Chasing Down a Dream is a 2017 novel from bestselling author, Beverly Jenkins. A William Morrow paperback original, this is the eighth novel in Jenkins' “Blessings” series (following 2016's Stepping to a New Day). Set in the fictional small town of Henry Adams, Chasing Down a Dream welcomes two newcomer children, finds a prodigal son leaving town in a huff, a sudden family gathering, a death in two families, and a wedding.
In Henry Adams, Kansas, there is never a dull day, even if you are just passing through. Ten-year-old Lucas Herman and his sister, 8-year-old Jasmine “Jaz” Herman, are passing through Henry Adams, on the way to their new home after the death of both their parents. Tragedy strikes again, and single-grandmother, Gemma Dahl, finds Lucas and Jaz walking on the side of the road. She takes them home and eventually hopes to be a foster parent to the orphaned children, taking care of them along with her grandson, Wyatt, the child of her daughter who died in Afghanistan while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. However, the Kansas Department of Social Services may put an end to that dream, which will then put Lucas and Jaz into a dangerous situation.
Meanwhile, Tamar July, Henry Adams' town matriarch, is having strange dreams, filled with symbols and spirit totems related to her African and Native American ancestry. Is someone in the family going to die? Well, Tamar could just die when her despised cousin, Eula Nance, shows up needing a place to stay and bearing terrible news.
In the midst of that drama, college professor Jack James and his girlfriend, Rochelle “Rocky” Dancer, are planning their wedding, but even they have issues. Rocky, co-owner of the local favorite restaurant, the Dog & Cow, clashes with her suddenly obstinate and secretive business partner. Plus, an irritating relative of Jack's ex-wife shows up to cause trouble.
THE LOWDOWN: I had heard of author Beverly Jenkins, but never read her work until 2016. That is when the marketing department of Jenkins' publisher, William Morrow, offered a copy of Jenkins' 2016 novel, Stepping to a New Day. I immediately fell in love with the characters and with Henry Adams, the kind of small town that Norman Rockwell or Walt Disney could love.
This year, William Morrow marketing has been acting funny with me, not sending books I request and sending me books about which I have never heard. I picked up a copy of Chasing Down a Dream from Amazon, and while I did not know if I would like more of Henry Adams, I did expect that at least some of the new novel to appeal to me.
Turns out, every word of it appealed to me. Like Stepping to a New Day, Chasing Down a Dream, could be one of those holiday movies on Lifetime or Hallmark, but with much better writing and storytelling. Because Jenkins is African-American and considering the kinds of stories told in the “Blessings” novels, her stories could be compared to the films of Tyler Perry. The difference is that Jenkins' eschews favorite Perry tropes like crack addiction, incest, and female characters who were raped as teenagers.
The two main themes of Chasing Down a Dream are family and dreams, but both of those are braced on a foundation of love. Love renews a family (Tamar and Eula), and love can build a family (Gemma and Jack and Rocky). Love moves dreams into reality, both the metaphysical (Tamar's dream visions) and the professional (town owner's Bernadine Brown's dreams to grow the town and Gemma's dream to better herself professional and personally).
These themes of dreams, family, and love in all shades and types would wither on the story vine if not for Beverly Jenkins' strong character drama and development. Henry Adams could be just a name on a book cover, but because Jenkins offers strong, characters whose hopes, dreams, and melodrama seem genuine, then Henry Adams stops being just a name on a book. It becomes a place, the idealization of small town America – so much so that the reader might believe or hope that Henry Adams is real. And with so many middle American small towns in crisis, it is good to have a Henry Adams.
Previously, I wrote, “It's a wonderful life in Henry Adams, which is kind of like Mayberry, but with Black people.” The truth is that Beverly Jenkins' characters are just fine without the reader knowing the color of their skin. They are likable in so many ways that I start to forget that I want to know what color their skin is. Something I do want you to know: Chasing Down a Dream is a wonderful book, and yeah, you should be chasing down your own copy, print or digital.
I READS YOU RECOMMENDS: Fans of Beverly Jenkins and of stories of small towns will want Chasing Down a Dream.