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Home before dark /
Susan Wiggs.
Don Mills, Ont. : MIRA Books, c2003.
378 p. ; 25 cm.
More Details
Don Mills, Ont. : MIRA Books, c2003.
catalogue key
A Look Inside
About the Author
BIH Author Biography
Using blunt scissors, a Big Chief tablet, a borrowed stapler and a Number Two pencil, Susan Wiggs self-published her first novel at the age of eight. Today she is the acclaimed, bestselling author of many poignant, unforgettable novels, including Halfway to Heaven and Passing Through Paradise. Susan lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Jay, her daughter, Elizabeth, and an Airedale that hasn't been groomed since 1994.
Flap Copy
In her career as a photojournalist, free-spirited Jessie Ryder has seen the world through her camera lens. But she's never traveled far enough to escape a painful moment that has haunted her for the past sixteen years: the day she gave her baby daughter away. Now, facing a life-altering crisis, she's decided to fix the broken pieces of her heart and seek out Lila, even if it means she has to upset the world of Lila's adoptive mother...her very own sister, Luz. Like a Technicolor tornado bursting into Luz's picture-perfect life, Jessie returns to her Texas hometown with a shattering request. She wants to tell Lila the truth. As Luz and her husband struggle with what Jessie's return may mean to the rebellious Lila, their seemingly solid marriage falters. Old secrets are exposed. Then, just as Jessie comes to terms with the past, life's bittersweet irony plays its hand. She meets Dustin Matlock, a young father who has survived a devastating loss. And Jessie begins to see the hopeful possibilities that lie buried in the most wrenching tragedies. Though she aches to reach out to those she loves, Jessie stands at the crossroads. She is leaving behind the only life she knows and leaping blindly into the unknown. Now the choice she makes will affect the life of her daughter and challenge the meaning of sisterhood. As Jessie and Luz examine the true meaning of love, loyalty and family, they are drawn into an emotional tug-of-war filled with moments of unexpected humor, surprising sweetness and unbearable sadness. But as the pain, regrets and mistakes of the past slowly rise to the surface, a new picture emerges-a picture filled with hope and promise and the redeeming power of the human heart. With a wise, insightful voice, Susan Wiggs creates a moving novel about family, second chances and the bealing power of love.
First Chapter


"Our youth now love luxury, they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders, and love to chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers." -Socrates (399 B.C.)

That spike of panic a woman feels when the thought first hits her - I'm pregnant - is like no other. Sixteen years after that moment, its echo haunted Jessie Ryder as she drove through the Texas heat, having traveled halfway around the world to see the daughter she'd never met.

She could still remember the terror and wonder of knowing an invisible cluster of cells had changed her life forever, in ways she could not imagine. Sixteen years and uncounted miles separated her from that day, but the distance was closing fast.

Simon had tried to stop her - It's madness, Jess, you can't just go dashing off to Texas - but Simon was wrong. And this wasn't the craziest thing she'd ever done, not by a long shot.

For the hundredth time since flinging her belongings into a bag in an Auckland hotel room, Jessie wondered what else she could have done. There was no script for this, no instruction manual for putting the broken pieces of a life back together.

There was only the homing instinct, the tendency of the wounded animal to seek safe haven. And then there was the unbearable urge, long buried but never quite forgotten, to see the child she had given away at birth to the only person on the planet she trusted - Luz, her sister.

The front tire rippled over a line of yellow discs marking the center of the highway. Jessie's driving days were numbered, but a stubborn streak of independence, combined with a sense of desperation, made her defiant. She slowed, checked the rearview mirror - still getting used to driving American cars, on the right side of the road - and pulled off. She was lost again.

The glint of the sun over the jagged silhouette of the hills blinded her briefly, and she flipped down the visor. Grabbing the map, she studied the route highlighted by the counter clerk at Alamo Rent-a-Car. Southwest along the interstate to exit 135-A, State Highway 290 to Farm-to-Market Route 1486, following the little red thread of road to a place few folks had heard of and even fewer were inclined to visit.

Jessie had followed the directions. Or had she? It was hard to tell, and it had been so long since she'd traveled these forgotten country roads. As she traced a finger over the route, a movement on the road caught her eye. An armadillo.

She usually only encountered them as roadkill, as though they'd been born that way, with their little dinosaur feet pointed skyward. And yet here was one, waddling across her path like something out of a Steinbeck novel. An omen? A harbinger of doom? Or just another Texas speed bump? She watched the creature wander to the other side of the road and disappear into the low thicket of chaparral.

An oncoming car crested the steep hill ahead of her. She squinted at the approaching vehicle. A pickup truck, of course.

What else did you find out here?As it slowed and then stopped on the opposite shoulder, she felt a slick thrill of danger. She was completely alone, lost in the middle of Texas, miles from civilization.

