Cover Goldenrod By Ann McManReturning to Jericho couldn’t feel more right!

There’s something to be said for reading a new book in a favourite series. It’s comforting to revisit old friends and join them for new experiences. And even if you don’t know exactly what they’re going to do, you have a pretty good idea of how you’ll feel as you join them for the ride because the structure tends to stay the same. Goldenrod isn’t exactly like that, and I mean that in all of the best ways possible. It’s the third book in Ann McMan’s Jericho series, and while it maintains the spirit of the first two books, it takes us to new emotional territory that places Goldenrod in a league of its own.

Maddie and Syd’s life is settling down since their foster son, Henry, moved out to live with his father, James. Maddie’s mother, Celine, has relocated to Jericho and is finding her life a little more out of control than she’s comfortable with as she’s caught in the tide of a new relationship with a younger man. Henry is making friends with Dorothy, a quiet girl who’s eager to join his piano lessons with Celine as long as her father never finds out. James is trying to figure out his life now that he’s officially a veteran and newly living in Jericho. Roma Jean is in her own new relationship with another woman. And while everyone is searching for their new normal, Jericho’s mayor is passing as many ordinances as he can to hurt the gay and lesbian-owned businesses in town.

Goldenrod is an easy book to love, with its rich, complex characters, and its rhythmic, evocative writing style. Anyone who has read Jericho or Aftermath will be happy to revisit familiar characters like Maddie, Syd, and the many people who surround them. Readers who haven’t experienced them yet should still find themselves immediately drawn in and engaged, even if they won’t have the same attachments to the characters that diehard fans will.

There are also new and notable characters that are worth the price of the book all by themselves. Dorothy in particular will have you gripped as she negotiates how to live the safest life possible with a dangerous father who’s ready to come down on her at any time. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Gerald Watson, the loathsome mayor of Jericho. He’s everything that’s wrong with sanctimonious right-wing politics, specifically targeting and attacking marginalized groups in town. It would be tempting to call him an exaggeration, but it only takes a quick trip to any news outlet to see that there are far too many politicians of his ilk holding the reins in the US and other places in the world. As maddening as most of his interactions are, they’re a necessary reminder that we cannot get complacent with our politicians, even at the municipal level.

Goldenrod also delivers a thoughtful exploration of families, particularly of parent-child relationships. There are many different families, some of the birth and some of the choice, and there’s something to learn from each. It’s a difficult aspect of the book to talk about without getting into spoiler territory, so I’ll just say that while the lessons are not always happy, McMan’s gentle and seemingly effortless style makes them easier to take in.

Goldenrod is a book that pulls no punches, is unafraid to delve into the seriously tough stuff, and yet is balanced by humour, warmth, and humanity. With a less masterful author, the themes could be overwhelmingly bleak, but McMan keeps the pages turning from the first to the last, leaving me laughing,  feeling my blood boil, or dropping a tear or two. It’s easily one of the best books I’ve read this year and I wholeheartedly recommend it.