James Brookes is sad. He aches with disappointment — in himself and the world around him. Five years previously, cancer claimed his beloved mother. He’s lost his job and must return to the family home where his father still mourns.
It seems he can’t do anything right, and his father is quick to point that out to him. James had dreams, but they were just that; he was unable to make them anything more.
Paper Castles is the story of this young man, but it is a story anyone who has faced struggle can relate to. B. Fox has created a very realistic character who easily earns our sympathy and support early on. “Being an adult is not that great,” James admits. “I’ve gone from being excited about life to being afraid of it.”
FRIENDSHIP AND ACCEPTANCE
To call it a love story is too simple; it’s more a story about friendship and acceptance. Not all dreams come true, and sometimes embracing the world we have is better than hoping for a different one.
But James needs help doing that, and he is lucky to find someone who is willing and eager to help. There is beauty in small towns, coming in the form of achievable goals and simple pleasures like a good cup of coffee. Karen, a waitress in the neighborhood diner, does her best to prove that to James.
It’s not an easy job. When she asks him “Who are you?” he answers in Emily Dickinson’s famous voice: “I’m nobody … ” How can she help him understand that he is so much more?
We want James to make a sea change. We hope for the formulaic story plot here, but Fox doesn’t stoop to that. We expect the story to change direction, and it does, suddenly, and then it changes again. Instead of a pre-fabricated storyline, Fox gives us something a whole lot more like real life … even though the thin line between lies and real life is muddled. But maybe, as Karen tells James, sometimes we need lies.
DREAMS COME FACE TO FACE WITH REALITY
How families survive the loss of a loved one, especially one that was the glue that kept the family together, is a gamble at best. No one can anticipate how he or she is going to react. James and his father are doing the best they can, but when lies and reality collide, they are wounded and helpless.
“Where did things go wrong?” James asks himself. At their miserable Thanksgiving dinner for two, they cannot even talk to each other. “Everything is quiet,” James notices, “except for the silence. The silence is so loud.”
James longs for a gentle voice. He longs to open his eyes and see what he has been picturing in his head.
“Just close your eyes and count to five.” Perhaps when James opens them, he’ll finally be able to embrace the world he sees, whether or not it’s the one he desires.