The Mailbox, by Marybeth Whalen
This was an incredible story! I loved every single word and could hardly put it down. The Mailbox is an intricate and complicated story of love, betrayal and forgiveness. It spans years, yet the narrative flows seamlessly from past to present and back again without jarring the reader out of the story. The characters are all realistically portrayed and their emotions and motivations ring true.
As a rule, first novels leave a bit to be desired but this one shines with perfection. And just in case I haven’t convinced you that The Mailbox is a worthy read, this is the book I took with me to my doctor’s office the day of my biopsy and it claimed my total attention both before and after the procedure.
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***
Marybeth Whalen is the general editor of For the Write Reason and The Reason We Speakas well as co-author of the book Learning to Live Financially Free. She serves as a speaker for the Proverbs 31 Ministry Team and directs a fiction book club, She Reads, through this same outreach. Most importantly, Marybeth is the wife of Curt Whalen and mother to their six children. She is passionate about sharing God with all the women God places in her path. She has been visiting the mailbox for years.
Visit the author’s website.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (June 1, 2010)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Sunset Beach, NC
Campbell held back a teasing smile as he led Lindsey across the warm sand toward the mailbox. Leaning her head on Campbellâ€™s shoulder, her steps slowed. She looked up at him, observing the mischievous curling at the corners of his mouth. â€œThere really is no mailbox, is there?â€ she said, playfully offended. â€œIf you wanted to get me alone on a deserted stretch of beach, all you had to do was ask.â€ She elbowed him in the side.
A grin spread across his flawless face. â€œYou caught me.â€ He threw his hands up in the air in surrender.
â€œI gotta stop for a sec,â€ Lindsey said and bent at the waist, stretching the backs of her aching legs. She stood up and put her hands on her hips, narrowing her eyes at him. â€œSo, have you actually been to the mailbox? Maybe the other kids at the pier were just pulling your leg.â€
Campbell nodded his head. â€œI promise Iâ€™ve been there before. Itâ€™ll be worth it. Youâ€™ll see.â€ He pressed his forehead to hers and looked intently into her eyes before continuing down the beach.
â€œIf you say so â€¦â€ she said, following him. He slipped his arm around her bare tanned shoulder and squeezed it, pulling her closer to him. Lindsey looked ahead of them at the vast expanse of raw
coastline. She could make out a jetty of rocks in the distance that jutted into the ocean like a finish line.
As they walked, she looked down at the pairs of footprints they left in the sand. She knew that soon the tide would wash them away, and she realized that just like those footprints, the time she had left
with Campbell would soon vanish. A refrain ran through her mind: Enjoy the time you have left. She planned to remember every moment of this walk so she could replay it later, when she was back at home, without him. Memories would be her most precious commodity. How else would she feel him near her?
â€œI donâ€™t know how weâ€™re going to make this work,â€ she said as they walked. â€œI mean, how are we going to stay close when weâ€™re so far away from each other?â€
He pressed his lips into a line and ran a hand through his hair. â€œWe just will,â€ he said. He exhaled loudly, a punctuation.
â€œBut how?â€ she asked, wishing she didnâ€™t sound so desperate.
He smiled. â€œWeâ€™ll write. And weâ€™ll call. Iâ€™ll pay for the longdistance bills. My parents already said I could.â€ He paused. â€œAnd weâ€™ll count the days until next summer. Your aunt and uncle already said you could come back and stay for most of the summer. And you know your mom will let you.â€
â€œYeah, sheâ€™ll be glad to get rid of me for sure.â€ She pushed images of home from her mind: the menthol odor of her motherâ€™s cigarettes, their closet-sized apartment with parchment walls you could hear the neighbors through, her momâ€™s embarrassing â€œdelicatesâ€ dangling from the shower rod in the tiny bathroom they shared. She wished that her aunt and uncle didnâ€™t have to leave the beach house after
the summer was over and that she could just stay with them forever.
