White Picket Fences

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When her black sheep brother disappears, Amanda Janvier eagerly takes in her sixteen year-old niece Tally. The girl is practically an orphan: motherless, and living with a father who raises Tally wherever he lands– in a Buick, a pizza joint, a horse farm–and regularly takes off on wild schemes. Amanda envisions that she, her husband Neil, and their two teenagers can offer the girl stability and a shot at a “normal” life, even though their own ...
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White Picket Fences: A Novel

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When her black sheep brother disappears, Amanda Janvier eagerly takes in her sixteen year-old niece Tally. The girl is practically an orphan: motherless, and living with a father who raises Tally wherever he lands– in a Buick, a pizza joint, a horse farm–and regularly takes off on wild schemes. Amanda envisions that she, her husband Neil, and their two teenagers can offer the girl stability and a shot at a “normal” life, even though their own storybook lives are about to crumble.

Seventeen-year-old Chase Janvier hasn’t seen his cousin in years, and other than a vague curiosity about her strange life, he doesn’t expect her arrival will affect him much–or interfere with his growing, disturbing interest in a long-ago house fire that plagues his dreams unbeknownst to anyone else.

Tally and Chase bond as they interview two Holocaust survivors for a sociology project, and become startlingly aware that the whole family is grappling with hidden secrets, with the echoes of the past, and with the realization that ignoring tragic situations won’t make them go away.

Will Tally’s presence blow apart their carefully-constructed world, knocking down the illusion of the white picket fence and reveal a hidden past that could destroy them all–or can she help them find the truth without losing each other?

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781602856011
  • Publisher: Center Point
  • Publication date: 12/28/2009
  • Edition description: Large Print Edition
  • Pages: 398
  • Product dimensions: 6.62 (w) x 8.68 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Read an Excerpt


The chilled air inside the Tucson funeral chapel suppressed the punishing heat outside. Amanda shivered as she took a seat on the cool metal chair. She leaned over and whispered to her husband in the chair next to her. “A sweater in Arizona in September?”

He nodded casually, apparently unfazed by the abrupt temperature change from scorching to polar. Neil had worn a suit, though she told him she didn’t think he had to, and she envied his long sleeves. He quietly cleared his throat, opened the program he’d been handed when they walked in, and began to read the obituary of the woman whose casket sat several feet away–the woman neither of them had ever met.

A generous waft of newly refrigerated air spilled from the vent above her head, and Amanda instinctively turned to her niece on her other side. The teenager’s arms were bare under a flamingo-hued halter dress. Amanda wondered if the foster mother had given Tally any advice at all on what she might want to wear to her grandmother’s funeral. Amanda again turned to her husband.

“I think we should’ve come yesterday.” Her voice was barely above a whisper.

Neil looked up from the program. “It wouldn’t have changed anything,” he replied gently. “Besides, we got here as quick as we could. It’s not your fault you didn’t know she was here. Your brother should’ve told you.”

Neil reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze. Amanda looked down and noticed a thin line of wood stain under one of his fingernails, evidence that he had cleaned up from his latest woodworking project in a hurry. Neilturned back to the program, and Amanda looked over at her niece.

“You doing okay?” She hesitated, then placed an arm around Tally’s shoulders.

The girl flinched and glanced at Amanda’s arm before turning back to face the casket. The sixteen-year-old shrugged. “I didn’t really know my grandma.” The words were laced with casual regret, as if she knew people were supposed to know their grandparents, but what could she do about that now? Amanda intuitively pulled Tally closer. The girl stiffened at first and then relaxed, reminding Amanda that Tally barely knew her either.

Amanda hadn’t seen her niece in nearly a decade. A handful of phone calls over the last few years, including one from a Texas jail and one from a château in Switzerland, had confirmed that Bart was still alive and that he still had Tally. Bart tended to contact her only in desperate times. And most of the time he didn’t recognize his own desperation.

