Published: 26 June 2010
A tender and thought-provoking story exploring the sacrifices we make for family and what it takes to be a good parent.
Grace's teenage mother dies shortly after giving birth and the perfect adoptive parents are found for her: David, the curate of an inner-city parish, and his wife Leila, who are unable to have children of their own.
What they don't count on is Matt Harrison, Grace's shell-shocked young father who falls in love with his daughter and fights to keep her. The Harrisons are an unconventional family who see in Grace a chance for redemption. To convince the courts of their suitability will require a commitment from Matt's mother to return from Africa to her unhappy marriage. The Harrisons enlist their friend, the feckless, charming Jake Kelly, to retrieve her and he sets off on a quest that will force a confrontation. Ultimately, there are terrible decisions to be made about Grace's fate. Everyone only wants what's best for her - but who can say exactly what that is?
Freeing Grace begins with a teenage girl giving birth to her baby daughter, Grace Serenity, who she is planning on giving up for adoption. However, before things can be formalised, Tegan flees the hospital, leaving her baby behind, and is promptly killed in a car accident.
The rest of the chapters weave between Jake Kelly who is just about to be dumped by his girlfriend for his lack of commitment and his growing attachment to the Harrison family to whom he is connected through a work colleague, Lucy. Lucy’s teenage brother is eventually revealed as Grace Serenity’s father and the only way he can have custody of his daughter is for his runaway mother to return from Africa to take charge. Jake is talked into going to Africa to bring Deborah home but the Harrisons aren’t been entirely truthful.
Interspersed between Jake’s chapters is the story of Leila, a Nigerian born wife of a curate who is desperate to have a child. After unsuccessful fertility treatments, Leila and David’s only option seems to be adoption but they’ve almost given up hope when fate intervenes and they are offered Grace Serenity. Just as they are getting used to the idea of being parents, the adoption stalls when Deborah Harrison returns to England, forcing the authorities to reconsider allowing Grace to live with her natural family.
As with The Son-in-Law, Freeing Grace examines a serious subject from differing points of view, in this case adoption, but this book fails to have the same impact as the characters are nowhere near as likeable. While I did feel a measure of sympathy for all those involved, and completely appreciated the dilemma facing them, I just couldn’t bring myself to care all that much for them.
I also don’t understand why Jake Kelly was the only one given a first person narrative, when he really didn’t have much to do with the Harrison family. As a working colleague who is invited for a visit, I really don’t understand why he becomes so important to them so quickly, other than someone they can dupe into going to Africa to find the missing Deborah who isn’t exactly missing in the first place. The character of Jake was completely irrelevant as far as I was concerned and could’ve easily been cut from the story so the focus could be on Matt and Leila.
The plot lines also take a while to intersect with each other, only becoming clear when we find out Matt is Grace’s father and is likely going to have to give her up for adoption. I had no idea how Leila and David’s story fitted with that of the Harrisons, until I realised they were about to become Grace’s prospective adoptive parents. I did like Leila, probably more so than any other character, until the moment when she made contact with the Harrisons and practically bullied them into reconsidering the adoption. I don’t think Leila’s actions were entirely realistic here and it ruined things a bit for me.