Christian Fiction And The Christian Worldview

Earlier this week I wrote the following:

Sower_oilGiving the good news [of Jesus Christ], however, doesn’t look the same for every single person. Some are preachers, some serve. Some prepare the soil, some plant, some water. All parts of the process are necessary for a harvest. But one thing is true—wheat doesn’t come up by accident. (“A Look At What’s Most Important.”)

I think that paragraph summarizes my views about Christian fiction about as well as anything I could write on the subject. But sometimes particulars are lost in metaphors, so I want to elaborate a little on this topic.

First, I’m aware that some readers and some publishers equate “safe fiction” with Christian fiction. That view is in error. Christianity is not the same as morality. For example, Mormon fiction can have a “true love waits” theme as much as can Christian fiction; fiction written from a secular humanist worldview can have a tolerance theme that looks similar to a “love your neighbor” theme you might find in Christian fiction.

The externals that so many look to as the definition of “safe”—no bad language, no sex scenes, a minimum of violence—can be true in movies like Wall-e or in DVDs like Veggie Tales.

Consequently, no matter what marketing or promotional blurbs say, safe does not equal Christian. Anyone saying otherwise is closing their eyes to an attempt to usurp the term Christian and make it over to mean something it is not.

Secondly, Christian is not the same as theistic. Consequently, a story that includes or even centers on a belief in God is not the same as Christian fiction. That fact should be clear from Scripture:

You believe that God is One; you do well. The demons also believe and shudder. (James 2:16)

A story like Gilead, then, with a pastor who does not pass on the gospel to his son in the last moments of his life, may speak of God, but can’t be understood as a Christian story based solely on those pronouncements.

So what makes a story Christian or what does fiction written from a Christian worldview look like? I think we have to take a step back and ask, what defines a Christian or Christianity?

I think there are several key components:

    * Humans have a bent toward sin to which we’re chained.
    * This human failing creates a rift between us and God, who made humans in His likeness.
    * God Himself solved the rift problem when Jesus switched us out and Himself in as the One to bear our sins in His body on the cross.
    * The net result is that God rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His Son.
    * As members of God’s kingdom, we are His heirs, in His family, part of His body.

Christian fiction or stories written from a Christian worldview do not have to have all those components, either explicitly or implicitly. In addition they might have moral components shared by any number of other worldviews.

Nevertheless, something unique to the Christian faith must be part of the story, if it is to be Christian in any capacity. Again, this “something unique to the Christian faith” does not have to be overt. It can be, certainly. But it doesn’t have to be.

There are wonderful stories by authors like Kathryn Cushman that show people of faith struggling to follow God and live as members of His family. Key components of that which is unique to Christianity are clear in and through each story.

Other stories, like Karen Hancock‘s Guardian-King fantasy series also show these same unique components, but from a somewhat allegorical approach.

Still others like Anne Elisabeth Stengl‘s Tales of Goldstone Wood rely on symbology. Nothing is overt, but the unique components of Christianity are in operation throughout each story, shown through symbols.

Another type of story such as general market author R. J. Anderson‘s Faery Rebel, communicates components of the Christian faith through metaphor, much the way the Old Testament does. Isasc portrayed the promised Messiah and Abraham, the Father willing to sacrifice him; the Passover lamb pictures the sacrifice Jesus would make to remove sins; Moses portrayed Jesus as the Mediator between God and man; David depicted the Messiah as King, and so on.

These stories are best referred to as Christian worldview stories. The unique Christian components are easily missed, but they serve an important purpose one way or the other: they show readers of all stripe what redemption or sacrifice or rescue or sinning against a loving authority looks like, without actually naming God or drawing any overt parallels.

Recently at Ruby Slippers Media for Fiction Friday I posted a short story entitled “Haj” that I think falls into this latter category. Last week, however, I posted another story, “At His Table,” that is best described as overt, including faith components unique to Christianity. The first I’d call Christian worldview fiction and the second Christian fiction.

