|What Happened to Hannah
by Mary Kay McComas
Published by William Morrow Publishing
Publish Date: February 7, 2012
My Source: William Morrow/TLC Book Tours
As a teenager, Hannah Benson ran away from home in order to save herself. Now, twenty years later, the past comes calling and delivers life-changing news: her mother and sister have passed away, leaving Hannah the guardian of her fifteen-year-old niece.
Returning home to bitter memories and devastating secrets, Hannah must overcome her painful past to pave a future with her niece, the last best chance at a family for both of them. She begins to create a new, happier life with her niece and rekindles a relationship with Grady Steadman, one of the few people she’s ever called a friend.
But she can’t forget what she cannot forgive, or lay to rest those ghosts that will not die. Will love and trust–and the truth–give her the strength to stand her ground and fight for what she deserves? -(summary from Goodreads.com)
What Happened to Hannah
by Mary Kay McComas
My Thoughts: What Happened to Hannah is one of those stories that gripped me from the very beginning and didn’t let me go until the very last word on the last page. I devoured this book, which is so very interesting to me given the summary and themes in the story. Honestly, though, I just couldn’t help it. While there were themes that were a bit dark and depressing, they were sitting inside a story of hope and it fueled my desire to just keep going until I found out exactly what did happen to Hannah.
So why should you read this book?
1. The Characters. They. Are. Fabulous. They’re real, heartwarming people that we all know. They live in our towns and go to work with us, to our schools. I connected with them.
- Hannah Benson. Abused as a child. Ran away from town when she was around 16 years old, slept in churches and shelters until she found someone who took her in and gave her a job, treated her with respect, dignity, and humanity. It took her years to bury the events of that night. Never looking back, Hannah created a life for herself, building a successful business in the insurance industry in Baltimore. She didn’t expect the phonecall from Grady that changed everything for her. ~ Hannah enters the story fiercely independent, but only because she has grown to be that way after a childhood of extreme physical abuse from her father. She spent so many days and nights wondering if she would even make it through the night alive, dreaming of a better life – it only stands to reason that she would keep anyone and everyone at arm’s length to keep from getting hurt again. And certainly we can understand why she has never gone back to Clearfield and never wants to return.
- Grady Steadman. Sheriff of Clearfield and also Hannah’s ex-boyfriend from many years ago. While Grady has since been married and divorced with children of his own, he has never forgotten Hannah, nor has he stopped loving her. But that’s not why he called – he is calling her to let her know that her mother died. And her sister died five years earlier. And she has a teenage niece with no other living relatives. Grady needs Hannah to come back to Clearfield to meet her niece, Anna, and assume guardianship. Grady basically flipped Hannah’s life upside down. ~ When Hannah fled town, Grady was on a camping trip. He was devastated because he was so in love with that girl. He waited for her to return and wept when she didn’t. Eventually he gave up hope that she would come back but he never gave up hope that she was alive out there somewhere. Grady is marvelous, and I fell in love with him immediately. I loved him as a father; his wife left him some time earlier and his ease with his children showed his gentleness, his concern for them, and his unconditional love. His patience with Hannah intermingled with his impatience with her was a delight as it reminded me that adults can have the same feelings of being in love that young people have. While he was a bit stubborn at times, it was always out of concern and love for Hannah, and it is easily forgiven. Such a great character and love interest, even though Hannah didn’t want to admit it. Loved him.
- Anna Benson. Sophomore and star track athlete with the potential for scholarships and breaking school and state records. Anna carved out a life for herself with her grandmother after her mother died tragically five years earlier and is devastated that she is now alone. She has great friends and they are a wonderful support system, but she is elated to learn that her Aunt Hannah is coming to meet her – she’s always heard stories about her strong, courageous, brave Aunt Hannah from her mother before she died. Anna longs to be wanted and loved and safe, and Hannah can provide that for her if she can just be brave enough to go back to Clearfield, face her past, and open her heart to Anna. ~ And Anna, dear sweet Anna! My arms wanted to reach through the book and hug her when she mourned, cheer for her when she ran her track events, and clap with her when she laughed so hard she cried during her surprise birthday party. A delightful girl, Anna was completely All-American…she just had a rough start. I love the way she adored her friends, but she clung to her family even though Hannah didn’t know how to be family. Anna was the one who taught Hannah what family was, and that juxtaposition of niece and aunt navigating those difficult waters was very touching to read. Brilliantly written.
These characters are phenomenal. They are a joy to read. And the secondary cast is colorful, humorous, and just as wonderful. They add so much depth and fun and brilliance. The secondary cast does exactly what they are supposed to do, and that is support the main characters. I really have nothing negative to say about any of them. This is literally one of the best group of characters I’ve ever read and if they were real-life people, I would honestly want to know them.
2. The Story. Hannah’s story is told with care, gently by the author so as not to break apart the reader. There are many times when the content has the potential to be graphic, but Ms. McComas does a wonderful job of illustrating her point without being over-the-top. In other words, we get the idea without shock value. What is wonderful, and what I loved, is that this book tugged at my heartstrings, which is something that I don’t always go for in a book. The author hooked me in from the beginning pages and invested me into the story she wanted to tell – making me love her characters – thereby making me emotionally connected to the story that unfolded before my eyes.
I have to admit that I was shocked at the horrors that Hannah faced, and also the horrors that her sister and mother faced. Hannah’s family went through some tough times. And as a reader, I didn’t understand why the community let that happen (McCormas writes this into the story at one point). The way that we, as readers, are privy to these moments of weakness and horror are through flashbacks in adult-Hannah’s memory – not first-hand accounts – and I believe that that is what made the story most bearable for me. It was hard to see Hannah re-live these scenes from her life, but it was wonderful to see her emerge victorious after defeating them.
What actually happened to the character Hannah was awful, but if you read the book and stay invested, there is a payoff in the form of a twist. Trust me, it’s good and you’ll want to stick around. This – to me – is not a book that we should fear or push aside. There is no shock value here. In fact, What Happened to Hannah almost reads like a memoir, but it is actually an adult contemporary. Or perhaps it could be seen as a little of both. It is beautiful, though, and haunting, and a bit horrifying. But there is an overlying canopy of hope that brightens the entire story, and if you stay focused on that, this story is absolutely amazing. The story is amazing any way you look at it.
I admittedly was unsure and also a teensy bit hesitant when I picked it up for the first time, but that trepidation disappeared the instant I started reading. I absolutely love this book and it made me feel so good all the way throughout – because of the hope and love on the inside. I will recommend this book to tons of people and am thrilled for the opportunity to have read it.