Score: 96/100 (9.6 out of 10)
Canvas of Healing by Suzette Welling is one of the most touching, powerful, and emotional novels we've ever read! That's really no hyperbole or exaggeration. This book is captivating as all heck, grabbing you by the throat and tugging you along on this winding, weaving journey of discovery and healing. This is one of the few books we'd categorize as un-put-downable, meaning you can't help but keep reading to find out what's going to happen to the characters next.
For context, we haven't had our heartstrings pulled this hard by a book since Holocaust Memoirs by Hank Brodt & Deborah Donnelly almost two years ago. That was over 300 book reviews ago. That's saying a lot.
What also says a lot is the score. A 9.6 out of 10 is the highest score we've ever given a fiction book, and only a handful of fiction books have achieved it.
So, what exactly is it about Canvas of Healing that's so touching, powerful, and emotional? Well, it seems to come from a place of actual, real-life experience. In other words, it seems like these events—as crazy and unlikely as they seem—may have happened in one form or another to the author or someone they knew. This is, in a sense, a pseudo-memoir. Because it seems so real, so do the stakes.
Furthermore, the characters seem so real and fleshed out. We haven't seen characters more real and fleshed out since Secrets in the Mirror by Leslie Kain.
Canvas of Healing follows a character named Megan Hart who has just lost her estranged husband in a car accident. So far, this sounds par for the course, right? Obviously, Megan has some mourning and coping to do, as you might expect. What you might not expect are the huge secrets that Megan's husband, Blake, took with him to the grave, namely that he had secretly married another woman and even had a child with her named Blake Jr.!
Surprisingly, this book isn't so much about mourning Blake as it is about dealing with the mess he left behind.
We are constantly prodded with the question of whether or not Megan may have deserved this given how anti-social, selfish, and unlikable she quickly proves to be. Indeed, we see Megan essentially behave like a bully and even a manipulative liar to people at times, always saying and doing things to serve herself such as lying to the mission staff about her intentions and treating others with disdain. She is vindictive, hateful, and sometimes straight-up mean. However, she undeniably human. And you can't help but empathize with her and see where she's coming from.
In other words, the reader really comes to understand why Megan is the way that she is. It's that understanding of her that still causes us to cheer for her and hope that things get better for her.
No character grows more than Megan. It's that growth and gradual eroding of her less likable traits that makes her so interesting.
The cast of characters in this novel is truly top-notch. We could probably write an essay about some of them.
Let's first talk about Tabitha. Tabitha's enigmatic, tantalizing role as the other wife (or the other woman) instantly gives weight to her character. The book gradually builds to the epic, awkward encounter between the two women, Megan and Tabitha, and you're constantly on edge about how both will respond and react. At the same time, the author doesn't bore you and drag out the process longer than it needs to be. You actually get payoff pretty early on. In fact, you get a lot of different payoffs, climaxes, and reveals scattered throughout the book.
Tabitha initially reflects our understanding of the other person, that mysterious person we imagine is sleeping with and/or manipulating our beloved partner. It's an archetype that many of us can understand as we've all had those feelings regardless of how secure a person we are. We've all wondered if someone was, at the very least, flirting with our lover. We all imagine them as the worst possible person—a monster, a demon. Yet, in reality, they usually turn out to be as human as we are.
We'll leave it at this: Tabitha is a character who just might bring you to tears.
We're also introduced to Blake Jr., Tabitha's child whom she had with Megan's husband. So, as you might expect, the situation is rather awkward and tumultuous. However, you can't help but feel like Blake Jr. is the last surviving bit of Blake, for better or for worse. He is an innocent victim of circumstance, robbed of a father and a normal home.
There's also Samuel (“Sam”), the lawn guy who takes an interest in Megan when she is too blinded by vengeance and rage to see two feet in front of her. The will they/won't they relationship between Sam and Megan is one of the best relationships we've seen in a novel. It's absolutely heartwrenching, as is much of this book. Samuel was one of our favorite characters in the book. It's hard not to fall in love with him, although there are times when he is brusque and even one time when he lets anger show. Like with many of these characters, though, you understand his motivations. And the more you learn about him, the better a human being he becomes. His life and his relationships with the other characters provide some of the biggest surprises of he book.
Another fabulous character who helps to give the book its name is Norma, the artist who selflessly provides Megan with a positive outlet for her negative and repressed feelings. Norma is the tough-loving, wise mentor that we all want and need. She reminded us of Della Reese's character from Touched by an Angel. Norma is eventually joined by a group of older women who rally behind and support Megan in her darkest times.
There's also Denise, Megan's therapist, who is able to open Megan up to a lot of the feelings and traumas that she—as a closed-off, anti-social person—has repressed. Now, we have to say that there were a few times when we didn't like Denise. Yes, she's just doing her job and even seems good at it, but she almost causes a colossal mess with what we perceived as bad advice. It borderline becomes meddling at one point. There are times when a therapist (or any professional) should know when to stay in their lane.
This is such an amazing, incredible book with clearly a lot of inspiration behind it. Now, there were a few things (other than Denise) that weren't perfect. For example, the book seems to end about six to eight different times, yet it keeps on going. Peak after peak after peak after peak. How many peaks do you need at the end of one book in a series? It becomes a bit much. There's only so much heartbreak our hearts can take.
There are also times when conversations and events seem rushed or cut for time, which is actually admirable. The author knew that they didn't need to give us the full dialogue or description of events, that the audience was already smart to it and could follow well enough.
Anyway, go and check out this book on Amazon!