Christine Nolfi made me an instant fan of her writing with her 2011 debut, Treasure Me, and I continue to look forward to her books with anticipation. Her fourth release, The Dream You Make, is the story of Annie McDaniel, a determined woman trying to stay positive in the face of troubling situations. Annie’s family life has been no walk in the park: her mother gone too soon, her father recently deceased, and her sister Toria a victim of a tragic crime. In the midst of her loss, Annie has been made the beneficiary of two most unexpected treasures: Green Interiors, the greenhouse that was her father’s life work - and Dillon, Toria’s five year-old son. Annie falls head-over-heels for Dillon as she gets to know him for the first time, but she’ll have to fight a draining custody battle against a well-off couple from Dillon’s past before she can truly call him her own. In her efforts to keep Dillon, Annie takes on a second job at Rowe Marketing where she finds an entirely new complication in the attractive and stubborn Michael Rowe. If she pursues her attraction to her new boss it could hinder her chances of adopting Dillon, but Michael could also prove to be a sound and stable port in the storm of her life.
The Dream You Make is a honeyed combination of love, humor and real-world poignancy that fills the reader with the butterfly-inducing beauty of life. Those of us who've been reading Nolfi's books from the beginning feel an unspoken guarantee that we’ll find a world of charm, humor and joy between the pages and this novel follows through on that promise solidly. Books don’t often grab me from the literal beginning, the very first scene, but The Dream You Make felt familiar and comfortable as soon as I fell into its world. The story deals with adoption, a topic Nolfi exposed deep passion for and talent with in her second book, The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge, and she handles it here with the same very real finesse, but with less heaviness. It keeps the novel feeling light and makes it a great counterpart to Tree, showing the same expanse of Nolfi's talent for writing about the heart of family in an entirely different way.
Another of the novel’s great accomplishments is the lively cast of characters; Nolfi is a definite master at crafting a host of memorable characters to color the reader’s world, and she exercises that ability very well in The Dream You Make. Some, like the adorable Dillon, are studies in sensitivity and hope. An altogether shattered boy, seeing him come to life under Annie’s guardianship – and in his interactions with best friend Chip and kindly neighbor Mariam – is perfectly heartwarming. Other characters, such as Rowe Marketing’s flamboyant and temperamental artist Terence, are a canvas for hilarity and theatrics. Annie and Michael, the grown-up portion of the novel’s primary focus, have an instant chemistry that captured my interest from the beginning. Their faults – one’s inability to open up, another’s hot impatience – set them on a long journey toward ironing out their budding romance, but their utterly human imperfections kept me rooting for them.
This novel felt more simplistic in story than Nolfi’s previous works, which have included books that interweave dark tragedy, cozy mystery, and treasure hunts woven through American history. All the same, there was nothing lacking in this story. Nolfi’s books have a way of evading definition; she writes so broadly across the genres that her books have created a niche all their own, and The Dream You Make fits in perfectly. It’s a life-affirming story that bursts with hope and dares the reader to relentlessly pursue their own dreams.