She had always felt like the older sister when it came to Bart, the one who watched out for him, the one who tried to keep him out of trouble, the one their parents expected more from. It had always amazed her that Bart was just fine with that arrangement. She had been in junior high when he left home at seventeen, and he’d come home only twice in the years before she graduated from high school. Bart missed their parents’ quiet divorce. Missed their mother’s remarriage to an Australian man who had no intention of living anywhere but Melbourne. Missed her wedding to Neil and the births of her two children. Missed their father’s last agonizing days of pancreatic cancer. In thirty years Bart had missed just about...
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 20 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 17, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Beautiful Yet Haunting Story!

    Susan Meissner's White Picket Fences is the first novel I have read by this author. I really enjoyed it and purchased the audio version – Bernadette Dunne was exceptional with a wonderful voice. This book had such meaning – a seemingly perfect family (anything but).

    A beautiful yet haunting portrayal of what lies beneath a perfect suburban family. Members of this extended family learn to trust one another with secrets, fears, feelings and loved the teens and their relationship with the guys in the rest home tell their story of the Holocaust and two survivors of a concentration camp which was a connection to their family. Tally and Chase were my favorite characters and throughout the book Tally showed maturity beyond her years. I am looking forward to reading more from this author who is an excellent story teller.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 4, 2010

    A Pleasant Surprise

    I won "White Picket Fences" quite a while back from another blog giveaway. I have to admit I had so many books to read that this one went into my "to be read pile" where it stayed for quite a while. The other day I was looking through those books for my next read. For some reason this one caught my eye. I really had no idea what the genre was or what the book was about. I just started reading.

    The protagonists were three cousins as well as a friend to one of them. When I first started reading I thought it was geared to young adults, but after reading a while longer I discovered this was a story for all ages! It is a story of people holding onto secrets and not wanting to let them go for fear of what might happen - but in the long run the secrets begin to come out and effect those who are involved. This story is about the Janviers family who appear to have the perfect life to those who know them, but inside of their home more than one person is holding onto a secret that is beginning to destroy their lives from the inside out. Can an unexpected visit from their niece/cousin be the catalyst that begins a healing for this family. I urge you to read the book and find out. I believe this is something everyone can relate to at one time or another in their lives. I love it when I am pleasantly surprised.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 26, 2014

    Very dramatic and exciting. A really good read.

    This book takes place in the present but has some "flashbacks" to
    WWII and the Nazis is Warsaw,Poland. The characters are well drawn
    and are very interesting. It is a fast and exciting read. Worth your time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2013

    Captivating story that weaves history.

    Susan Meissner does it again.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2012

    Warior den

    8 nests made.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    So many small stories intertwined into one really good story

    White Picket Fences had quite a bit going on in it. Each part of the story was connected, and it was done very well. The story didn't seem to lose anything, and the connections didn't feel convenient. This book was very well thought out, and was executed very well. I have to applaud Meissner for taking all these seemingly unrelated topics and intertwining them into a very good story.

    There were parts when the story dragged a little, but for the most part it kept intrigued. My favorite part of the story was the Holocaust survivors telling their story. Not only did it serve a purpose with the plot, but I love to learn about the Holocaust and WWII. What those people survived is unimaginable to me, and how the Nazi's could do that is just beyond me. I don't necessarily gain enjoyment from Holocaust stories, but I feel like knowing these stories may be a step to stopping the hatred that still exists today... But I digress....

    The story was very well written. I really liked Amanda and Chase. I just connected with Amanda and even when she wasn't a part of the action I felt like I was seeing it through her eyes. Her thoughts and her ideas fell in line with what I think I would have done in her situation.

    This was a pretty good book, I will be reading her other books in the future.

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  • Posted November 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    What's behind the fence?

    As with Susan's last book The Shape of Mercy, I found this book to be a very deep and thought provoking. The story is compelling as we think about family dynamics. We always hear that we don't know what others are going through and the seemingly "perfect" family has its own issues.

    Tally enters the Janvier's home carrying the secrets her father left with her before he headed to Europe. She's promised not to say anything and does her best to keep his secret. In turn, we begin to learn about secrets the other family members harbor.

    What is it about secrets? I know there are times we think certain secrets are to be kept, when they'd be helpful if revealed. Then there are those precious secrets that once brought to light cause damage never dreamed of. This is exampled as we listen to the stories of Eliasz and Josef during their time in the Warsaw Ghetto of WWII.