One last point: while I think writing is a wonderful opportunity for the Christian to pass along his faith, I also believe there are other legitimate reasons a Christian might write fiction that is not Christian and does not communicate his Christian worldview. However, those who choose to use their writing as an avenue to reflect what is unique to the Christian faith have a variety of ways to accomplish this, one not superior in any way to the others.

The fact is, God can use gold and silver drinking vessels, and he can use ordinary clay pots that might contain water turned to wine. It’s not up to us to determine what kind of story God will use.

Review – Chasing Hope by Kathryn Cushman

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? 😀

Chasing Hope coverThe 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.

A Review – Almost Amish

Kathryn Cushman, author of A Promise to Remember, Waiting for Daybreak, Leaving Yesterday, and Another Dawn, has quickly become one of my favorite writers. In fact, a friend of mine who read all her books in our church library said, Why, she’s every bit as good as Karen Kingsbury. I smiled at that because it’s a great compliment, comparing her to a best-selling author, but also because I happen to think Cushman is actually better.

It was with some trepidation, then, that I started in on her latest novel, Almost Amish (Bethany House). Trepidation, because I’m not particularly a fan of Amish fiction. Not that I’ve read much, so I’m not really one to give a fair evaluation. I do know a little about the Amish community, however, and am aware that many are not Christians. Hence, Christian fiction about Amish people made me suspect that their portrayal might not be accurate. Not so, according to my friend from church, but I’m off topic.

Perhaps because of my realization that my ideas about Amish fiction might be off kilter and because this was a Cushman novel, I plunged ahead.

Imagine my surprise to discover that Almost Amish is not about the Amish at all. Rather it’s about a contemporary family–or extended family–taking part in a reality TV show. The set up reminded me of an actual TV show which aired on PBS a number of years ago called Frontier House. The family in Cushman’s fictitious Tennessee locale are to live for the summer in a restored farm house, accomplishing tasks similar to those the Amish undertake regularly, in circumstances similar, but not identical, to the Amish. Hence, the title.

The set up is certainly interesting, but the real story is relational. The family that actually goes to live and be filmed consists of a divorced woman and her daughter, her sister-in-law and her two children, one boy and one girl. The suddenly blended families create conflict, certainly, but so does the interaction with the handyman and one of the production crew, not to mention with the producer of the show.

As always, I find Cushman’s characters to be vivid, real, multifaceted. They are heroic and fearful, determined and misguided, unaware and astute, sometimes all at the same time. They’re easy to care about, easy to cheer for. Even when they’re in conflict with each other, I want them both to win–or at least come to the realizations that would make their lives better.

I thought the reality TV set up was wonderful. It’s perfect for this day when so many people are glued to dance competitions or singing shows, ones about people locked together in houses, or stranded on an island, or condemned to suffer graceless falls or heartbreak for the sake of audience entertainment.

As usual, Cushman’s use of prose is efficient and crisp. She weaves description into the story artfully so that the action isn’t interrupted. Here’s a sample:

Soon, they were moving down a narrow country road [in a horse-drawn wagon], dotted with farms and pickup trucks and barns. The horseshoes made a pleasant rhythmic sound against the well-worn pavement as they wound slowly along the road. After several minutes, [the man leading the tour] turned around. “See them white houses up ahead? Those are some of our Amish houses . . .

As they passed the first house Julie noticed multiple lines of laundry–line after line of dark blue trousers and white shirts, ruffling slightly in the light breeze.

To the right of the house rested a large vegetable garden with a dozen or two neat rows of young plants. Two women stood out in the midst of it, hoes in hand.

“It seems awfully hot to be out gardening in the middle of the day like this. Especially in all that dark clothing.” Julie looked at the women in their black caps, dark long-sleeved dresses, and aprons. The morning’s humidity was already pressing on her, and she was wearing a knee-length khaki skirt and a sleeveless cotton top.

