Firefly Cloak
Sheri Reynolds
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Buy *Firefly Cloak* by Sheri Reynolds online

Firefly Cloak
Sheri Reynolds
Three Rivers Press
304 pages
December 2006
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Tessa Lee is only eight years old when Shelia, her drunken mother, inexplicably abandons Tessa Lee and her baby brother, Travis, at a camping ground. The only thing Shelia leaves behind is the two-room tent where they slept, her firefly cloak, and her grandmother's phone number hurriedly scrawled on Travis's naked back.

Forced to live with Lil, her grandmother, with each passing year Tessa Lee somehow holds on to the hope of eventually finding her mother, rumored to have gone to Massachusetts. Seven years later, she eventually does find her momma, but she isn't in New England. She has actually been living two hours away, working as a mermaid in Fantasies of the Boardwalk, a wax museum on the ramshackle boardwalk strip just up from the local beach.

Tessa Lee is aghast that after all this time, her own mother never came to a single dance recital or ball game, never called her or even acknowledged that Tessa Lee or her brother even existed. When Tessa Lee visits her mother, Sheila initially denies that she ever had children.

After showing her mother the firefly cloak, Sheila realizes it actually is her daughter who has come back, looking like Sheila from another time, "before she went under, before she drowned." Suddenly, the great wash of her mistakes, "all of them come rushing out, the sour years and the bad decisions," and she runs away from her job, once again abandoning Tessa Lee.

Damaged and emotionally bent, Sheila has spent her whole life moving from local welfare offices to cleaning hotel rooms, traveling from place to place and from town to town as the rent comes due. Whenever she tried to get clean, her fears got in the way and she ended up smoking her paycheck. Now she can't stand the memories, "one failure after the next and all the accusations."

But Sheila's mother, Lil, has also suffered tragedy. With her husband, Lewis, dying prematurely, she wonders where all the years have gone. A committed Christian, Lil remains convinced God would never give her anything she couldn't handle, and she takes solace in her guardian angels. Her crafts are her source of pride her toilet paper dolls, her hand-painted napkin holders, and her seashell wreaths.

The young Tessa Lee, deprived of a mother, fears the past yet faces an uncertain future she wants to be able to blend in, but she also wants the option of standing out. As her own desires fight against each other, she tries to feel stronger by putting on her mother' firefly cloak; it gives her something to cloak herself with and it makes her feel safe.

Sheri Reynolds has written a trenchant tale of mothers, daughters and grandmothers. Beautiful and perceptive, Firefly Cloak is all about the bonds of family and the search for love, forgiveness and redemption. It is where the darkest moments can come at the strangest times and where the union between mothers and daughters always exists, no matter what fragile misjudgments they might make in life.

In Firefly Cloak, the geometry of everyday lives unfolds with a startling insight. Lil, Sheila and Tessa Lee are totally human, damaged, delicate, even brave. Their respective journeys are always challenging, inhabiting that undefined space between the ordinary and the magical, forever reaching beyond the everyday, searching for those magnificent bonds of love.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2006

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