Awakenings (Bella Books) is a story of stirrings in many forms.  Couched in the near history of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s infamous union busting tactics, two women who have not seen each other in over a decade, meet unexpectedly at a protest and add their personal awakenings to the rousing “sleeping giant” movement centered around the state capitol.

Sarah Sweeney, a teacher in a town outside of Madison, has joined the protest with friends who believe, as she does, that the removal of collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin is unjust.  As she moves around the capitol rotunda among thousands of other protesters, she’s shocked to see her childhood friend and teenage lover Hayley Baxter walking toward her.  Hayley has come from New York City to cover the protests for a small newspaper and when the two meet, they discover embers still exist, buried deeply in their hearts—and they easily burst into flames once again.

Sarah, for her part, tries to proceed cautiously, wary of taking up with Hayley again. Even though she is pulled toward a relationship with Hayley, she still harbors some resentment of Hayley’s decision to move away from the lake community to attend college, leaving Sarah behind without an explanation or a goodbye.

Hayley, although she seems to be happy to have Sarah back in her life, appears distant and easily slips back into her life in New York without any apparent angst over the separation.  Adding to the complexity of the relationship is the mysterious Kristina, the woman Hayley swears is only a roommate, a married roommate at that.  Hayley and Sarah struggle through an on-again, off-again relationship as Hayley travels back and forth in the name of journalism covering the protests while Sarah tries to tell herself Hayley’s distance, both physical and emotional, doesn’t matter as long as Hayley is back in her life.  Complications ensue when Hayley loses her job.  Forced into a situation she never imagined would happen to her, Hayley slowly, finally, begins an awakening of her own.

The story gives us glimpses into the teenage girls’ coming of age as their passion blooms, then juxtaposes their history with their present day personal struggles.  Their current difficulties are outlined with slices of historical events from the Wisconsin political scene swirling around them.

Much of the story is told from Sarah’s point of view as she tries to dissect her re-emerging desire for Hayley.  The character of Hayley is portrayed as distant, almost uncaring.  In her responses to Sarah, she almost seems a cardboard cutout; even though she is most often the initiator.  However, by the end of the story, when we become privy to more of Hayley’s inner workings; we find that the portrayal is all part of the reader’s own awakening to the truth of what’s going on in Hayley’s heart and soul.  If Hayley can face her own truths, there may be hope for her relationship with Sarah yet.  Before she gets there, though, there are obstacles to be overcome from both the past and the present.

Hayley’s character is the brash risk taker, but she seems closed off to any real depth of feeling.  Sarah is the sweet, almost shy one, an introvert who is in touch with her own feelings.  This, in itself, is a problem to be overcome for the relationship to flourish.  The exchanges of the two main characters with minor players in the story emphasize the two women’s personalities.  Supporting roles by Sarah’s mother, Hayley’s parents (although absent for most of the book, they are exposed for who they truly are at the end of the story), and the perplexing and somewhat smarmy Eddie Vandenburg, all join in to move the story along, revealing important information about either or both women along the way.

Part of the message of the story is that awakenings don’t always happen overnight.  Sometimes, they come softly, quietly, unannounced after an accumulation of experiences, opening like a slow-blooming flower.  So, if you like your politics liberal and you’re stories deeply personal, this Calhoun offering will “awaken” with a journey through time, both real and imagined.

 

Awakenings
By Jackie Calhoun
Bella Books
Paperback, 9781594933059, 196 pp.
September 2012



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  • Lou Kief

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