“This ain’t nothing. It’s nice today compared to what it’ll be in a month or two. Up in the nineties, air so thick you’d think you could drink it. Them women’ll be out there in it every day–gardening, doing laundry. They’re always working. It’s their way.”

A passage like this accomplishes so much–introducing characters, giving each a voice, showing the place, setting up future conflict. It’s really masterful.

My one “I wish” has to do with the end. I found it to be the neatest and tidiest section of the book, and I’d rather if it were a little ragged around the edges since that’s the way the characters had been throughout the story. I might have been thinking about these characters for days if things weren’t quite so completely zipped up, but I suspect few people will fret over a “too perfect” ending.

I highly recommend Almost Amish to anyone looking for a story that deals with inner conflict as much or more than outer conflict. This is a wonderful story that many in our driven-to-succeed culture can appreciate.

I received a review copy of this book without charge with no stipulation that my views would be favorable.

Published in: on August 8, 2012 at 5:47 pm  Comments (5)  
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Another Dawn by Kathryn Cushman

I may have mentioned that Kathryn (Katie) Cushman is one of my favorite authors. Consequently I jumped at the chance to be a part of the CFBA tour for her newest book, Another Dawn.

The Story. Single mom Grace Graham wants to do what’s best for her son Dylan. That’s why she chose not to have him vaccinated. Her close friend and co-worker/boss Jasmine is dealing with an autistic child — one who had been developing normally until a week after he received his shot. And Grace has done her homework — she’s read what a host of other moms in similar circumstances are saying, in contradiction to the latest scientific studies. In the end she made the choice she thought best for her son.

But when she leaves California to help care for her father as he undergoes knee surgery, she finds that her decision has ramifications she never considered. Like so many other things in her life — her break-up with Steve, her decision to take time off from work when Jasmine needs her most, and her anger toward her father after her mother died.

Strengths. Katie is a master at revealing both sides of an issue in a sympathetic way. She does so beautifully in Another Dawn. But this book is not a mere “issue” book. Yes, the central external conflict deals with a relevant question that confronts parents today, but there’s so much more happening in this story. There are relational issues between the protagonist and her father, her boss/friend, her sister, and her former boyfriend. There’s also an internal conflict about how she handles problems, and there is a spiritual dimension that overlays all. In other words, this is a complex story.

However, the complexity never feels knotted. It’s masterfully interwoven and makes this book speak to readers on a number of different levels.

Is it entertaining? Completely. I found it to be a compelling story, one that had one mystery after another waiting to be unraveled.

Moreover, this story digs inside hearts. It confronts because the character is forced to confront. It is full of faith and encouragement even as it works as a needle excising a splinter or a scalpel cutting away infection.

Weakness. In a large part, Another Dawn shows Christians working out a set of problems. The one question that came to me after I finished the book was about the back story. With Grace’s past, I couldn’t help but wonder when she stopped running from God, as it seems she was doing prior to Dylan’s birth. As I recall, Grace did say something about not talking to God much lately, but she seemed to pick up where she left off without acknowledging sin in her life.

I know this is a somewhat contentious issue these days. Does “Christian fiction” need a “conversion”?

Katie did a beautiful job portraying real people who happened to be Christians. Consequently, I was surprised when in the end I didn’t see what I would expect from a Christian who has strayed from God.

Did it ruin the story? Not at all. Was it theologically unsound? Not in any way. It was silent, is all. Many people may not think twice about Grace’s past.

As I write this, however, it seems like her realizing she had run from God as much as she had run from her other problems could have made the story even stronger.

Recommendation. Must read for those who enjoy women’s Christian fiction. Must read for parents of younger children. Highly recommended for anyone (yes, even men) who enjoys a well-written story.

In conjunction with CFBA I received a free review copy of this book from Bethany House.

Published in: on February 8, 2011 at 8:15 pm  Comments Off on Another Dawn by Kathryn Cushman  
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CFBA Tour – Leaving Yesterday

I’ll admit, I’m not on top of things with this tour for Leaving Yesterday by Kathryn (Katie) Cushman. First, I forgot I’d signed up for this tour and went ahead and posted my review over two weeks ago.

