By Stacie Gorkow, correspondent
Returning home to Iowa is not exactly what Grace Kleran had in mind in Kimberly Stuart’s new novel, “Heart Land.” She never looked back after high school, only looking forward as she studied and realized her dream of living in New York City.
The fashion industry is all Grace has ever wanted to be a part of and after six years of sweat and hard work, she has finally gotten her opportunity to be the lead designer. Her presentation was perfectly executed and her designs were some of her best. But, instead of getting the top job, she is fired. With no money in her account and bills piling up fast, she is forced to return home to small-town Iowa.
Returning home forces Grace to confront her past, including the memories of her parents’ accident and her years growing up with her grandma. Then all kinds of emotions are stirred up when her high school sweetheart, Tucker, appears to still be available. She has some apologizing to do and some friendships to mend. But she also needs to find a way to make some money. She has no intention of staying in Iowa and is looking for the fastest way back to New York City. On a whim, she designs a dress to sell on Etsy. It sells so fast she may have found a way back to her dream sooner than she thought.
What I love about Stuart’s books is that you can see yourself in many of her characters. Stuart takes great care to show readers that real life can be messy and unpredictable, but with family, faith, friends, and determination, we can get past the struggles and hardships. Grace has a talent that may be too big for small-town Iowa, but taking the girl out of Iowa is easier than taking Iowa out of the girl. Grace grapples with being true to herself and her designs while taking risks to make it big. Sometimes the mistakes show us what is important.
The various characters, New Yorkers and Iowans, are easily imagined right down to their clothing choices, like the seersucker pants on Grace’s New York co-worker or Tucker’s jeans and work gloves. The fashion, including Grace’s designs and what specific characters are wearing, are part of the details of the story.
Stuart takes care in creating characters who are likable and easy to root for. The romance between Tucker and Grace is realistic and builds slowly in the background while Grace tries to fit her way back into the lifestyle of her small town. The hardworking values of Iowans helping neighbors and friends appear in the scenes.
The book is full of heart, whether it’s in the designs Grace creates, the relationship with her grandma, her love for Tucker, or the feelings of home.
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Stuart’s wit and humor fill the pages along with her desire to share her love of family, faith and small-town values. The novel feels like a warm hug and while there is sadness and anger around us, escaping in a book can remind us there still is goodness in others.