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Unfinished Gift, The: A Novel
by Dan Walsh

Published: 2009-09-01
Hardcover : 256 pages
3 members reading this now
1 club reading this now
2 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 1 of 1 members
Can a gift from the past mend a broken heart? Ian Collins is an old man without his son. Patrick Collins is a young boy without his father. On his Christmas list are only three items. He wants the army to find his father. He wants to leave his grandfather's house. And he wants the dusty wooden ...
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Introduction

Can a gift from the past mend a broken heart? Ian Collins is an old man without his son. Patrick Collins is a young boy without his father. On his Christmas list are only three items. He wants the army to find his father. He wants to leave his grandfather's house. And he wants the dusty wooden soldier in Grandfather's attic-the one he is forbidden to touch.

Editorial Review

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Excerpt

December 20, 1943

When the black sedan stopped at the traffic light, Patrick rose
quietly to his knees in the backseat and peeked out the side
window. He flattened his palms against the glass, cold as ice,
but he didn't pull back. His eyes were drawn to a large picture
window on a house at a nearby corner. Set deep within the
night shadows, the window gave the appearance of a painting
suspended in midair. Patrick would've given anything to
be a part of what he saw inside.

A plump Christmas tree glowed through the curtains. Two
stockings dangled from a fireplace mantel. Flames shimmered
against the glass ornaments on the tree. A real family, a whole
family-mom and dad, two kids, and a dog-sat in a semicircle
around a radio. Probably listening to Christmas music,
Patrick thought. Maybe even "Silent Night," his favorite.
The mom put her arm around one of the children, a boy
about his own age, and tenderly patted him on the shoulder.
Tears welled up in Patrick's eyes, escaping down his cheeks.
He wiped them away and looked toward the front seat at
the rearview mirror, to see if the government lady had been
watching.

He had cried more in the last few days than in all his seven
short years combined.

He placed his hand on one of the two suitcases beside him.
One contained his clothes and a framed picture of his parents
hugging, taken before he was born. The other held all the toys
he had ever owned and a few picture books. The government
lady said he might not be coming back to the apartment for
a while. It had something to do with how long it took to find
his dad in a place called Europe and whether the army would
let his father come home now that his mom had . . .

He couldn't even let the words form in his head.

Instead he thought about his father. He had been gone for
a long time, but Patrick still remembered what he looked like.
He had studied the picture every night before bed, trying to
remember the sound of his voice. It was deep and strong,
like the voice of the Shadow. And he was tall with dark wavy
hair. He was a pilot on a B-17, dropping bombs on Hitler
and all the bad people in Germany so the world could be
free. That's what his mother had said. But right now, Patrick
didn't care if the world was free. Or if his dad flew bombers
or drove a milk truck.

He just wanted him home.

The car started moving again. At the next corner they
drove past a Santa Claus ringing a bell beneath a streetlight.
Next to him, a red kettle. A couple bundled in overcoats
walked by. The man dropped a few coins in the kettle
and kept going. The Santa yelled "Merry Christmas" in a
happy but high-pitched voice. Not a proper Santa voice at
all, Patrick thought. "We're almost there now, Patrick," the
government lady said. "Isn't it pretty outside with all the
lights and decorations?"

"Uh . . . yes," Patrick answered. He knew he should feel
that way. He wished he did.

"Do you like Christmastime? It's my favorite time of
year."

He could tell she was trying to cheer him up, but it was
hard to be in a Christmas mood when your mom suddenly
dies in a car crash, leaving you all alone. Patrick noticed her
eyes in the rearview mirror. She was looking back. He thought
he saw a tear forming, but she quickly turned away. Almost
there now, she had said.

Almost where?

He didn't recognize any of these streets or buildings. His
grandfather couldn't be a very nice man, he thought. He
didn't live very far away. Why had they never visited him?
And the way his parents had talked about his grandfather
also worried him; they always lowered their voices or changed
the subject when Patrick walked into the room.
As the car drove on, Patrick looked at the Christmas lights
outlining some of the homes and streetlights. Still, it didn't
feel like Christmas inside. Not even the presence of snow
lifted his spirits, and Patrick loved the snow.
Almost there, she said.

