Best-selling author Catherine Ryan Hyde is known for her touching and emotionally satisfying stories about friendship, trust, and empowerment. Her latest work, Just After Midnight, does not disappoint.
Faith has left her husband and taken up residence in her parents’ California beach house while she decides what she will next do with her life. Her husband was controlling, verbally abusive, and inflexible, and she fears how he will react to her departure.
One day she sees fourteen-year-old Sarah on the beach. She soon leaves that Sarah reeling from her mother’s sudden and suspicious death, and wants nothing to do with her father. She is staying with her grandmother, who does not have legal custody of Sarah. When they learn that Sarah’s father is too close for comfort, Faith agrees to take Sarah on a journey while her grandmother deals with the custody issue.
Sarah implores Faith to take her to Falkner’s Midnight Sun, her prized black mare that she misses desperately. Her father sold the horse without Sarah’s knowledge. Sarah shares an unbreakable bond with Midnight and can’t bear to be apart from her. Throughout the sweltering summer, as they follow Midnight from show to show, Sarah comes to terms with the truth about her mother’s death.
And Faith learns the value of trusting her instincts and understand that she has has the power to shape her own future, as well as Sarah’s.
Set on the Central California coast that Hyde calls home and knows so well, Just After Midnight is a beautiful tale about a young woman and teen-age girl who come together and discover what matters most to them, as well as how to manifest their desires in their lives.
Hyde writes lovely, uplifting stories about flawed human beings and relationships. In Just After Midnight, Sarah lost her mother at just after midnight one fateful night, but she has not revealed the truth to anyone until one day she trusts Faith enough to share it with her. And one of the relationships explored is that between Sarah and Midnight, the highly valuable, trained horse that Sarah’s father sold to, among other things, pay off gambling debts. Sarah connives Faith into driving her to a horse show where Midnight will be ridden by her new owner. It is immediately apparent that being torn away from Sarah has proven traumatic to the horse, as well. Midnight does not respond to the cues provided by and, therefore, does not perform well for her new owner. At the outset, Sarah is literally just after Midnight — determined to do anything to keep the beautiful mare in her life, even if she cannot be the horse’s owner. It should be noted that it is unnecessary for the reader to have knowledge of horses or horse shows because Hyde explains the nuances and intricacies requisite to understanding the story points. Like many readers, Faith has no knowledge of or experience with horses as the story opens, but she learns about showing horses as the summer wears on and she witnesses to the devotion that Sarah and Midnight feel for each other.
Faith lacks the ability to trust her own instincts. Her best friend tells her that she is “better at knowing things than anybody else I’ve ever met. You pick right up on what people are thinking and feeling.” But her lack of self-confidence causes her to talk herself out of what she knows to be true. Her first step toward empowerment and autonomy was gathering the courage to leave her marriage. Now she has the opportunity and need to capitalize on that move, and decide what she wants for her future.
As Faith and Sarah meet and forge an unexpected friendship, both are grieving — reeling from the changes that have upended their lives. Both are trying to discern what lies ahead for them. And both are poised to learn a great deal from each other and through their shared adventure. Their journey together spans horse shows up and down California, and Faith’s ever-growing appreciation not only of Sarah’s talent as a rider, but her intuitive nature and unbreakable, unconditional love for Midnight. Sarah naively thought that Midnight would be hers again. She tells Faith, “I thought it would end with her coming back to me. Even though there was no possible way she could. But I just didn’t get that somehow. It’s like it was just too wrong to be possible. Like something in the universe would see that it was just too wrong for us to be apart, and make sure it didn’t end that way. But it didn’t work with my mother, so I don’t know why I thought it would work with my horse.”
In signature Hyde style, both Faith and Sarah grow from their shared experiences and become empowered, as a result of all they have been through separately and together, to name what it is they want most and seek it. As always, Hyde’s characters are believable in their vulnerability, fear, and the damage inflicted upon them by others and circumstances. But their resiliency and renaissance over the course of a hot California summer are the centerpiece of the saga.
Just After Midnight is another poignant, engaging, and emotionally satisfying novel from one of America’s most prolific and reliable authors. It just might inspire readers’ faith in friendship, community, and human decency.