"Jacobs handles a tough subject with grace and humor."
Reviewed by Sandi Shilhanek
Posted March 29, 2010
To be honest I can't remember whether or not I've personally
read Holly Jacobs before I sat down to read A ONE-OF-A-KIND
FAMILY, but I had heard wonderful things about her writing
for years, and know that I've been stockpiling her books.
What a truly lucky thing for me, because I've now discovered
a new writer who I'm sure is destined to become a personal
A ONE-OF-A-KIND FAMILY is the story of Anna Chapel who works
with special needs people, and assists them in becoming the
best person they can be. When she gets a call from Liam
Franklin needing some assistance in finding someone to care
for his twin brother Colm when he travels Anna gets more
than she bargained for.
As I read A ONE-OF-A-KIND FAMILY I found myself often smiling
at the conversation between Colm and whomever he might be
speaking to. It was easy to believe that a friendship was
quickly blossoming between Anna and Colm, and I loved
reading about it.
As Colm changed and became more independent Anna and Liam
found themselves butting heads, and from there developing a
deep respect and understanding of one another. Therefore
when love began it was again possible to believe.
Ms. Jacobs took what could be a touchy subject and injected
a perfect blend of humor into it, but didn't make Colm a
spectacle for public humiliation. When I closed A
ONE-OF-A-KIND FAMILY I wanted to search my shelves for other
Ms. Jacobs. I think that says it all.
Anna Chapel believes in people. She believes in helping them
lead exceptional lives. Now the dedicated life coach wants
to do that for different yet special Colm Franklin. If
Colm's breath-stopping, overprotective brother, Liam, will
But the guilt-ridden computer programmer
refuses to believe, to dream. Or could it be Liam simply
needs to learn how? Anna's biggest challenge may be ahead:
can one woman with a head full of wayward curls and a smile
a mile long convince Liam that they have a fighting chance?
That, together, they can overcome anything to create a
family that's truly one of a kind?
Excerpt"We got the house," Anna Chapel practically sang as
she burst into The Sunrise Foundation's small reception
area. The first thing that caught her eye was the big sign
that boldly and proudly announced: Sunrise Foundation,
Helping Exceptional People Lead Exceptional Lives.
Today's news was certainly going to go a long way toward
helping a small group of Whedon, Pennsylvania's
exceptional people lead more independent, and certainly
"It's ours," she sang out again. "We got
Anna was so excited she couldn't contain the feeling any
longer and wiggled her hips. There were some things in life
that Anna felt she was blessed with, but there were others
she knew she was not. Rhythm and her hair were two of the
"were-not" areas. She wiggled her hips again and
felt a few more of her Medusa curls escape her ponytail, but
she was simply too happy to mind.
"Was that a dance?" her friend Deanne Cellino,
Ceelie as she was known, laughed. "Because if it
was…" She shook her head and her long blond hair swished
back and forth along her shoulders—shoulders that were so
much higher than Anna's five-foot-five-inch frame. Anna
always thought of Ceelie as a bit Amazonian—she looked like
a warrior, but had the heart of an earth mother. She always
got warm and fuzzy over the small things.
"Hey, that was a Snoopy Dance of Joy, my friend. And
you're not going to dim my absolute glee by pointing out
that I have no sense of rhythm. If there was such a thing as
an anti-rhythm, I realize that's what I'd have. But
when one is dancing a Snoopy Dance, all you need is joy and
I've got that. Come on."
She grabbed Ceelie's hands and Snoopy-danced again.
Ceelie was laughing so hard that all she did was stand
there, but she finally got herself under control and did a
bit of a jig as well.
"You are absolutely crazy, girl," Ceelie assured
Anna with a friend's affection.
"I might be, but you're talking to a crazy person
who got the house. It's so perfect, Ceelie. Three
bedrooms, two full baths. A ranch, so with the addition of a
ramp, it's handicap-accessible and it's—"
"Perfect," Ceelie filled in for her.
Anna sighed, still riding the glow of her success. "Yes,
perfect for our clients. It will make a great group home."
All her joyful dancing had drained off enough of her excess
energy that Anna could sit down. She plopped onto the small
loveseat in the reception area. "Now, the work begins.
We need to get our variance from the zoning board, then
start the renovations and…" Her sentence faded as she
started mulling over the long list of jobs that lay ahead of
"Listen, enjoy the moment. Don't worry too much
about what's coming up and what's behind you. Live
in the now."
