Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review: The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt

The Chapel Wars
By: Lindsey Leavitt
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens


One doesn't typically associate tradition and permanence with Las Vegas. But just off the famous strip renowned for neon lights, gambling, and Elvis impersonators, Holly found a haven of just that in her grandfather's long-running wedding chapel. The Rose of Sharon chapel proudly eschewed the kitsch that fueled Vegas's 24/7, year-round wedding industry, determined to focus on what matters most when it comes to weddings -- the age-old tradition of joining two lives in marriage and the joy of playing a part in a couple's real-life (and hopefully lasting) romance. The chapel becomes an even more critical anchor in her life with her parents' divorce -- a split with no apparent reason, but one that shakes Holly's faith in truths she always thought she knew. When the unthinkable happens and her grandfather dies, everyone -- Holly most of all -- is shocked to discover that he left the family business in the hands of his teenage granddaughter -- a business, barring a near-miraculous infusion of cash, on the verge of bankruptcy. With her grandfather's bequest comes an unexpected request -- Holly must deliver a letter to Dax, the grandson of her grandfather's arch-nemesis and primary competitor, the owner of the wedding chapel next door, Cupid's Dream.

Cupid's Dream represents everything Holly's beloved chapel has long stood against -- the cheap, commercialization of marriage and Vegas's reputation for tackiness. But Dax is a surprise. The Alabama-transplant is everything his grandfather isn't, has a smile that steals her breath, and a loyalty to his family's chapel that only Holly can begin to understand. But if Holly was going to save the chapel for her grandfather, her family, and herself, she couldn't possibly lose her heart to one of the enemy. In the Chapel Wars her would-be Romeo proves surprisingly persistent, and as Holly really, truly, opens herself to the possibility of love, she discovers the only thing more dangerous than losing her heart to the boy next door is the realization that the future she thought she's always wanted may be the last thing she really needs.

After falling in love with Lindsey Leavitt's breezy love letter to vintage aficionados, Going Vintage, last summer, her newest was high on my list of summer must-reads. While "old-fashioned charm" is perhaps the last phrase one would readily associate with the gambling mecca that is Las Vegas, Leavitt spins a sparkling love letter to the strip and what matters most with all of the warmth and winning flair that characterized its predecessor. But more than a love story set against the memory of the Vegas of Sinatra and the Rat Pack, The Chapel Wars is an unexpected treatise on grief and the lessons that can be gleaned from life's most painful and challenging chapters -- loss and (unsought) change.

While at first glance Holly finds it impossible to believe that she could have anything in common with Dax, both are scarred by losses and struggling to find their way in a world whose very foundation has crumbled beneath their feet. Dax is still reeling from the accident that robbed him of both his father and his chance to play college baseball. He blames himself for the tragedy, at his lowest drinking his pain into oblivion. The death of Holly's grandfather and the pressure of his bequest bring the divorce of her parents into sharp relief, a loss of normalcy that she doesn't understand and fears accepting. For if she loses the chapel and her parents remain split, what glue would be left to hold her fractured family together? Loss is often a trigger for sould-searching, and when the rock upon which one's identity rests is shaken, it forces an individual to question not only who they are, but who they want to be. And within the pages of The Chapel Wars, Leavitt explores how both Holly and Dax do just that individually and collectively with compassion and a dash of humor.

Leavitt's characterizations and relationships -- familial, friendship, and romantic -- shine here. Holly, Dax, and the friends and family members within their orbit, the relationships fostered and challenged, are a study in finding beauty in the ashes of life's most painful, messed up moments. In life and in fiction, especially when the former leaves one reeling, it is human nature, I think, to look for resolution for neatly-wrapped fictional endings that satisfy the emotional and intellectual need for closure. But what Leavitt reminds us with Holly's story is of the beauty in the brokenness, the questions, and the journey itself. As Holly comes to realize, "We're all messed up...life is just about finding the right people to be messed up with" -- or, perhaps to put it even more simply, to remember to treasure the gift of grace.

The Chapel Wars contain everything I've quickly come to love about Leavitt's writing -- warmth, humor, and a sweetly-told, swoon-worthy romance. But she surprised me in the best possible way with Holly and Dax's story, for this is a breezy summer read with depth and heart, and exploration of grief and loss, and a celebration of the oft-times poignant, bittersweet nature of new beginnings. This story is an absolute GEM, and I cannot wait to see where Leavitt takes readers next!

About the book:

Seventeen-year-old Holly wants to remember her Grandpa forever, but she’d rather forget what he left her in his will: his wedding chapel on the Las Vegas strip. Whatever happened to gold watches, savings bonds, or some normal inheritance?

And then there's Grandpa's letter. Not only is Holly running the business with her recently divorced parents, but she needs to make some serious money—fast. Grandpa also insists Holly reach out to Dax, the grandson of her family's mortal enemy and owner of the cheesy chapel next door. No matter how cute Dax is, Holly needs to stay focused: on her group of guy friends, her disjointed family, work, school and... Dax. No wait, not Dax.

Holly’s chapel represents everything she’s ever loved in her past. Dax might be everything she could ever love in the future. But as for right now, there's a wedding chapel to save.


Kristin said...

Awesome review! :) I've been meaning to pick up Going Vintage for the longest time but still haven't...

Unknown said...

@Kristin - Thanks! :) I can't remember, have you read this one? And you HAVE to read Going Vintage, you will LOVE it!!