I do.

Cornelia finds real love, Clare finds her mother again, and the book ends with Cornelia making the difficult decision to put some distance between her and Clare to allow Clare and her mom to bond once again. It was the love between these two strangers that touched my heart and made me realize that this same type love is still alive in this world.

Belong to me is not a sequel to Love Walked in. But Cornelia, her now husband Teo, and Clare are in this book also. I read the book because I could not wait to see what had happened to Cornelia and Clare.

Cornelia chooses to move out of the city into suburbia. Clare is living with her mom, being a typical teenager. Cornelia struggles making new friends in a place where people worry so much about appearances, about their kids attending the right school, having a manicured lawn, etc.

We meet Dev who is an incredibly intelligent teenager trying to fit in. His mother moves him across the country and they settle in the same neighborhood as Cornelia and Teo. Dev has never met his father. Cornelia becomes friends with Dev's mother Lake.

There is also Piper who is a model suburbia mother, trying to keep all things in order while trying to be there for her best friend Elizabeth who is dying of cancer. Piper is not an easy character to like. But through the illness and death of Elizabeth we begin to see her human side. She and Cornelia eventually become friends.

I guess this book is more about secrets, about pretending to be something you are not, and about letting people into your life.
We all have secrets, some darker than others. In this book, we see those secrets come to the surface. Piper has secrets and begins to realize she has not allowed herself to live her life because she has been too worried about what people would think of her. Lake has a secret that has dictated her cross country move and that shakes her relationship with her son Dev after it is revealed.

We see Cornelia and Clare still close, still family. And when everyone's secrets finally come out, it is that closeness, that sense of family that allows Cornelia to get passed the hurt, the shock, and embrace this new family that has opened up.

I loved every character in these two books. I loved their humanity. I'm sure everyone knows at least one person who resembles one of the characters. They are real, they have emotions, secrets, and aspirations as the rest of us. And their lives may resemble our own. They are human to me, and they reminded me of the good still left in this world.