The Reindeer Keeper: Believe Again
Barbara Briggs Ward with illustrations by Suzanne Langelier-Lebeda
Reviewed by: Anne Holmes for the NABBW
This story about kindergarten teacher Abbey, her lumberyard owner husband Steve and what happens to them when they move into a turn-of-the-century farmhouse located on more than 120 acres “somewhere off County Route 12” is a Hallmark movie waiting to happen. As we meet them, they are walking their newly acquired property for the first time. It is a few days before Christmas, and they are hunting for the perfect Christmas tree – an important tradition for them.
Writing in an easy-to-read style, author Ward quickly brings the reader into the story, explaining that Abbey and Steve have moved to this property — which not only includes the aforementioned farmhouse but also a cluster of outbuildings including a barn in a backfield, which is full of animals, fields abounding in woods and pasture, and a pond – in mid-November, just before the holidays.
We learn that the move was easy because all of the furnishings stayed, so it was just a matter of intermingling their own household goods with those already in place.
Mysteriously, Abbey and Steve don’t know much about the prior owner of the property. All they know for sure is that he was a stranger Abbey’s funeral home-owner father had befriended. And according to the lawyer who contacts them about the property, this stranger’s handwritten will not only left everything to her father, but also specified that at the time of her father’s death, everything was to go to Abbey.
Baby boomers, Abbey and Steve met in high school in the 60s, and have been together ever since, eloping when Steve returned from Vietnam. Life has been good to them, though there have been the typical challenges of life along the way.
For example, we quickly learn that their third child, a daughter, lived only a few hours after birth, and though they still grieve for her, they are justifiably proud of their two adult sons, Sam and Eric, who are coming home for Christmas – along with wife and girlfriend.
We discover that both are worried that a “big box” store which is rumored to be coming to town will ruin Steve’s business.
Finally we learn that Abbey is a cancer survivor, that her mother died of complications of diabetes while Abbey was very young, and that Abbey has really never forgiven her mother for dying.
Most importantly, we discover that Abbey has a fascination with obituaries, which no doubt grew out of her childhood task of clipping them for her father’s files – and for the families they had served. Abbey reads obituaries like they are short stories – with beginnings, endings – and important lives in between.
Abbey and Steve don’t visit the barn while they’re searching for their perfect tree, but on a later visit, Abbey does, and there she meets a mysterious little man named Thomas, the animal caretaker. Thomas takes particularly good care of the reindeer – in fact, he is the reindeer keeper of the story’s title.
Abbey senses something special about him, and they quickly strike up a friendship.
As you continue reading, you’ll discover how this particular Christmas proves to be more magical than anticipated as Abbey rekindles a belief rooted in childhood and comes to an important understanding. Of course it’s who delivers this gift on Christmas Eve that gives Abbey and Steve the strength to face their greatest challenge.
If you’ve ever wished that you could once again recapture the magic of the Christmases of your childhood, you will want to read this book. As the subtitle promises, this magical story will have you believing in the magic of Christmas all over again.
I highly recommend this book – and suggest you share it with friends and family this Christmas season.
Note: While this is Barbara Briggs Ward’s first book for adults, she is the author/illustrator of the children’s book series featuring Snarly Sally – “The little girl who doesn’t like to have her hair brushed.” Titles include, “The Really, Really Hairy Flight of Snarly Sally” and “Snarly Sally’s Garden of ABCs.”