The beach house had become her favorite place in the world. At the beach house, she felt like a part of a real family with her aunt and uncle and cousins. This summer had been an escape from the reality of her life at home. And it had been a chance to discover true love. But tomorrow, her aunt and uncle would leave for their home and send her back to her mother.
â€œI donâ€™t want to leave!â€ she suddenly yelled into the open air, causing a few startled birds to take flight.
Campbell didnâ€™t flinch when she yelled. She bit her lip and closed her eyes as he pulled her to him and hugged her.
â€œShhh,â€ he said. â€œI donâ€™t want you to leave either.â€ He cupped her chin with his hand. â€œIf I could reverse time for you, I would. And we would go back and do this whole summer over.â€
She nodded and wished for the hundredth time that she could stand on the beach with Campbell forever, listening to the hypnotic sound of his voice, so much deeper and more mature than the boys at school. She thought about the pictures they had taken earlier that day, a last-ditch effort to have something of him to take with her. But it was a pitiful substitute, a cheap counterfeit for the real thing.
Campbell pointed ahead of them. â€œCome on,â€ he said and tugged on her hand. â€œI think I see it.â€ He grinned like a little boy. They crested the dune and there, without pomp or circumstance,
just as he had promised, stood an ordinary mailbox with gold letters spelling out â€œKindred Spirit.â€
â€œI told you it was here!â€ he said as they waded through the deep sand. â€œThe mailbox has been here a couple of years,â€ he said, his tone changing to something close to reverence as he laid his hand on top
of it. â€œNo one knows who started it or why, but word has traveled and now people come all the way out here to leave letters for the Kindred Spiritâ€”the mystery person who reads them. People come from all over the world.â€
â€œSo does anybody know who gets the letters?â€ Lindsey asked. She ran her fingers over the gold, peeling letter decals. The bottom half of the n and e were missing.
â€œI donâ€™t think so. But thatâ€™s part of what draws people hereâ€” they come here because this place is private, special.â€ He looked down at his bare feet, digging his toes into the sand. â€œSo â€¦ I wanted to bring you here. So it could be our special place too.â€ He looked over at her out of the corner of his eye. â€œI hope you donâ€™t think thatâ€™s lame.â€
She put her arms around him and looked into his eyes. â€œNot lame at all,â€ she said.
As he kissed her, she willed her mind to record it all: the roar of the waves and the cry of the seagulls, the powdery softness of the warm sand under her feet, the briny smell of the ocean mixed with the scent of Campbellâ€™s sun-kissed skin. Later, when she was back at home in Raleigh, North Carolina, she would come right back to this moment. Again and again. Especially when her mother sent her to her room with the paper-thin walls while she entertained her newest boyfriend.
Lindsey opened the mailbox, the hinges creaking as she did. She looked to him, almost for approval. â€œLook inside,â€ he invited her.
She saw some loose paper as well as spiral-bound notebooks, the kind she bought at the drugstore for school. The pages were crinkly from the sea air and water. There were pens in the mailbox too, some
with their caps missing.
Campbell pointed. â€œYou should write a letter,â€ he said. â€œTake a pen and some paper and just sit down and write what you are feeling.â€ He shrugged. â€œIt seemed like something you would really get into.â€
How well he had come to know her in such a short time. â€œOkay,â€ she said. â€œI love it.â€ She reached inside and pulled out a purple notebook, flipping it open to read a random page. Someone had written about a wonderful family vacation spent at Sunset and the special time she had spent with her daughter.
She closed the notebook. Maybe this wasnâ€™t such a good idea. She couldnâ€™t imagine her own mother ever wanting to spend time with her, much less being so grateful about it. Reading the notebook made her feel worse, not better. She didnâ€™t need reminding about what she didnâ€™t have waiting for her back home.
Campbell moved in closer. â€œWhat is it?â€ he said, his body lining up perfectly with hers as he pulled her close.