    White Picket Fences certainly is a detour from The Shape of Mercy and underscores the strength and gift of Susan Meissner's writing. This is not what I would consider light reading, but it is thoughtfully written and a must-have for any bookshelf.

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  • Posted November 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    What secrets lie behind the White Picket Fence?

    I really liked Susan's book, "The Shape of Mercy" but it raises the bar awfully high for any future books she has come out. She does not disappoint. In White Picket Fences we meet Neil and Amanda and their kids Chase and D who live the perfect life in a house with a white picket fence. They take in Amanda's niece, Tally, when her dad disappears. Tally turns the family life upside down (not intentionally) by befriending Chase and all kinds of issues arise to the surface. Is Neil and Amanda's perfect marriage really perfect? What really happened when Chase was in a fire at age 4? Why is Tally's dad in Europe when his daughter needs him?

    Chase and Tally have a school project that leads them to interview two old men at a nursing home that survived Treblinka during the Holocaust. This opens doors to the past that no one new existed. Susan Meissner has a gift for bringing the past to the present in an inspiring way. She does it again in this book and I loved it! Secrets are exposed, mysteries unravel and darkness comes to light in "White Picket Fences".

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  • Posted November 13, 2009

    Couldn't Put it Down

    This is the first book I've read by Susan Meissner and WOW, what a treat it was. I've read many books over the years and some authors almost giveaway the storyline about half way through as they put closure to the book ending.. But not Susan. I was on the edge of me seat reading page after page, thinking 'Oh, I figured it out' but as I turn the page, I say 'Oh, I don't'.

    I loved reading to the last page without knowing the ending. This book is full of action, love, questions, regrets, and forgiveness.. Not everything you see is what it really is. The white picket fences of tody are not always full of happiness and love. As you read through this story you will learn that everyone fails to be perfect but can learn forgiveness through the mercy of Jesus Christ.. If you are looking for a Christian Fiction book that will want you to turn each page then this book is for you! I would highly recommend this book..

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  • Posted November 13, 2009

    Another outstanding novel from a must-read author

    White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner is a powerful novel about how the past shapes the future. Amanda Janvier gets more than she expected when she allows her niece, Tally, to stay with her family after her brother/Tally's father disappears. Amanda has worked hard to keep up the illusion of the perfect family, but Tally's arrival exposes the cracks in the foundations, and a school project between Tally and Amanda's son Chase brings up long hidden secrets and wounds which will leave them all permanently changed. Meissner's books are lyrical and haunting telling truths about the present by creating parallels in the past. With fully-fleshed characters and realistic dialogue, her stories captivate both the reader's heart and mind.

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  • Posted November 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Perfect Inspiration

    When I heard about this new novel from Susan Meissner, I was extremely excited because to me "The Shape of Mercy" is now a classic that all students who study the Crucible should also have to read. While "White Picket Fences" is a completely different type of book it is still incredible writing. For me, I would not necessarily call it a favorite, but overall as a whole (redundant I know, but making a point here) I enjoyed it. Looking at the cover of this book tells you the most of what you need to know. There is the white picket fence slats and then a spiders web weaving it's way right in. Perfectionism would make one want to get rid of the web and go back to perfection, but the artistic persona would believe that the web was part of the whole picture that made it a different kind of perfect. Really, this cover could not be more appropriate for the message within the story.

    Several characters share their point of view and take the slot as the main protagonist going throughout the book. There is Amanda, the mother who realizes everything is fading from her grasp and her way of dealing seems to be to sit and watch it go. Then there is Tallulah, or Tally, the cousin that has had a roller coaster life, or at least it would seem that way to an outsider. Learning the obstacles and neat realities of her life is an adventure and really not all bad. Lastly of main people, there is Chase, the son who deals with a memory that he cannot see the entirety of and possibility seems to push him further and further to the edge.

    There were times while reading that I was just ready for something to happen. While there are some action events in this novel that is not the type of novel that it is. This book is more about the inner part of a person and how things change and affect it. It is incredible the way that Susan writes and she can really get to you as a reader and challenge your own emotions and the way that you see things in your own life. So many people try to live the life of perfection and it is interesting how they react when things do not quite pan out that way. The questions and changes to the lives of the characters is not what one would expect after reading the book blurb or hearing a summary. There are psychological elements here and they are barely touched upon in the writing, but present non the less.

