The Reindeer Keeper: Believe Again…
Barbara Briggs Ward
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (8/11)
With the outside temperatures consistently in the high nineties, the snow covered farmstead on the front cover of Barbara Briggs Ward’s “The Reindeer Keeper” looked incredibly cool and refreshing. While I usually do not read Christmas-themed stories in the summer, the cover was simply too inviting to resist, so I decided to give this out-of-season story a try.
Abbey and Steve, a middle-aged married couple with two grown children, have recently moved to a farm which Abbey inherited from her recently deceased father, who in turn received it from a somewhat peculiar recluse without any family of his own. It’s Christmas time, and the couple is eagerly awaiting the visit of their two sons and their partners. The family is eagerly exploring the new homestead and enjoying the time-honored traditions, and while everything looks really lovely on the surface, there are also some less than sparkling undercurrents, most of which Abbey and Steve try to keep away at least during the holiday season. Abbey has been battling cancer, and Steve’s business is in danger of being swallowed by a big-box store. On top of that, every holiday tends to bring out the best and the worst in everybody, so some old hurts resurface and some old passions reignite. And then there’s the barn with a herd of reindeer and a rather strange man tending to them. Who is he really and exactly why has Abbey been the one to inherit this place?
“The Reindeer Keeper” is a rarely charming and heart-warming story. While it is a quintessentially feel-good story, it maintains a good balance between the “warm and fuzzy” moments and those which deal with the real challenges of real people. There are many lessons to be learned from the book, and many points to ponder. It deals with so many fundamental truths about families, from the fact that we can all create our own families to love to the one about real love and devotion being stronger than just about anything out there besides death. I’ve been reminded how important it is to forgive, but also to understand, to accept that death is part of life and to believe. I’ve found the characters in it endearing and very believable, and their struggles eminently relatable. If the writing style seemed rather basic at times, I’ve grown to love it in the end, finding its simplicity to be a great fit with the oftentimes child-like quality of magically rediscovered ability and necessity to believe. Another really nice part of the book was the charming illustrations by Suzanne Langelier-Lebeda. I found them to be a perfect complement to the text.
“The Reindeer Keeper” is a great grown-up Christmas story, and one that should be shared with your friends and family. And really, there is no particular need to wait until Christmas…