I’m a sports nut. I also love good stories. Imagine how much I love a novel about an athlete. Chasing Hope by Kathryn Cushman is a wonderful story which just happens to feature a female athlete. What’s not to love? 😀
The thing is, Cushman is a talented writer who delves into the lives of her characters, often setting two opposites in juxtaposition so that their contrariness clashes. (See my reviews for her previous novels: A Promise to Remember, Waiting for Daybreak, Leaving Yesterday, Another Dawn, and Almost Amish.) By doing so, she allows them to grow, or to fail, however they choose. Chasing Hope is vintage Cushman.
The Story. When Sabrina Rice was twelve she knew what she wanted to do with her life. Just as Eric Liddell had, she wanted to win a gold medal and use her fame to tell others about Jesus Christ as a missionary. Ten years later, she’s on a different tack, heading into the corporate world. Apparently at twelve, she’d misunderstood God’s call because her hope for Olympic gold is a mere memory–one she tries hard to forget.
She’d done well to move past her dreams until Brandy Philip runs into her world, both at school and at home. There’s no avoiding the girl when Sabrina’s Nana begs her to intervene for the girl to help her stay out of juvenile hall.
Brandy has one talent–she can run. Fast. Sabrina knows the running world and is in a position to put in a good word for her, perhaps more. If she’s willing. The question is whether or not she can deal with the memories and doubts that come along with fulfilling her Nana’s requests.
Strengths. Cushman’s greatest strength is delving into her characters and pushing their emotional buttons by putting them into relationship with others who expose them for what they are.
In Chasing Hope the protagonist must confront herself because of a relationship with the guy she’s noticed and who’s begun to notice her; with her Nana who she loves dearly; with the granddaughter of her Nana’s friend who she pretty much detests; and with her parents who have differing ideas about what she should do with her life.
The result is a layered story with varied facets which make the main character seem like a real person, grappling with real doubts and questions, creating an invite for the reader to ask them as well. As a result, the story seems almost interactive.
The details of the running world are convincing. If there are errors, I didn’t pick up on them. The training regiments, the competition, the need for a runner to push herself beyond the point she thinks she can endure–the entire running milieu seemed realistic.
The story hung together beautifully, with one question after another driving the reader to keep turning pages. Why had Sabrina’s hope for Olympic gold died? What would she decide to do about Brandy? Why did she keep secrets from her love interest? Why was she trying to bury her past? What would become of Brandy? On and on, the questions are all delightfully enticing because Cushman makes the reader care about these characters.
The theme of the story is equally strong, never preached, perfectly wrapped inside the character development, and thoroughly Christian. No mistaking–this is Christian fiction.
Weakness. Reviews are always better when they are balanced, and more credible when the reviewer points out flaws instead of glossing them over. I know this, and I’m trying, but I honestly can’t come up with anything. Nothing pulled me from the story as I read. Nothing jumped out at me as I thought back over the story in the days after I finished reading it. And nothing comes to me know as I evaluate the elements. I’ll be interested to see if other reviewers managed to come up with something I’m not seeing.
Recommendation. This book is for Christians, and it confronts a question many committed believers ask. The protagonist is a woman, but she’s an athlete, so I have no doubt men can “get” this story, but I suspect women will make up the majority of the readers. Too bad. I think guys struggle with God’s calling on their lives just as much as women do. I think this is a must read for Christians. Non-Christians can definitely enjoy the story, but the main conflict will probably seem inconsequential to them.
In conjunction with the release of Chasing Hope, Cushman has a great sweepstakes going. I’ll give you details tomorrow.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher without charge with no requirement that my views would be favorable.