    I personally, put this book on the keeper shelf, but recommend that when you read it to have some time available so that you can mull over just what it is that you should take from reading the novel.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    White Picket Fences Book Review

    "White Picket Fences" by Susan Meissner illustrates the illusion of "normal" families.
    Sixteen year old Tally has lived a very different life with her Dad than her Aunt Amanda and Uncle Neil live with their two children, Chase (17) and Delcey (13). Her Dad's characteristic upending of their current living situation puts Tally with her infrequently visited Grandmother Virginia. On the second day there, Tally comes home to find her Grandma has passed on. With no family, except for her Dad's sister, Amanda, her Aunt's home becomes the logical place to stay until her Dad returns from his "treasure-hunting" in Poland.
    Aunt Amanda and Uncle Neil live in a nice, middle class neighborhood. Cousin Chase shows Tally around the school, and gradually they become friends. A class project puts Chase and Tally together as they interview two Holocaust survivors. They slowly discover there are secrets in each one's life that are eating at their "normal" life.

    "Readers of emotional dramas that are willing to explore the lies that families tell each other for protection and comfort will love White Picket Fences. The novel is ideal for those who appreciate exploring questions like: what type of honesty do children need from their parents, or how can one move beyond a past that isn't acknowledged or understood? Is there hope and forgiveness for the tragedies of our past and a way to abundant grace?"

    This book reminds me of the verse, John 8:32 "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." This book has a great conclusion!! It would be appropriate for older teens to read.

    Author Bio: Susan Meissner cannot remember a time when she wasn't driven to put her thoughts down on paper. Her novel The Shape of Mercy was a Publishers Weekly pick for best religious fiction of 2008 and a Christian Book Award finalist. Susan and her husband live in Southern California, where he is a pastor and a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves. They are the parents of four grown children.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2009

    Not a favorite...

    Life is complicated. It's full of twists and turns. We never see around the bend. Joys turns to sorrows. Sorrows turn to joys. Life is hard.

    So what do we do about it? Do we try to hide? Sometimes. Do we face it? Not if we can help it. But in the end, the problems in our lives must be faced. And once they are, we often wonder why we made ourselves suffer so long.

    White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner is a book about people. People with joys. People with sorrows. Little fires that smolder into bigger fires. Heroism. Fear. All the complicated emotions and thoughts that make humanity what it is.

    A wonderful story that searches through the layers of its characters, there is one fault to be found. Where is God in all this? Not until the end of the book do these people cry out to God for help, although they would call themselves Christians. And even then, very little praise is given to the God who is the solution of all our problems.

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  • Posted November 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Susan Meissner has done it again

    Susan Meissner is one of the most prolific authors that I have ever read. Whenever someone asks me to recommend a new author or some books to them, I ALWAYS include her on that list. Every single one of her books have been wonderful reads that are not only entertaining but though provoking and highly impacting. In fact, there have only been two books in the past five years that have made me actually cry: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner. That's who much her books have affected me. So as always I was beyond thrilled that she had a new book out.

    This book has so much going on in it, many multiple story lines that one would think how in the world can they all possibly tie together? That's the beauty of Susan's writing, that not only do they tie together but they all need each other in order to portray the full depth of the entire story. Within this story you have: a daughter who's abandoned by her father, a wife and mother who's trying to make sure that her family keeps up their perfect appearance, a son who's trying to remember a horrific incident that happened when he was a child, and a family secret that has been kept hidden for over 60 years. I really like Tally and Chase. Not only do they get along well as cousins but they both try to help each other understand their past. By helping the other person rediscover their life, they are able to take a deeper look into their own soul. The Holocaust/Jewish story was extremely interesting and one I myself would like to delve in further. Amanda's story, while not as intriguing as Tally's and Chase's, is worth reading as well. Her attempts at keeping up the perfect family lifestyle doesn't go as plan, and neither does her relationships with her husband or male colleague.

