Unlikely duo center of touching ‘Dandelion Summer’

What do an elderly man and a lively teenager have in common? In “Dandelion Summer” by Lisa Wingate, they both are misunderstood.

At the height of his career, J. Norman Alvord was counted among the brilliant men who put the first man on the moon. Now in his 80s, and suffering from heart trouble, J. Norman finally has to admit that he might need a little bit of help — but he doesn’t have to like it.

His daughter Deborah has other ideas though and hires a cleaning lady to come in once a week against his wishes. He finally relents. But when it is suggested that the lady’s teenage daughter come in as a companion, J. Norman absolutely refuses — until he meets Epiphany Jones.

At 16, life is not going swimmingly for Epiphany Jones. Her momma has moved her to the Blue Sky Hill neighborhood of Dallas, and being the new girl in school is not easy, especially when you are half Italian and half black. She just can’t quite find a place to fit in, except with a bad group of kids who get her into trouble.

When her mother arranges for her to be a companion to a grouchy old man, Epiphany figures she might as well go along with it as it at least pays. But to her surprise, she finds that J. Norman Alvord is a fascinating guy with a lot of cool stories — and a mystery that he needs her help in solving.

Together, Epiphany and J. Norm (as she calls her new friend) find themselves on a joint journey of self-discovery where one finds the answers to his past and one finds a new path to her future.

In “Dandelion Summer,” Wingate puts together a charming story featuring an unlikely duo whose relationship turns into something more like “Thelma and Louise” than mentor/student. Wingate’s storytelling skills are evident as she mixes the history of the country’s race to space plus an intriguing mystery into J. Norman’s early life in East Texas. And Epiphany’s heartbreaking story of teenage angst will resonate with readers.

“Dandelion Summer” is book four of Wingate’s Blue Sky Hill series, which features stories set in the declining neighborhood in Dallas that mixes old and new, with each story resulting in a heartfelt and loving message of hope.

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