The Scent of Lilacs, a new novel by Ann H. Gabhart, looks at a family in 1964, in rural Kentucky. David Brooke is a some-time pastor who also runs the local newspaper, while raising his 13-year-old daughter Jocie. His wife ran off several years ago to California, taking their now 20-year-old daughter Tabitha. David’s Aunt Love, and Wes, the newspaper pressman who tells Jocie he’s from Jupiter, provide an extended family.
Tabitha soon arrives home, and life at the Brooke home is never the same, as various family secrets are revealed. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of David, Jocie, and Aunt Love, and along the way we learn more about tragic events in their past. Jocie in particular matures, as she learns to appreciate Aunt Love, who she always resented for her scripture-quoting discipline, and learns more about her family. Serious moral issues are brought forth, including out-of-wedlock children, adultery, and child abandonment. Yet throughout all the troubles, The Scent of Lilacs is told in a light-hearted way, with interesting, likeable characters in their ordinary lives in a small town.
With its more recent setting, The Scent of Lilacs has more of a nostalgic than historical feel, as a story that could happen today as well as then. The characters, and their relationships with each other, are more central than the background time period. Most importantly, the characters’ Christian faith brings them closer together through the experiences of the summer of ’64.