Jill never imagined the nightmare she had been living after losing her baby could get any worse, but when she catches her husband in such a heartbreaking act of infidelity, she knows there's only one option left: escape. Jill flees Austin, Texas, to find solace in her childhood home of Sparkle, Colorado, a small ski town.
Although the novel's tragic beginning flirts with cliché, as the story develops, McLaren delves deeper. In Sparkle, Jill reunites with her Uncle Howard, a charming mountain man whose antidote to every problem is an anecdote of homegrown wisdom. She also finds refuge at the home of her best friend, Lisa Carlucci, a thirty-something single woman who has grown tired of one-night stands and meaningless rendezvous.
As Jill settles back into her hometown she begins to warm up to Lisa's laughable but lovable neighbors: Tom, a ski patrolman who realizes he likes Lisa as more than a friend just as she starts to recognize her own feelings for him, and Eric and Hans, two snow groomers. Jill's support network swells again when she becomes a caregiver for Cassie Jones, a ten-year-old girl who recently lost her mother to cancer. Mike, Cassie's struggling single father, finds himself surprised by how comforted he is by Jill's reassuring presence.
Although Jill's steadfast relationship with Lisa and her burgeoning friendship with the boys characterizes her time in the mountains, ultimately, it is her connection with Cassie and Mike that defines her stay in Sparkle - a stay that ends up being much longer than Jill first expects.
This colorful cast of characters is sometimes surprising, other times amusing, but always endearing and engaging. Each character reveals themselves to be far more faceted than they seemed in the beginning of the book, but by the novel's end, they'll feel like old friends you're glad you got back in touch with. McLaren does a good job of keeping the plot fresh, though: as the characters' lives intertwine, the story snowballs, picking up a momentum that keeps the pages turning.
With the passage of each chapter, McLaren adds even more depth, pulling out intricacies beneath the plot line and between characters. From Uncle Howard's belief that the book Siddhartha can heal any woe or that spiritual strength can be imbued from Sparkle's groundwater, to Cassie's tendency to look for heart symbols everywhere she goes as a sign from her mother, each character has a unique set of quirks, whims and everyday ups-and-downs that will draw you in.
McLaren's relaxed writing style lends to natural dialogue and a smooth plot-flow, which will bring you close to each character in the book, all while tugging at your heartstrings. Her simple prose probes at serious issues without feeling overbearing or exhaustive. Her writing, which is accessible and easy to read, captures her characters' wide range of emotions in a way that is relatable and realistic. At the same time, though, she isn't afraid to explore tough themes - like death and divorce, misery and misfortune - with surprisingly poignant detail.
As an antidote to the plot's dark underbelly, McLaren tactfully lightens up the book with lots of laughter and love. At the same time, though, the story stays grounded, as McLaren sprinkles serious wisdom about how to cope with life's greatest challenges in each passage, giving the book a surprising sense of depth. Her delightful infusion of humor, insight and romance makes for a refreshing read that carries serious emotional weight without feeling too burdensome.
As much as How I Came to Spark Again is about human struggles like heartbreak and healing, it's a story richly complemented by its enchanting setting. McLaren's crafting of Sparkle, Colorado - elevation 8,896 feet, population 1,284 - will resonate with any skier familiar with mountain towns. McLaren instills the story with a wealth of knowledge about ski town life, delivered from a local's perspective that is sure to cheer any skier eager for the authentic flavor of the mountains. McLaren's intimate knowledge of mountain life will leave you longing for winter and all of its charms.
Of course, every skier knows there's something miraculous about the mountains, something that's at once refreshing and relaxing, rejuvenating and rehabilitating. Indeed, Jill finds solace in a small town with an elevation eight times larger than its population. But, Jill comes to realize that the magic of the Colorado mountains is made up of more than just soaring peaks and fresh powder. The friends and family that Jill comes to love are just as important in her healing process as is her return to the slopes.
As Jill finds her way, she recognizes the goodness of the people around her, a perspective that the rest of the characters begin to embrace in their own trajectories, too. While it takes Jill some time to get her ski legs back, both literally and figuratively, ultimately she realizes that not even a cheating, heart-breaking husband nor the tragic loss of a baby can defeat a woman on skis. After all, as Uncle Howard might say, the magic of the mountains is truly in her blood.