The window rolled down. Shading her eyes against the glare, she could make out only the outline of the driver - big shoulders, baseball cap - and, incongruously, a child's safety seat on the passenger side. A fishing rod lay across the gun rack.

"Everything all right, ma'am?" he asked. She couldn't get a good look at his face with the sun in her eyes, but that Texas drawl somehow put her at ease, evoking faint memories of lazy days and slow, neighborly smiles.

"I'm headed for Edenville," she said. "But I think I'm lost."

"You're almost there," he said, jerking his thumb in the direction he'd come from. "This is the right road. You just haven't gone far enough."


"No problem, ma'am. You take care now." The pickup truck moved off, backfiring as it headed in the opposite direction.

You take care now. The friendly throwaway admonition lingered as she pulled back onto the road. She fiddled with the radio, finding mostly news and tears-in-my-beer country music. At last she discovered a decent rock station out of Austin and listened to ZZ Top, turned up loud. She hoped the music might drown out her thoughts and maybe even her fears.

Austin's bedroom communities, with names like Saddle-brook Acres and Rockhurst Estates, were miles behind her, giving way to places with folksier appellations like Two-Dog Ranch. She passed a Texaco station with a hand-lettered sign: We Sell Gas To Anyone In A Glass Container.

Deep in the hill country, late afternoon settled in. The dark pockets of shadows hidden within the striated sandstone hills were not to be trusted. The waddling armadillo had reminded her that, at any moment, a jackrabbit or mule deer could leap out onto the road. She would hate to hit an animal. She didn't even want to hit a dead one, she realized, swerving to avoid a battered carcass that had not yet been desiccated into a grotesque kite of flattened skin.


Excerpted from Home Before Dark by Susan Wiggs Copyright © 2004 by Susan Wiggs. Excerpted by permission.
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Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2003-03-31:
Jessie Ryder, the heroine of this latest novel from romance veteran Wiggs (Halfway to Heaven), returns to her Texas hometown after 16 years to visit Lila, the daughter she gave up for adoption to her older sister, Luz. Her eyesight is deteriorating rapidly from a rare disease, and soon she will no longer be able to continue her successful work as a photojournalist. She now wants to tell Lila the truth about her parentage, but Luz balks at the idea. Luz has chosen a starkly different lifestyle, making a home for her husband Ian, three boys and Lila, who's now a rebellious, out-of-control teenager. Both sisters are envious of the other's choices, and free-spirited Jessie's sudden arrival turns Luz's world-not as stable as it seems on the surface-upside down. As long-buried family secrets come to the surface, Luz and Ian's marriage threatens to unravel. Meanwhile, Jessie's wanderlust is held in check when she falls in love with Dusty Matlock, a local widowed pilot with a two-year-old. The novel sets up provocative family tensions, but these are resolved too easily. Wiggs's tendency to overwrite ("a wave of devastating love and protectiveness rolled over him with crushing strength") and lackluster humor ("Jeez, you're turning into a drama queen," Lila says to Jessie, who quips, "I've been wanting a change of careers") may further disappoint readers. Some of the scenes are finely drawn, however, especially those set at Beacon for the Blind, a facility for training those without eyesight to live independently. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews,
Booklist, February 2003
Publishers Weekly, March 2003
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Main Description
As an irresponsible young mother, Jessie Ryder knew she'd never be able to give her newborn the stable life that her older sister could, that her child deserved. So Luz and her husband adopted little Lila and told her Jessie was but a distant aunt.Sixteen years later, having traveled the world with the winds of remorse at her back, Jessie is suspending her photojournalism career to return home to Lila ? even if it means throwing her sister's world into turmoil.Where life once seemed filled with boundless opportunity, it now finds Jessie on a journey to redeem her careless past, bringing with her a terrible burden. For any reunion means climbing through the scaffolding of secrets and lies that barely held her daughter's adoptive family together to begin with. But the truth can hold so much more than just hurt. It can bring you home to a new kind of honesty, shedding its light into the deepest corners of the heart.
Short Annotation
When a short-lived affair leads to the birth of a baby girl, 21-year-old Jesse Ryder flees to New Zealand to become photojournalist, leaving the baby to be raised by her sister, Lucinda.
Unpaid Annotation
In this contemporary story by "USA Today" bestselling author Susan Wiggs, a woman returns home to make amends with the daughter she gave up for adoption.
Unpaid Annotation
When a short-lived affair leads to the birth of a baby girl, 21-year-old Jesse Ryder flees to New Zealand to become photojournalist, leaving the baby to be raised by her sister, Lucinda. Now, 15 years later, Jesse has returned home to Texas, determined to meet the daughter she never knew.

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