When Emily Shaw, a young widow, learns that her late husband’s last surprise for her involves returning to Sunset Beach, North Carolina, to realize an old dream of theirs, she reluctantly embarks on a summer of discovery in the midst of grief.
There, ini the oasis of the beach community, she meets a host of townspeople with their own broken dreams and unexpected situations. As the island citizens divide over the fate of the nostalgic bridge, Emily happens upon a man who just may be the one to restore her faith in dreams, hope, and even love
Review originally posted on Novel Crossing.
Emily Shaw thought her happily ever after was just beginning when her husband of five short years is suddenly taken after a short and devastating battle with cancer. At his funeral Emily learns that Ryan has kept a secret from her: a life insurance policy designated for her to buy the beach house they always dreamed of having at the locale of their honeymoon. His final gift to Emily is the chance to start over with his blessing for an abundant life.
A year later, with floundering resolve and battered faith, Emily returns to the quiet oceanside town of Sunset Beach, North Carolina wearing her grief like a shroud. A providential encounter with an old widow fulfills Ryan’s dying wish and becomes the inciting moment of Emily’s healing. Emily slowly begins to immerse herself in the quaint community and meets the bridge tender who turns out to be a former one-time movie star that she was infatuated with as a teenager.
Since Emily’s fascination with Kyle Baker is mentioned several times in the beginning of the novel, it was not surprising when he was introduced as the love interest in subsequent chapters. While this subplot is engaging and sentimental, it defers to Emily’s journey of self-discovery and emotional rehabilitation as the central storyline. Mary Beth Whalen portrays Emily’s grief and mourning with acute sensitivity and raw scenes of vulnerability. The timeline is realistic and offers the freedom for Emily to experience the spectrum of emotion that naturally accompanies such trauma.
Emily becomes involved in the heated debate whether to keep the old bridge that ties the island to the mainland or to replace it with new and safe infrastructure. This storyline is symbolic of Emily’s progression from clinging to the past, to honouring and cherishing her memories while anticipating the future. The metaphor is not subtle but the message resonates with readers as all can apply this imagery of hope and purpose to their lives. As Emily learns to relinquish her pain in exchange for joy, God is able to restore her spirit.
The Bridge Tender is a touching character driven story that will find purchase in the hearts of many readers.