"Deanne Cellino, ladies and gentlemen," Anna said to
a nonexistent audience, "mystic, sage, warrior princess
and all-around advisor to the world."
Ceelie blew a raspberry in her direction. "You know
"Yes, I do." Anna studied her friend. Ceelie liked
to say she was vertically challenged, but her abundance of
height was needed to contain her giant spirit. Ceelie was
one of those people who always seemed to have things
together. She balanced a demanding job and parenting two
children with apparent ease.
Anna and Ceelie made up the entire staff of The Sunrise
Foundation. Anna and Ceelie served as life coaches. Ceelie
had come up with the job title and Anna always thought it
was an apt description for a job that varied based on each
client's highly individual medical and emotional needs.
Ceelie's smile faded a bit. "And not that I'm
anxious to bring down your happy mood, but your mother
"Oh." Anna forced a smile she didn't feel. Her
mother calling during a work day never boded well. "Did
she say what she wants?"
"She wants you to call her back as soon as possible. She
said she tried your cell, but it went to voice mail."
"I turned it off at my meeting with the real-estate
agent, haven't turned it back on yet." She reached
in her bag, pulled out the phone and switched it on, then
scrolled through the missed calls—four from her mother. No,
this did not bode well.
"You should probably give her a call. You have an
appointment in half an hour with that new case." Ceelie
somehow honed in on the correct file that was midway through
a huge stack and handed it to her. "A thirty-year-old
who's been in his brother's custody for two years
since their parents died in a car accident."
Anna looked at the file labeled Colm Franklin. She opened it
and found that other than an initial fact sheet, it was
empty. Normally clients came to Sunrise with all kinds of
documentation from other programs. "No notes?"
"None. He was in special-ed classes back in high school.
Long before Whedon practiced mainstream-ing. Once he
finished school, he stayed home with his mother."
"Oh. Do we have anything from the school?"
"It's so long ago at this point that it's not
really worth much—that would be my thought. Though you can
call and see what the school has."
"Even if I find something, I'm basically starting
from scratch, right?" She shut the folder.
"Yes, that's about the gist of it."
"Any insights on the brother?" Family members called
Sunrise for a variety of reasons. It helped to know what
they wanted from the program.
The Sunrise Foundation was a small non-profit organization
that survived on a shoe-string budget with grants from both
government and charitable foundations. The money for the new
group home came from a huge grant last year. Ceelie had
become a grant-writing pro, but there was never quite enough
money to accomplish everything they'd like to do. And at
Sunrise, everything was pretty much anything. From helping
clients find housing, to teaching them to handle money, to
helping some learn basic life-skills. Anna had taught
clients to cook, to use a cell phone and even to tie their
shoes. They'd helped place clients in jobs, and…
Basically they facilitated whatever a particular client
needed to improve their quality of life.
Anna's job description changed on a daily basis for each
of her fifteen clients. And the amount of time she worked
with each client changed as well. Some needed more intense
interaction, some just minimal support.
"Liam Franklin, the brother, is self-employed. Something
to do with computers and security." Ceelie shrugged.
"You know me and technology."
Anna did know. Ceelie could manage a word processor or
spreadsheet on the computer, but other than that, she did
nothing more complex than e-mail.
"Liam works out of his home office most of the time, but
he has to travel for business and is looking for a
babysitter for Colm when he does. He got a referral from his
doctor, and assured me in no uncertain terms that he wanted
nothing more than that. Just a babysitter."
Anna ran her fingers through her wildly springy hair. For
years she'd tried products, haircuts, flat irons….
Finally, she'd reached the ripe old age of twenty-eight
and admitted that she didn't have the time. She was
going to embrace her outer Medusa and let her hair live the
life it was destined to lead. After all, that was her job
too: helping people lead the best lives they were capable
of. She looked at the Sunrise motto again. Helping
Exceptional People Lead Exceptional Lives.
It was such a simple concept, and so succinct. Too bad some
families never understood it.
She wondered what kind of person Colm's brother—who
simply wanted a babysitter—was. Maybe this new client was so
severely limited that he needed that kind of care, but maybe
he could do more… That sense of the possible, the idea of
helping someone discover they could accomplish more than
they ever imagined—that's what kept Anna doing what she did.
