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Title:  Willing Spirits

Author:  Phyllis Schieber

Published:  reprint edition with Book Club guide inside — March 3, 2009

# of Pages:  292

ISBN:  978-0425225851

My Rating:  4.5/5

Both teachers, both in their forties, Jane Hoffman and Gwen Baker have a friendship that has helped them endure.  It was Jane who looked after Gwen when her husband left her to raise two young sons alone.  And when Jane comes home one day unexpectedly and finds her husband in a shameless act of betrayal, she immediately turns to Gwen for support.

Now, tested by additional personal crises, Jane and Gwen face new challenges – as mothers, as daughters, as women.  And in the process, they will learn unexpected truths about their friendship – and themselves.

I toured Schieber’s The Sinner’s Guide to Confession a few months ago and really enjoyed the book, so when I was offered the option of touring Willing Spirits too, I absolutely jumped at the chance.  Based on my first experience with Schieber I knew that I would enjoy this book, but it really surprised me just how much I ended up loving it.  I’d have to say I even liked it more than Sinner’s – and I really wasn’t expecting to.

Willing Spirits is completely a character-driven novel.  The book centers around two women, Jane and Gwen, best friends in their forties, both with adult children (well, college-age), and the major, and not so major, events that are occurring in their present-day lives.  Interspersed with what’s going on now, the two women slowly reveal to the reader snippets of their pasts, so that when the book is over the reader knows a LOT about these two women.  I mean, I really felt like I knew these women – better than I know some people in my real life even.

Both women are flawed but extremely likeable.  Both women have made mistakes in their lives, but they also have both dealt with some pretty hard things.  Nothing major, really – there is no suicide, drugs, eating disorders, cancer, losing children, etc. – none of the “issues” that you typically find in these kinds of books.  The story, rather, is about a bunch of little things that make up womens’ lives – the fact that how our parents raise us can really shape our marriages and our own parenting styles, the small decisions that we make that, together, can easily add up to an unfulfilled life, and the simple truth that a best friend can make all the difference in the world when dealing with all the little things life throws at you. 

The book really just spoke to me.  I think that’s the only way to put it.  I have almost zero in common with these women, on the surface, but I can see parts of myself in both of them.  And something about the way Schieber drew these characters and their relationships felt very authentic to me.  I really related to both Jane and Gwen, and I think that many women will see aspects of their own lives reflected in the ladies of Willing Spirits.

Willing Spirits was just re-released with a brand new cover (pretty, isn’t it?) and a book club guide in the back.  I think the book would be a fantastic choice for womens’ book clubs – tons of stuff to discuss, and I think almost all women will be able to relate to the book on some level.

Highly recommended.

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