Second, I chose to post on the last day of the tour, but email problems and ultimately computer problems meant that I’m scrambling to get my post in under the wire (it’s still Friday on the West Coast. 😉 )

All this is unfortunate because this is a book I thoroughly enjoyed and I was only too happy to highlight it again. As I thought about my post tonight, I started kicking myself for not asking Katie for an interview. I’m sure she’d have much more interesting things to say than I will, but I’ll give it a go.

First, the author herself. I met Katie by way of a car pool to the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference three years ago. She had just recently received a contract with Bethany and was looking forward to the release of her first book A Promise to Remember.

All the way up the coast and back the group of us talked about writing and our conference experience. Then we did it again the next year. Through that time I learned that Katie is kind, unpretentious, a good driver, a woman who enjoys simple traditions, loves her family above all else, has a tender heart, is organized, appreciates God’s hand in her journey to publication, is open, intelligent, interesting.

I discovered one other thing when I read her work—she’s a talented writer. Not surprisingly, as a mom of two, Katie writes some of her best fiction (in my opinion) with a mom as her protagonist. The great thing is, she shows universal truths through the life and struggles of this “ordinary” woman.

Katie’s writing is entertaining, insightful, though-provoking. She doesn’t hide from the temptations of life, or the failures. But she follows them up with hope and mercy and redemption.

I’ll reiterate my recommendation of Leaving Yesterday:

Undoubtedly the book, marketed as contemporary fiction, will appeal most to women, but I think men can enjoy the story too. It’s a well-written, important story, and I suggest it’s a must read for Christian women. I highly recommend it to Christian guys as well.

But in the final analysis, I’d recommend you keep your eye on the name Kathryn Cushman and snag her next book as well, and her next, and her next, and her next. She’s just flat out a talented author.

Published in: on October 16, 2009 at 10:04 pm  Comments Off on CFBA Tour – Leaving Yesterday  
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Leaving Yesterday – A Review

Don’t read the back cover. I’m talking about Kathryn (Katie) Cushman’s soon-to-be-released novel Leaving Yesterday (Bethany House). Happily I dove into the book without any preamble, and I am so thankful. This one is too good to spoil with advanced warning. Which does make writing a review for it … challenging. But I’ll give it my best shot.

The Story. With the feel of autobiography, this first person account is a mother’s tale involving her love for and devotion to her children. But more than that, it is the story about her … over achievement. I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to give hints that will spoil the reading experience.

Strengths. The main character Alisa Steward is so well drawn—I’m certain I know her, though by a different name. But all the characters are just as realistic. Their actions are well motivated and believable. They are likable, and I found myself pulling for them to do the right thing.

There’s lots of action, though not the melodramatic kind of the TV thriller, and what is happening inside Alisa is really the most important part of the story.

The themes are strong, important, clear without being preachy. One central theme under girds the novel, but there are lots of other points a person can glean about drug abuse, not judging others, sacrifice, grief, redemption, anger, marital fidelity. All these and more in a fairly compact 300-page novel.

The ending was handled exceptionally well, I thought. The resolution is poignant and hopeful, but not “perfect,” which made it the perfect conclusion.

Rarely these days do I lose myself so completely in the story world of a novel. Call it the writer’s curse. Too often I find myself looking at the writing to see what went wrong or how the author pulled this or that off.

I’ll admit, I did look at the opening to see how Katie so completely hooked me into the story by the second paragraph, but from then on, I was lost in the life of Alisa Stewart.

I looked forward to reading the book, tried to stay awake late at night (rather than hoping the book would put me to sleep), and hated to put it down when I had to.

Recommendation. If you’re familiar with my reviews, you know I generally give the weaknesses of a book before the recommendation, and I think that’s important because it is then clear I’m not simply hyping the book. But honestly, I have nothing to say about weaknesses. I saw one typo.