    I thought the cover of the book was absolutely perfect. There's that idealistic white fence which represents the perfect household, but the paint is peeling and there's a cobweb on it. It's so simplistic yet speaks a thousand words. I thought it was interesting that I felt that I kept wanting Tally's father to make an appearance in the story but he never does. It bothered me at first until I read the author interview which brings up this point and explains her choice to not put him in the book. I really like books that include those question/answer interviews in the back of the book so that the reader can automatically feel a sense of completion.

    This book is another wonderful work of art from Susan Meissner and destined to be another highly recommended title. Honestly if you have not picked up any of her books before, you MUST. Seriously you will NOT be disappointed.

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  • Posted November 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner

    In White Picket Fences, Neil and Amanda Janvier feel obligated to take in the daughter of Amanda's estranged brother when he disappears in Europe. Tally was staying with her grandmother when she passed away suddenly, and Tally finds herself with nowhere to go since her dad is out of the country and hasn't contacted her. What will it be like living with her Aunt Amanda? Will they force her tell why her dad went to Europe, a secret she promised to keep?

    Do I want to know the truth of what happened all those years ago? If I find out the truth, how will it change me? These are the questions that Chase Janvier is asking himself regarding an incident that happened when he was four years old. Not knowing what to do, Chase keeps his secret to himself. That is, until Tally shows up at their house. Tally can tell that something isn't right about Chase after they start working on a sociology project together about the Holocaust. They interview two Holocaust survivors in a nearby nursing home and Tally sees Chase react oddly to parts of the story they are being told.

    Amanda begins to notice some pretty dramatic changes in Chase that cause her to wonder if he really does remember what happened all those years ago. But surely if he remembered, he would tell them. Wouldn't he? Should she ask him about it? What kind of damage would she do if she brings it up and he really doesn't remember? Clearly, though, something is wrong and Amanda just doesn't know what to do or which direction to turn.

    Will they all be able to handle the truth when all the secrets are revealed?

    As always, Susan Meissner does a wonderful job weaving a tale of deception, secrets, and twisted paths. The characters in this story have a major problem with trust.trust in each other and trust in God, which just bugged me throughout the story. If they would just communicate, many of their problems would be solved. Yet, how true to life it is that communication is a trouble-spot! Sometimes secrets can be beneficial, but secrets like these are only destructive to the people involved. True freedom and happiness was found when the secrets were revealed and the characters were able to deal with the ramifications of how the secrets changed their lives.

    When I first picked up this book, I was intrigued by the cover: a white picket fence with a cobweb near the top. It's so easy for people to look like they have it all-together on the outside with their pretty houses and white picket fences. But on the inside, all families have secrets and cobwebs hiding from the real world.

    I always enjoy reading books my Meissner, and White Picket Fences was no different. Her books always challenge a person to really take a hard look at themselves, deep inside, to discover their true character. She caused me to ask myself how I would handle the truth if some long-ago family secret was revealed to me? Would I let it weigh me down or would I allow it to cause me to grow as a person?

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  • Posted September 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    a thought provoking look at families, past and present.

    In Southern California, when her brother Bart Bachman runs off to Poland on some allegedly family roots drama, he leaves his motherless sixteen year old daughter Tally behind and homeless. Knowing her sibling's chronic irresponsibility, with her husband's support Amanda Janvier offers to give her teenage niece a roof. Amanda hopes she and her spouse can provide Tally positive role models.

    Tally and her seventeen year old cousin Chase become friends while interviewing Holocaust victims on a class project. The teens soon uncover secrets re their extended family, but especially Chase, who suffers from nightmares involving a fire. As they dig deeper into the family mystery, the two cousins have unraveled the past that the older generation prefers left concealed back in the old country.

    Purposely the family is hyperbolic characterizations of who are considered the "norm" for people residing inside the WHITE PICKET FENCES. Thus, the two teens bring freshness to this entertaining contemporary fiction when they nuke the so called paragon family model with their vigor for the truth. Although the forced ties to Europe and the Holocaust seem a stretch compounded exponentially by one another, Susan Meissner still provides her audience with a thought provoking look at families, past and present.

    Harriet Klausner

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    Posted April 30, 2011

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    Posted November 29, 2009

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