The Other Side of Sanctuary, Cheryl Crabb’s debut novel, is an extraordinary story of an ordinary American family. It is set in Sanctuary, Wisconsin between 2010 and 2017.
Laura’s kind and loving Ojibwa mother died when Laura was still a child, and her Caucasian father had been a cruel taskmaster. Her Ojibwa grandfather became Laura’s salvation; he insisted she graduate from high school while her father felt it was a waste of time. When she was eighteen, her grandfather’s last words to her were, “Fly free, little bird…” He left Laura his car, and over her father’s protests she’d broken free, her high school diploma beside her and the world to discover.
Two weeks later Laura followed a fawn through the forest and found herself on a bluff high above Lake Michigan. Losing her balance, she tumbled partway down the hill. When she managed to catch herself, one moccasin had fallen off and lodged farther below, out of reach. The only way to retrieve it was to jump into the lake, grabbing the moccasin on the way down.
Rob was standing erect on his surfboard with his paddle, maneuvering the churning waters of Lake Michigan with ease. In the days that followed he taught her to ride the surf. She taught him Indian lore. The chance meeting led to them falling in love.
It also led to an unplanned pregnancy. They married with Rob’s parents in attendance, but not her uninvited sister or father. Their early passion was tested by life. After feeling settled in their own apartment for five years, money problems forced them to move into his parent’s attic. By then they had 5-year-old Nate, 3-year-old Ella, and baby girl Biyan.
On the 4th of July, a festive day in Sanctuary, Nate tries out his new birthday scooter. He’s hit by a car and nearly dies. His recovery is long and brutal. Laura stays at a distant hospital with her son for two months, until he is able to return home—in a wheel chair. Meanwhile, two of Rob’s old high school friends move back to Sanctuary and everything turns upside down. Ugly secrets from their teen years are forced to the surface, creating raw anger and hard consequences.
Rob’s parents are kind and good people, though set in their ways. They didn’t really know their only son’s wife until after the young family was forced to move in with them. Her enduring dedication to Rob and the children, as well as her strong work ethic, endear her to them.
The moment when the Laura and her mother-in-law find connection and peace was incredibly beautiful. This novel will appeal to readers looking for hope when all seems hopeless. The thread of commitment and family love runs through the novel with much elasticity. This story will stay with readers long after reading the last page.