Hallie Palmer, now 18, is summoned home from college in the second semester of sophomore year when her father suffers a sudden fatal heart attack. Hallie’s mother goes into shock and is unable to care for her eight children still at home, six under the age of ten, including twin boys only five months old.

It’s agreed that Hallie will take a leave of absence from school to manage the family. Her older brother Eric, now 20, is an engineering student on a full scholarship, and with finances now more precarious than ever, it’s in everyone’s best interest that he graduate on schedule and pursue professional employment.

After the well-meaning relatives depart, Hallie is overwhelmed by her new situation. There are bills to be paid, insurance claims to be filed, and children who need shuttling to school, sports, and speech therapy. Though the most startling revelation Hallie comes across when sorting through her parents’ papers is not about the family finances, but a personal secret they’ve managed to keep from their children for the past twenty years. And once Hallie uncovers it, this knowledge changes her view of them.

With help from Bernard and Gil, Hallie attempts to organize the household chaos. Pastor Costello also lends a big hand, and all are impressed with his abilities when it comes to cooking, cleaning, and kids. Apparently several long ago summers as a counselor at Bible Camp left him with a skill set way beyond just fathoming The Great Beyond. And since his mother passed away the previous fall, Pastor Costello has the necessary time to devote to The Palmer Project.

Hallie has her ups and downs trying to keep her younger brothers and sisters afloat, while also trying to cope with the stressed out teenagers Louise, now 16, and Teddy, now 13. Of course Bernard believes the solution to keeping everyone occupied and focused on moving forward lies in launching a local production of “The Sound of Music,” with the kids performing as the Von Trapp family children.

Eventually a bad flu takes down much of the Palmer household, including Hallie. The cavalry arrives in the form of Olivia, who returns a month early from her trip to Italy and Greece, after she and Ottavio had a falling out.

While Hallie is convalescing and desperate to return to school as soon as possible, her boyfriend Craig announces that he’s dropping out of the University of Minnesota. This causes friction in the relationship, since Hallie is now experiencing firsthand how important stability, responsibility, a steady flow of income, and particularly employee benefits, are to the health and prosperity of family life. Hallie and Craig no longer see eye to eye on how to pursue their future, and when Auggie returns from Russia, he and Hallie once again go out on a date.

Bernard and Gil remain busy raising the girls adopted from China, now aged 2 and 4. However, Bernard soon has a nemesis in the house by the name of Darius, who met Olivia while she and Ottavio were vacationing in Greece, and has shown up without warning. Bernard is horrified by the prospect of his mother dating Darius, who happens to be handsome, charming, and in his early forties, just the right age to be Bernard’s older brother. Faster than you can say pineapple upside-down cake, Bernard is scheming to bring Ottavio back and unseat “the usurper.”

Hallie soon realizes that life sometimes happens faster than we’d like it to, with each new day full of surprises, hopefully good ones, but not always. And in the case of the latter, you just do the best you can because there’s always tomorrow.



“I loved this book! Settling in with Hallie is like hanging out with your favorite girlfriend—the one who is smart, witty, and compassionate, and more to the point, always entertaining. Zany but never bizarre, endearing but never sentimental, warm but never boring, THE BIG SHUFFLE is a treat for readers from 18 to 80.”
-Barbara Samuel,
author of Madame Mirabou’s School of Love