Review – The Color Of Sorrow Isn’t Blue


The Color Of Grief Isn't Blue coverI’m embarrassed. I planned to post a review of Sharon Souza’s novel The Color Of Sorrow Isn’t Blue on Amazon and figured the easiest way was to copy my review from my own site. But when I did a search for the book, I couldn’t find it. I looked through the Reviews category, searched for the book by title, searched by Sharon’s name. I was so sure I’d written a review. But no. As it turned out, I’d written an endorsement, not a review.

YIKES! I must have had a senior moment. How embarrassing!

Well, I thought I needed to remedy the matter at once. I wrote a short review on Amazon and now will give a more complete analysis here. First, this is the endorsement I wrote. I’m not experienced writing these so I don’t know how much of it was worth quoting. But this reflects my thoughts shortly after I finished reading the book:

The Color of Sorrow Isn’t Blue by Sharon K. Souza is a powerful story, real and raw. Souza’s writing is beautiful, but it is also true. I don’t know of a novel that does a better job showing the depth of grief and the nearly insurmountable job of climbing out of the pit it creates. There are no pat answers in this story—only the reality of friendship and a gradual realization of God’s constancy. This book will touch the heart of anyone who has experienced the pain of loss and show that doubting and despair don’t have to be the end game.

Interestingly, my review on Amazon was quite different. I no longer see the book as something that will touch the heart of people who know the pain of loss. Now I understand more clearly, we all know the pain of loss to one degree or another. Consequently, this book is for everyone. So, without further ado. . .

The Story.

Bristol Taylor’s daughter is gone. Disappeared. In a moment of seeming safety, a simple, understandable choice opened the door to the unknown, and Bristol has suffered the pain and regret and guilt ever since.

A year later she can’t face the inevitable media regurgitation of those painful days and weeks and months and wants to escape. She plans to head off to her stepmother’s “beach house”—a twenty-foot trailer situated not far from the beach.

To her surprise her sister, best friend, and stepmother refuse to let her face the anniversary alone. Instead the weekend turns out to be anything but the escape Bristol had planned.

Strengths.

First, I suppose people might call this book a “character driven” novel. I mean there’s no dramatic car-chase scene, no passionate romance, no cops chasing down clues. Instead, the horror has already happened and this is a book about dealing. How do you go on when the worst has happened, or might have. In reality, there’s this thread of the unknown which adds uncertainty to Bristol’s loss and robs her of closure while draining her of hope.

It’s also a book about relationships—Bristol and her husband, Bristol and the three women who determine to see her through another day of crisis, Bristol and God. So, yes, you’d have to say character is front and center.

And yet . . . There is no lack of action and more importantly, no lack of tension. Bristol has a goal which she maintains throughout. She thinks she knows what she needs, but it’s clear fairly soon that she’s wrong. It’s not as clear whether or not she’ll turn from the course she’s determined to take. I mean, she’s determined!

So this story is not slow-paced. In actuality, it’s structured in a unique way, with what happened before liberally interspersed with what’s happening now. In some ways it’s a little like changing points of view.

In one section the story is the remembrance of a busy, happy, proud mother about life with her loving husband and their beautiful daughter. Then the story swings back to the present where husband and wife are nearly estranged and their daughter is gone. Together these two narratives weave the entire story together until the reader understands on a visceral level what Bristol has lost and why.

Besides telling a terrific story, Sharon has done so using beautiful prose. Bristol is an artist and she sees life as an artist does. Sharon has captured that aspect of her protagonist without slowing the story for long descriptive paragraphs. Rather, Bristol’s artistic nature colors her voice.

Weaknesses.

I don’t have much here. For a very short stretch, I wasn’t sure I liked Bristol. She had my sympathy right away, but it was clear something wasn’t right between her and her husband. It was early in the story and I didn’t have a clue why she seemed to be pushing him away. I knew that was the wrong thing for her to do, but I didn’t know her enough to be in her corner hoping she’d realize her folly.

As it turned out, the story went far deeper than I expected, very quickly. Why she acted the way she did became clear and it added one more thing Bristol had to work through—if she could. By the end, my heart was breaking for Bristol.

But that early reaction . . . well, I remember it months after reading the novel. In fact, I remember the entire story almost as if I finished it yesterday. That’s how powerful it affected me.

So, no, I can’t do a good job balancing my review with what could have made it better. I mean, I generally like a fairly straightforward, chronological telling, but I wouldn’t change a thing in the way Sharon chose to tell this story, the past and present threads woven together in such a way that the unique structure actually became a strength.

OK, here’s one. I didn’t ever quite have the setting clear in my mind—where was this trailer in relation to other structures and how close was it actually to the beach? I remember wondering in a place or two, but actually those could have been in the story and I missed them because I was focused on something else. Ultimately the logistics didn’t confuse me or disrupt the story.

That’s all the “weaknesses” I’ve got.

Recommendation.

I can only say, The Color Of Sorrow Isn’t Blue is a memorable book, a powerful story, completely void of preachiness or easy answers or platitudes. It’s honest and the questioning touches your soul. Because sorrow is such a universal experience, I’m tempted to say, this book is a must read for everyone. But I know women will like it more than men. It’s really a woman’s book because it tells the story of the mother, of the wife. Guys could gain a lot. I just don’t know how much they’d understand. Oh, not intellectually. They could understand the words, but I don’t know if they’d understand the emotion. I mean, a big part of the story has to do with a wife submitting to her husband. Guys should read it, but I don’t know if they can get it. But there it is. A must read for women who enjoy good literature.