"Just a babysitter," she murmured, more to herself
than to Ceelie.
"You can handle it," Ceelie, a Pollyanna in
Anna nodded. "Sure. I'll do what's best
for…" She glanced at the file. "Colm. Colm Franklin.
After I call my mother back."
"Colm doesn't know how lucky he is," Ceelie
Anna hoped lucky was the word Colm and his brother
would someday use to describe their first meeting at Sunrise.
She got up and headed for her private office to call her
mother. Although, she was already sure that there was some
new crisis—one that probably involved a man in one way or
another. She couldn't remember who her mother's
current boyfriend was. The names changed so frequently, it
was hard to keep up.
"Hey, Anna," Ceelie hollered.
Anna turned around and looked at her friend, who did another
little Snoopy Dance. "You got the house."
Anna's spirit immediately lifted. "You're right,
we got the house."
Liam Franklin pulled up in front of the small brick office
front on Main Street. Whedon, Pennsylvania, was a small town
south of Erie. There wasn't much to it, so he knew he
must have driven by this building every day for years, yet
he'd never noticed the sign in the window that
proclaimed The Sunrise Foundation, with a rainbow and sun
framing the words.
He checked the business card again.
Colm had lived with Liam since their parents died. Because
Liam ran his computer security firm from home, things had
gone well until work demanded he travel more. Taking Colm
with him wasn't an option, and his day-help, Aunt Betty,
didn't like staying overnight. So, Liam had contacted
Colm's physician, thinking he might know of a babysitter
who'd had experience working with people with special
needs. The doctor had referred him to The Sunrise
Foundation, and he'd talked to some woman named Ceelie
there who had set up this appointment with this life coach,
This Anna Chapel had been assigned his brother's case.
He didn't like that Colm was in the system. Well, not
really in the system. Sunrise was a private foundation that
came very highly recommended. The fact that it was a
community-based organization meant it was able to provide
resources that each individual needed. Well, Colm didn't
need anything except someone to stay with him when Liam was
out of town, an occurrence that was happening more frequently.
Balancing his job and his brother's needs made him
really feel for working single parents. It seemed there was
never a minute that he wasn't doing something… and often
he was five steps behind.
Liam walked into the office and a bell above the front door
rang merrily. He stood in the reception area. There was a
loveseat and a desk with a phone and computer. But the
walls…the walls were amazing. They were decorated with
framed pictures ranging from childish scrawls to a few more
practiced ones. He was studying a particularly pretty
sunrise—or maybe sunset—over a large body of water, when
someone cleared their throat behind him.
Liam turned and found a woman with the biggest hair he'd
ever seen standing in a doorway, smiling at him. Her hair
wasn't really styled big on purpose—you didn't need
to be a hairdresser to see that. Rather it was big in a
too-many-curls-for-one-small-head-to-have sort of way.
"Well, hello," the woman said. "Welcome to
Sunrise. How can I help you?" The words tumbled over one
another in a single breath. She exuded a boundless energy
that she seemed to try hard to contain.
"I have a meeting with Anna Chapel."
"Oh, you must be Liam Franklin." She hurried to him,
thrust a hand out and continued, "It's so nice to
meet you. Let's go to my office and see what we can do
for you and your brother, Colm."
He shook her hand, then followed her through the reception
area, trying not to notice how her myriad of curls bounced
about her head as she walked. If he were back in second
grade, the urge to pull one and watch it spring back in
place would have been too much to resist. But he was thirty
and here on adult business.
Anna led him to a neat office. The desk and shelves were
immaculately organized. So neat in fact that they almost
looked sterile. But these walls were completely covered in
artwork as well. The overall effect was anything but
sterile. It was happy art. He couldn't help but notice a
lot of sunrises and rainbows.
She followed his gaze and smiled. "We ask our clients to
make us pictures. It helps the office feel like home,
don't you think?"
Before he could answer, she added, "The picture out
front that you were studying was made by Josh Hampton.
He's a talented artist despite the limitations he has
with his hands. Most of our clients are far more
enthusiastic than gifted, but we treasure all our pictures."
She gestured toward a chair and then, rather than going
behind her desk, she took the chair next to it.
"I've got the papers you sent over, and everything
looks like it's in order."
"Great. So you've got a babysitter for us, or can
get one?" he asked, somewhat anxiously.
Her smile faded and she shook her head. "Yes."
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