Patrick felt so lost. They had always lived in that same
apartment on Clark Street. This place didn't even resemble
his old neighborhood. Everyone here had little yards and
driveways with garages. Patrick wasn't even sure they were
in Philadelphia anymore. He tried thinking about something
happy, starting with the toys he wanted for Christmas. Then
he wondered, with everything that happened, would he still
get any?

Suddenly a wave of guilt swept over him. He sank low
in his seat. Here he was worrying about getting his share
of toys, and here his mother was . . . gone. He would never
get to spend another Christmas with her. They would never
decorate another tree. Sing another Christmas carol. He'd
gladly give every toy he ever owned or would ever own again
to have her back instead. Even for a day. The tears started
coming again.

This time he couldn't make them stop.
... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. Christmas is traditionally a holiday where families celebrate and create fond memories. But for many, as in Patrick's case, it merely highlights the emptiness and brokenness that's existed for years. What's your experience been like? If you can't personally relate to Patrick's story, what do you believe has made a positive difference in your family life?
2. Patrick's father and grandfather haven't spoken to each other since before he was born. Do you have any relatives who haven't spoken to each other for years? What consequences has this rift caused for them or your family? What are the main issues? Do you think they justify the separation? If yes, why; if not, why not?
3. With the introduction of Father O'Malley and Ian Collins' recollection of his last conversation with his son, we become aware that Collins is Catholic and the rift has something to do with his son "pulling away from the faith." Does this seem as serious a thing now as it was in the 1940's? Has anyone in your family changed churches? How has this affected your family's relationship? Has it created any conflicts that have proved difficult to forgive?
4. Why do you think Mrs. Fortini was not intimidated by Ian Collins'? Do you know anyone like her?
5. After Ian Collins received the MIA telegram about Shawn, he quickly became convinced that Shawn was actually dead. Have you ever jumped to a conclusion about a big event in your life or believed the worst before you had all the facts (then it was nowhere near as bad as you'd imagined)? What lesson can we learn from times like these?
6. At the end of the section where Ian Collins is reading the letters, he reads one he's never seen from his deceased wife, Ida. She is thanking Patrick's mom for helping her to understand the gospel more clearly. Has this book helped you to understand the gospel more clearly? If so, how?
7. The social worker, Katherine Townsend, came to love Patrick almost like her own child. She was rebuked for getting too emotionally involved. After getting so close, how do you think she'll handle letting go? How do you think you would have handled this situation? In the end, do you think she made the right call?
8. How were you affected by the role Ezra Jeffries played toward the end of the story? Have you witnessed anyone treated in a similar way because of their race or ethnic background? Would you have had the courage to step in the way Katherine did?
9. What parts of the book impacted you on an emotional level? If more than one, which one affected you the most?
10. This book wasn't a mystery novel, but did anything happen that surprised you?
11. The author has said that he intended the unfinished wooden soldier to be more than just a toy Patrick craved; but to serve as a metaphor that weaves the whole story together from beginning to end. Did you catch this? What do you think he means?
12. Who is your favorite character in The Unfinished Gift and why?

Suggested by Members

What do you remember yourself, or heard about life in America during the war?
What do you think Ian could have done differently with Patrick?
Do you think God prompted Miss Townsend to get overinvolved with Patrick, & why?
by shyeyes (see profile) 09/22/09

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

A Note from the author to BookMovement members:

Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love everything about it. All the secular traditions like Christmas songs, Christmas trees, decorations, houses done up with lights, the food, the egg nog. Since my last year in high school, when I first really understood the gospel of Jesus Christ, I've also enjoyed reflecting more deeply on the "reason for the season." I enjoy the goofier Christmas movies (like The Christmas Story and Elf) but I especially love the more classic tales like The Christmas Carol and It's A Wonderful Life. Though I've seen them many times, they always get me. A few years ago, as another Christmas season ended, I decided I wanted to write a story that at least had the potential to affect others the way these stories affected me. The Unfinished Gift flowed out from there.

Book Club Recommendations

Victory garden stuff, things you grew, preserved etc.
by shyeyes (see profile) 09/22/09
The early 40's meant rations (so meat was rare), gasoline stamps, victory gardens were the norm. So nothing fancy cause it was hard to get, even sugar was a "real treat"

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Unfinished Gift"by shyeyes (see profile) 09/22/09

This book tugs at the heartstrings as a young boy and a grumpy grandfather are forced by cicumstances to be together for Christmas. The grandfather must look at his past actions, and see what they have... (read more)

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