I have always enjoyed Melody Carlson’s books, but Courting Mr. Emerson might be my favorite one so far.
George Emerson is a fifty-five year old high school literature teacher. He has never married, has no friends, and his entire life is as buttoned up and starched as the shirts he wears every day. “Casual” is not in his vocabulary. He avoids anything social and is easily overwhelmed. But he is also well-mannered and kind, with a hidden strength that rises to the surface when necessary.
Enter Willow West, a free-spirited artist and gallery owner who visits the high school one day to ask George to write a college letter of recommendation for her grandson, Collin. Something about George intrigues Willow and, through a combination of circumstances and her dogged determination, she decides to befriend him.
The rest of Courting Mr. Emerson is like a dance between these two characters. (Characters I would LOVE to see on screen.) The more Willow tries to take George out of his comfort zone, the more he resists. Sometimes Willow is successful, sometimes not. When she is, it’s a step forward. When she isn’t, it’s a few steps back. There are apologies and renewed efforts. Little by little, George makes progress. As he does, we begin to understand what made him that way and why he believes God has turned His back on him.
It is refreshing to see Melody Carlson write through the eyes of a male protagonist like George Emerson. It’s a very different plot than other books she’s written. Willow West is a wonderful character. She’s caring and wise, but far from perfect. Her life is upended when her vagabond daughter, Josie, who is Collin’s mother, appears, bringing resentment and anger that has built up over the years. Willow handles her daughter expertly and even George plays a supportive role.
The entire story takes place over a summer that turns out to be an educational one for everybody. There is laughter and tears, new-found faith and healing. I love everything about this book.