Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Christmas is coming, and young couple Casey and Ellis are very much in love. Unfortunately, they’re also the definition of dirt poor, and they don’t have the money for nonessentials like decorations. Or a turkey. Or gifts. Between the recent death of Casey’s beloved momma and Ellis’s estrangement from his family, all they have is each other.
When Ellis finds the saddest-looking Christmas tree south of the Mason-Dixon Line thrown away outside his workplace and brings it home to Casey, things look up. Life is still a struggle, but wealth isn’t always measured in money, and what seems worthless to others is often invaluable to the people who love it.
Stories of poor people in love striving to find gifts to give each other is a staple at this time of year, dating back to that classic story, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. In Red Popcorn Strings and Gumball Rings Nell Iris takes that familiar, poignant theme into a tin can of a worn down trailer, home to Casey and Ellis and somehow, Iris makes it feel, if not new, then remarkable again.
That Casey and Ellis are almost survival poor is obvious through the author’s descriptions without coming right out and saying they are close to starving. Yet Ellis is the embodiment of the spirit of the season, ebullient even, with songs pouring out of him, long red hair swinging about his thin shoulders. As we watch the joy of Ellis in the Christmas mood, we also get glimpses into the harshness of his upbringing and the pain of his past. It explains so much about his current conditions even as his buoyant attitude lifts us into loving him and his outlook.
The arrival of Casey brings the love of Ellis’ life into the picture and will explain the rest of their history together. It comes with a snips of recollections, small scenes, and a smattering of moments of reality clashing down on their heads. We see that even Casey is hard-pressed to stay afloat financially for them both, yet his love is solid. Nell Iris’ narrative and characters have both a believable grittiness to them and yet a glow as well. You can feel that tiny trailer leaking any warmth they can cobble together, that sad tree that Casey’s boss deemed unworthy now a star inside, making Ellis’ Christmas all the brighter.
I defy any of you not to be blowing into the hankies by the dozen by now. I was….because the story and the characters deserved it. They caught at my heart. I was committed to their happiness on whatever scale it was. And boy, did I hope that all their futures may be bright.
Such a wonderful story. Sniffle.
Red Popcorn Strings and Gumball Rings by Nell Iris is one Advent story I will be holding close to my heart this year. So too the characters of Ellis and Casey. I would love to see them back again in another story to see where they are standing after the new year.Until then, here’s a story you definitely should pick up and add to your holiday TBR list!
Cover by Paul Richmond is the wonderful Advent Stocking Stuffer series cover, full of humor and good cheer.