Joyful (HarperCollins Publisher) is the inspired conclusion to the Return to Sugarcreek series by Shelley Shepard Gray. Reading the books from the Return to Sugarcreek series is like reuniting with old friends, you pick up just where you left off and it is all comfortable and fun.
The orphaned Beiler children have been reader’s favorites, from little Kaylene to oldest brother, Junior. The three oldest Beiler children have left their home in Sugarcreek, Ohio, gotten married, and now it is 21 year old Randall’s turn to step up and be the responsible man of the house. Randall desperately wants to be successful in helping his four younger siblings. Unfortunately he only knows how to cook one meal, overcooked “hockey puck” chicken, baked potatoes, and canned string beans. The younger children are disgusted with eating the same thing every night.
Clever younger brother Levi, age 16, takes matters into his own hands and begs Randall’s old girlfriend, Elizabeth, to come work for them, to cook, clean, and spend time with little Kaylene. With some regrets, Elizabeth agrees to the arrangement, mainly because she and her grandmother need the money, plus, deep down in her heart, she is still sweet on Randall.
Once Elizabeth starts to work at the Beiler’s house, she fears she will fall in love with Randall again. On her first day, Elizabeth cleans the house, does three loads of laundry, bakes cookies, and cooks a lovely dinner, but Randall is still displeased and questions her behavior towards Kaylene. Elizabeth walks off the job. The next day Randall is apologizing to Elizabeth and begging her to please come back. Will Randall and Elizabeth ever get on the same page?
Randall is also secretly sweet on Elizabeth, but he is afraid to fall back in love with Elizabeth. He feels that he cannot give Elizabeth the time that a relationship needs if he is to do his best job at managing the household; there is just too much work to do to have a girlfriend. Randall, however, finds himself failing miserably at keeping his family and household running smoothly. Can Elizabeth bring some much needed normalcy back to the Beiler children’s home?
Joyful also contains side stories on some favorite characters from prior novels in the series. Shelley Shepard Gray continues the story line on Judith, Ben, and their foster child, Ben. And Pippa Reyes, owner of the Sugarcreek Inn, gets a new love interest. Readers who have read the previous books in the Return to Sugarcreek series will enjoy these glimpses into the lives of the characters from Hopeful and Thankful. Joyful was published on September 2, 2014.