Just so you know what I’m talking about, here’s the opening:

My son was dead. I knew it the minute I saw the black-and-white car pull to the curb in front of my house.

Clods of potting soil still clinging to my gloves—like the debris of the last few years clung to everything in my life—I turned back to my house, walked up the porch steps, opened the front door, then closed and locked it behind me. Perhaps a reasonable person would understand that the clink of the deadbolt sliding into place did nothing to stop the impending news. Well, show me the mother who thinks with reason when faced with the news that her only remaining son is dead.

Undoubtedly the book, marketed as contemporary fiction, will appeal most to women, but I think men can enjoy the story too. It’s a well-written, important story, and I suggest it’s a must read for Christian women. I highly recommend it to Christian guys as well.

Published in: on September 29, 2009 at 12:24 pm  Comments (3)  
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Waiting for Daybreak

fall-into-reading-2008Back in September I entered into Callapidder Days’ Fall into Reading challenge. I chose nine books that I wanted to read between September 22 and December 21.

Well, as you can tell, it is a few weeks beyond December 21, so my challenge report is overdue. I’m not the best at these, you can tell, but Katrina is always gracious and lets me participate anyway.

Thing is, of the five and a half books from the nine I aimed to read, I have yet to post two reviews. I finished these well within the fall period, but wanted to spread reviews out—for some reason—then proceeded to forget. Anyway, yesterday, I read a blog post that jarred my memory

Katie Cushman announced on her blog that her novel, Waiting for Daybreak (Bethany House), will soon be available at Walmart.

Yes, the same Waiting for Daybreak I read back in October and have yet to review.waitingfordaybreaksm

The thing is, this story has stayed with me, so writing a review even after all this time, doesn’t seem like a formidable task. Without further babbling … 😀

The Story. Paige, a conscientious, caring pharmacist who is working in a clinic, is struggling to make ends meet when she learns that her mother is ill. If she can receive an expensive treatment, her prognosis is good, but her parents don’t know how they will pay. Paige offers to help, and she prays.

Soon thereafter an elderly man doing work in the clinic, offers Paige a job in an upscale pharmacy not far from her parents’ home. She will work, it turns out, under his granddaughter, Clarissa’s, supervision.

Paige gladly takes the job but soon discovers that all is not as it should be. The events that unfold open up Paige’s past and cloud her future, even as the days become more and more difficult to bear. But her parents are counting on her financial help for the treatments her mother has begun. She has no choice but to keep working at the pharmacy—if she can hold on to the job.

Strengths. I think the thing that stands out for me in Waiting for Daybreak, as it did in A Promise to Remember, Cushman’s first novel, is how well-drawn the characters are. As I was writing the short summary of the book, I immediately felt the anxiety I identified as Paige’s because Cushman made the character come alive. Her actions and reactions were believable. She had noble aspirations and I rooted for her to succeed. I felt for her when the noose tightened, and I cheered for her as she struggled to overcome the fears that led her down the wrong path.

Clarissa is a strong secondary character, maybe even a second protagonist. She is also well drawn and believable, though not as likable in the beginning. But rather than taking the role of hateful antagonist, she becomes sympathetic, and in the end I cared for her almost as much as I did Paige.

Truly, Cushman has a knack for drawing characters that clash with one another but which the reader understands equally.

I’m big on themes, and I felt there were some important themes running through Waiting for Daybreak. This book is a good example of “Christian worldview fiction.” The gospel message isn’t preached, but living like Christ is a clear theme. And it is delivered in a natural way through the characters and the things that happen to them.

Weaknesses. Given the task of bringing two conflicting characters to a point of resolution without making the story seem contrived or maudlin, Cushman does a remarkable job. Yet, in thinking about weaknesses in the novel, I’d have to say this one might have too many neat, tied-in-a-bow events at the end. Not all of them are happy. I seem to remember tearing up a time or two. But I also seem to remember a lot of things converged, perhaps a little too conveniently.