She laid the notebook back inside the mailbox. â€œI just donâ€™t want to go home,â€ she said. â€œI wish my uncle didnâ€™t have to return to his stupid job. How can I go back to â€¦ her? She doesnâ€™t want me there any more than I want to be there.â€ This time she didnâ€™t fight the tears that had been threatening all day.
Campbell pulled her down to sit beside him in the sand and said nothing as she cried, rocking her slightly in his arms.
With her head buried in his shoulder, her words came out muffled. â€œYou are so lucky you live here.â€
He nodded. â€œYeah, I guess I am.â€ He said nothing for a while.
â€œBut you have to know that this place wonâ€™t be the same for me without you in it.â€
She looked up at him, her eyes red from crying. â€œSo youâ€™re saying Iâ€™ve ruined it for you?â€
He laughed, and she recorded the sound of his laugh in her memory too. â€œWell, if you want to put it that way, then, yes.â€
â€œWell, that just makes me feel worse!â€ She laid her head on his shoulder and concentrated on the nearness of him, inhaled the sea scent of his skin and the smell of earth that clung to him from working
outside with his dad.
â€œEverywhere I go from now on I will have the memory of you with me. Of me and you together. The Island Market, the beach, the arcade, the deck on my house, the pier â€¦â€ He raised his eyebrows as
he remembered the place where he first kissed her. â€œAnd now here. It will always remind me of you.â€
â€œAnd I am going home to a place without a trace of you in it. I donâ€™t know which is worse, constant reminders or no reminders at all.â€ She laced her narrow fingers through his.
â€œSo are you glad we met?â€ She sounded pitiful, but she had to hear his answer.
â€œI would still have wanted to meet you,â€ he said. â€œEven though itâ€™s going to break my heart to watch you go. What we have is worth it.â€ He kissed her, his hands reaching up to stroke her hair. She heard his words echoing in her mind: worth it, worth it, worth it. She knew that they were young, that they had their whole lives ahead of them, at least thatâ€™s what her aunt and uncle had told her. But she also knew
that what she had with Campbell was beyond age.
Campbell stood up and pulled her to her feet, attempting to keep kissing her as he did. She giggled as the pull of gravity parted them. He pointed her toward the mailbox. â€œNow, go write it all down for the Kindred Spirit. Write everything you feel about us and how unfair it is that we have to be apart.â€ He squinted his eyes at her. â€œAnd I promise not to read over your shoulder.â€
She poked him. â€œYou can read it if you want. I have no secrets from you.â€
He shook his head. â€œNo, no. This is your deal. Your private worldâ€”just between you and the Kindred Spirit. And next year,â€ he said, smiling down at her, â€œI promise to bring you back here, and you can write about the amazing summer weâ€™re going to have.â€
â€œAnd what about the summer after that?â€ she asked, teasing him.
â€œThat summer too.â€ He kissed her. â€œAnd the next.â€ He kissed her again. â€œAnd the next.â€ He kissed her again, smiling down at her through his kisses. â€œGet the point?
â€œThis will be our special place,â€ he said as they stood together in front of the mailbox.
â€œAlways?â€ she asked.
â€œAlways,â€ he said.
Dear Kindred Spirit,
I have no clue who you are, and yet that doesnâ€™t stop me from writing to you anyway. I hope one day I will discover your identity. I wonder if you are nearby even as I put pen to paper. Itâ€™s a little weird to think that I could have passed you on the street this summer and not know you would be reading my
deepest thoughts and feelings. Campbell wonâ€™t even read this, though I would let him if he asked me.
As I write, Campbell is down at the waterâ€™s edge, throwing shells. He is really good at making the shells skip across the waterâ€”I guess thatâ€™s proof that this place is his home.