Mount Hermon Report 2008, Part 7


Saturday afternoon had two workshop slots, but I only attended the one. I planned to get coffee and figure out which seminar to attend next during the break, but instead ran into Debbie Thomas, a Mount Hermon writer friend who was in Randy Ingermanson’s Mentoring Clinic with me in 2005. We spent the hour talking writing, and it was time well spent.

Hanging out with other writers was definitely one of the great pluses of Mount Hermon. I was a little slow in getting pictures—I haven’t had a camera for a couple years, so it took me a few days to get into the swing of snapping all the people I wanted to blog about. Consequently, there are many, many omissions. But here are some notables, besides those I’ve already posted.

Katie Cushman at Mount HermonKatie Cushman, our carpool driver and author of A Promise to Remember (Bethany). You can read my review, which I posted a week ago, here. Besides being a brilliant writer, Katie is a kind, funny, interesting, organized, smart woman of faith. I would miss out on a lot if I didn’t get the travel time with Katie and the other carpoolers.

I wish I’d taken a picture of the four of us, especially because I don’t have any photos of Rich Bullock (one of the omissions I mentioned), my “twin” (we share the exact same birthday) and first carpool driver back in 2005. Just this last year we’ve also joined with a few other writers to form an online critique group. Rich has such great instincts and is a fantasy reader. Next year, I’ll make a point of getting his picture!

Caroleah JohnsonMy roommates, Caroleah Johnson and Sally Apokedak. Caroleah and I shared a cabin in 2006, one that was nearly at the top of the hill and about killed me off because after hiking the ten minutes up hill, there were some fifty stairs to climb. That was the year it rained non-stop, too. Still, it was a great cabin, with a fully outfitted kitchen, dining room, living room, separate bedrooms. During our stay, we had some time over late night cups of hot tea to get to know each other. Caroleah is an up-and-coming writer. She started in non-fiction, writing devotionals and producing a newsletter for her church. The 2006 conference gave her information about where to market her work and started her in fiction. Some time later, I came across her name in the list of Writer’s Digest Contest top one hundred. She placed there again in 2007.

Sally ApokedakI first met Sally online as the moderator of the critique group I joined. We actually met in 2004 at Mount Hermon. Since then we’ve become good friends and critique partners. She is another fantasy writer but targets children and YA. In fact, she recently became the Writing for Children editor at Bella Online.

Katy Popa/Sharon SouzaSome of these writers are ones I wish I could have hung out with. We’d see each other in passing and maybe have a meal together, but time was limited. Pictured here are Katy Popa, author of To Dance in the Desert (my review is here) and Sharon Suza, author of Every Good and Perfect Gift (my review is here). I knew Katy from her participation in Faith in Fiction but met both women in Gayle Roper’s mentoring clinic in 2006. Last year, when exchanging emails, I learned that Katy lived in a Victorian home. She gave me a fun story I was able to use to open the article I wrote for Victorian Homes magazine about blogging.

Becca/Susan JohnsonOne more picture for today. I met Becca Johnson, on the right, at a meal in 2006 when she came to Mount Hermon as a seventeen year old. Her mom, Susan, who accompanied her, claims not to be a writer, but during this past year she posted a review of one of the CSFF Blog Tour books for Becca and did a great job. Besides, since Becca is homeschooled, it’s apparent Susan knows more than she lets on. As we talked, she left the door open for writing some herself, but as it is, Becca, now nineteen and in college, is the writer of the family. I’m happy to say, she is a fantasy writer and well into her first novel.

More pics and reports next week.

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.

Every Good & Perfect Gift


I met author Sharon Souza in 2006 at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference. We were both in a mentoring group headed up by Gayle Roper. As part of the seminar, each participant was to critique twenty pages of the other members’ works-in-progress.

Right away, Sharon impressed me with her writing skill. Needless to say, it was a thrill to learn a year later that she had a book contract with NavPress. And now her debut novel is in book stores. Every Good & Perfect Gift “adeptly portrays the strengths of friendship, and the wonderful but often difficult relationships between mothers and daughters,” as the Publisher’s Weekly review says.

What it doesn’t mention is how realistic the characters are and how significant the story is. Written in the first person, but as much about another character as the “I,” the novel gives unique voices to both. And makes the reader care for both.

This book is not light weight. It “adeptly” deals with serious issues (not just friendship, though in saying “just” I’m not implying that friendship isn’t a worthy topic to explore. Rather, this novel goes beyond that scope and treats something bigger) and “Souza laudably refuses to succumb to a pat ending that neatly ties up all the loose ends.” Rather than frustrating, this ending seemed to me like the only one possible.

At one point, the PW review called Every Good & Perfect Gift “poignant.” That’s a good word to describe the story. “Sad” is inaccurate because the story has more to say than “what happened in the end.” Besides, in places, the journey to the end is itself poignant.

At times I was laughing, at other times I wanted to shake one or both characters, but in the end I cried. And cried. If one sign of a successful novel is that it evokes emotion in the reader, then Sharon Souza has written one very successful novel.

Mind you, it is most definitely women’s fiction. It is contemporary, and it may touch on some raw edges for some people. But in so doing, it also might help those readers process what is almost an untouchable subject (or subjects) among Christians.

Yes, this book is also overtly Christian, but without any platitudes or pretension. It is simply a moving story, one that touched me even though I am far from the target audience. Good books have a way of doing that.

Published in: on February 21, 2008 at 11:37 am  Comments (5)  
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