But that was minor, if it was an issue at all. The only other thing that bothered me was Clarissa’s grandfather, Lee Richardson. He plays a critical role, based on a deep hurt from the past. The thing is, earlier in the story, he makes a critical decision—to offer Paige the job in Clarissa’s pharmacy—that doesn’t seem consistent with someone who had experienced what he had experienced. It wasn’t a story stopper because when he made the job offer, the reader doesn’t know about his hurtful experience. But upon learning of it, I found Lee to be a much weaker character than I’d thought previously.

Recommendation. That being said, I didn’t find the story less enjoyable. Reading Waiting for Daybreak was entertaining and memorable. I highly recommend this story to readers. It is a must read for those who enjoy women’s fiction, especially Christian women’s fiction.

Published in: on January 16, 2009 at 4:43 pm  Comments Off on Waiting for Daybreak  
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A Promise to Remember

This is sort of a transition post. We’ve had wonderful discussions about theme and Christian fiction, stemming from a comment Andrew Peterson made in answer to a question that came up in another blog.

Ironically, I was reading in Jerry JenkinsWriting for the Soul (Writers Digest, 2006), given out to all conferees by Mount Hermon at the Christian Writers Conference. In the forward, Francine Rivers wrote “We know it is one thing to be a Christian who writes, and quite another to be a Christian writer.”

I thought, Uh, we do? And what are the differing characteristics of the two? No disrespect to Ms. Rivers, who I know little about, but I tend to believe it is a good thing, a very good thing to wrestle with what it means to be a Christian (who we are) who writes (what we do) and/or a Christian writer (a writer informed by the change Christ has made in my life)—in short, this whole “what is Christian fiction” discussion we’ve been having.

But I’m getting sidetracked. What I really want to talk about is a book that illustrates what good Christian fiction is. I’m referring to Katie Cushman‘s debut novel, A Promise to Remember. Christy Award winning author John Olson, remember, touted this book as “flat out brilliant.”

I have to be honest. I purposefully slide this one down on my to-be-read pile after reading Sharon Souza’s Every Good and Perfect Gift (a book I reviewed here.) Understand, my delay had to do completely with my wanting to be in the right frame of mind. Knowing the premise of A Promise to Remember, I expected to be crying a lot.

The back of the book gives hints: “Two wounded women,” “the accident that changes everything,” and from James Scott Bell, “A beautifully written and heartfelt novel about loss …” Well, there’s more. But I knew what caused the wound, what was the loss. As you may remember, Katie was the driver of our little carpool up to Mount Hermon from Santa Barbara these last two years. And of course we talked about our writing. So I knew.

What I was ignoring was the rest of Jim Bell’s quote: “… about loss, love and forgiveness.”

Long story short, I got home from Mount Hermon and started in on Promise. By Monday, I knew I wouldn’t do anything else until I finished the book. It was gripping, real, tragic, triumphant, hopeful, engaging.

The story begins after loss has already occurred, and this had an odd effect on me. I didn’t feel the grief I was reading about. The book wasn’t really about that. It was about the repercussions of the grief, and those I entered into with my heart as well as with my head. But it was such a tangle. There was conflict, conflict, conflict, but who was the antagonist? Lots of people to root for, but if one came out ahead, it seemed the others would lose.

Wonderful tension. Great characters. Engaging from page one. Never coming across as succumbing to the victim syndrome, though certainly that would have fit the circumstances. But these characters really were larger than life, even as they felt so shrunken by their grief.

Powerful story. Now I want to talk to Katie about her theme. I did ask which she starts with when she writes a novel (her second is in the editing process, I believe), and surprisingly she said, Plot. (Score one for Jim Bell in his debate with Nick Harrison—and I’ll tell you about that next week when I get back to the Mount Hermon Report).

Recommendation? Must read. A Promise to Remember is one of those books that can touch a reader no matter what your preferred genre. Yes, the main characters are women, but men play a prominent role. It’s not a shoot-em-up story, but it is ripe with real life drama. Men will “get” this book, too. And readers who don’t pick it up will miss out.

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