Santa Fe author Jo-Ann Mapson has written 10 previous novels set in the contemporary West, including Solomon’s Oak (2010), a prequel to her latest engaging, character-driven story.
As Finding Casey opens, Glory Vigil and her second husband, Joseph, have recently moved to Santa Fe from California. They are renovating an old Pueblo-style adobe house—and just as the novel opens Glory, who is 41, discovers she is pregnant for the first time. She and Joseph have an adopted daughter, Juniper, who came to live with them four years earlier. She is now 18, and a junior at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
Juniper had been through a lot by the time she found herself on Glory’s doorstep as a troubled 14-year-old, four years after her older sister Casey disappeared without a trace. Their mother never recovered, and died a year later from an overdose; shortly thereafter their father walked out and never returned, leaving Juniper to fend for herself. She’s still haunted by her sister’s disappearance, and can’t convince herself that Casey is dead.
Mapson interweaves the story of the Vigils with that of Laurel Smith, member of a new-age cult near Espanola. Her daughter Aspen is gravely ill, and she has walked and hitchhiked with her to the local hospital, since the cult leader doesn’t allow medical treatment to its members, and discourages any contact by Laurel with the outside world. In those chapters written through Laurel’s eyes and in her words, Mapson gradually paints a picture of the pathetic life she has been living—and her remarkable resilience to carry on for the sake of her child.
These stories intersect during a field study undertaken by Juniper’s archeology class at a pueblo near Espanola. Mapson is a marvelous storyteller, and even though the reader may guess the novel’s denouement before she actually reveals it, readers will be engaged from the first page by her cast of likable characters: the ever-positive Glory; Joseph, photographer and chef extraordinaire; Juniper, who loves her new family, but always has her sister in the back of her mind; and Laurel, the abused and isolated young woman who lives in fear amidst memories of happier times.
Readers who enjoy the family-driven novels of Jodi Picoult and Jacquelyn Mitchard will find Mapson’s latest a terrific read.