Let me ask you, Kindred Spirit: Do you think itâ€™s silly for me to assume that I have found my soul mate at the age of fifteen? My mom would laugh. She would tell me that the likelihood of anyone finding a soul mateâ€”everâ€”is zero. She would tell me that I need to not go around giving my heart away like a hopeless romantic. She laughs when I read romance novels or see sappy movies that make me cry. She says that I will learn the truth about love someday.
But, honestly, I feel like I did learn the truth about love this summer. Itâ€™s like what they say: It can happen when you least expect it, and it can knock you flat on your back with its power. I didnâ€™t come here expecting to fall in love. The truth is I didnâ€™t want to come here at all. I came here feeling pushed aside and unwanted. I can still remember when my mom said that she had arranged for my aunt and uncle to bring me here, smiling at me like she was doing me some kind of favor when we both knew she just wanted me out of the picture so she could live her life without me cramping her style.
I tried to tell her that I didnâ€™t want to comeâ€”who would want to spend their summer with bratty cousins? I was so mad, I didnâ€™t speak to my mom for days. I begged, plotted, and even got my best friend Hollyâ€™s parents to say I could stay with them instead. But in the end, as always, my mother ruled, and I got packed off for a summer at the beach. On the car ride down, I sat squished in the backseat beside Bobby and Stephanie. Bobby elbowed me and stuck his tongue out at me the whole way to the beach. When his parents werenâ€™t looking, of course. I stared out the window and pretended to be anywhere but in that car.
But now, I canâ€™t believe how wonderful this summer has turned out. I made some new friends. I read a lot of books and even got to where I could tolerate my little cousins. They became like the younger siblings I never had. Most of all, I met Campbell.
I know what Holly will say. She will say that it was Godâ€™s plan. I am working on believing that there is a God and that he has a plan for my life like Holly says. But most of the time it feels like God is not aware I exist. If he was aware of me, youâ€™d think heâ€™d have given me a mom who actually cared about me.
Ughâ€”I canâ€™t believe I have to leave tomorrow. Now that I have found Campbell, I donâ€™t know what I will do without him. We have promised to write a lot of letters. And we have promised not to date other people.
A word about him asking me not to date other people: This was totally funny to me. Two nights ago we were walking on the beach and he stopped me, pulling me to him and looking at me really seriously. â€œPlease,â€ he said, â€œI would really like it if you wouldnâ€™t see other people. Is that crazy for me to ask that of you when we are going to be so far apart?â€
I was like, â€œAre you kidding? No one asks me out. No one at my school even looks at me twice!â€ At school I am known for being quiet and studiousâ€”a brain, not a girl to call for a good time. Holly says that men will discover my beauty later in life. But until this summer I didnâ€™t believe her. I couldnâ€™t admit that no one notices me at school because, obviously, he believes I am sought after. And I knew enough to let him believe it. So I very coyly answered back, â€œOnly if you promise me the same thing.â€
And he smiled in that lazy way of his and said, â€œHow could I even look at another girl when Iâ€™ve got the best one in the world?â€
And so now you see why I just canâ€™t bear the thought of leaving him. But the clock is ticking. When I get home, I swear I will cry myself to sleep every night and write letters to Campbell every day. The only thing I have to look forward to is hanging out with Holly again. Thank goodness for Holly, the one constant in my life. In math class we learned that a constant is something that has one value all the time and it never changes.
Thatâ€™s what Holly is for me: my best friend, no matter what.
I wonder if Campbell will be a constant in my life. I guess itâ€™s too soon to tell, but I do hope so. Iâ€™m already counting down the days until I can come back and be with Campbell. Because this summerâ€”I donâ€™t care how lame it soundsâ€”I found my purpose. And that purpose is loving Campbell with all my
Until next summer,
Â©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. The Mailbox by Marybeth Whalen. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.
Great review of a great book!
Linda – -wasn’t this one of the best first books you ever read?
Looks like another winner. I am getting a very long to read list. Now just to find the time.
Nessa — you should see mine! I currently have 12 books on my review shelf!
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