Funny story. I started reading this book so that I could catch up on my reviews because I didn’t want to finish another review copy and add to the number of books I needed to review. But, then I found out that this book is fantastic, so here I am reviewing it, 15 years after it was published.
- Author: Kathryn Cushman
- Publisher: Bethany House
- Available here
- Synopsis: Two mothers, both grieving the loss of their teenage sons, experience backlash from their community as they and their friends respond to the event that robbed them of their children.
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.John 3:16
For this review, I had occasion to choose John 3:16, one of the more frequently quoted Bible verses. This verse is highly appropriate for the book, because the author conveys the Gospel in an almost allegorical way, through discussion of the mothers’ grief, at the loss of their sons.
The novel also explores forgiveness: both God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness He empowers people to extend to others.
What I Liked
I would describe the plot as compelling, and I had a lot of trouble putting this book down.
Because I often gravitate towards suspense and romance, neither of which are a big part of this book, I am very impressed with the way this book grabbed, and maintained, my attention. (And it was a debut novel).
The characters were especially nuanced and believable. While I often reference the believability of characters, this novel stands out to me, as it was really hard to judge characters as either good or bad. Some of the most likable characters made some questionable (or downright wrong) choices, while even the more unsympathetic characters had their good moments.
The beautiful thing is, this is clearly intentional on the part of the author, as she demonstrates the humanity of each character. Rather than portraying the Christians as “good” and the nonbelievers as “bad,” Cushman shows each person’s need for Jesus. (In fact, one of the less likable characters attends church.) Members of the church community do loving things and they also do harsh, judgmental things. This is both a realistic depiction and one that exalts Christ, rather than the church, because it’s clear that the good things people do are done in His love and that each person “saved” or not, continually needs Him.
Although I haven’t experienced the sort of grief that the women in the novel do, the portrayal of grief also felt realistic, from the first sentence. At the same time, because the traumatic events occurred before the start of the novel, the book is not a depressing read.
Overall, this is a beautiful book.
Food for Thought / Respectful Critique
The novel very much shows that God can use people to lead others to Him, through their actions. There were some things I appreciated about this theme, and some things I didn’t agree with.
- I liked that characters’ lives were their testimonies and that their was emphasis on Jesus changing/moving through individual lives. This was refreshing for me, because it was not simply a recitation of a bunch of Bible verses about salvation, which may or may not be understood by nonbelievers. (Romans, by the way, was written to believers).
- At the same time, I felt uncomfortable with the amount of evangelistic pressure placed on believers. Melanie is concerned for her daughter, Sarah, because Sarah feels that it is her responsibility to be a good witness for her mom, in case she dissuades Melanie from Christ. When Melanie speaks with Sarah’s youth pastor about this, he affirms that Christians feel very responsible to evangelize. I do think that he could have spoken to Sarah about it really not being her responsibility to “save” her mom. This is such a huge component in evangelical churches, but it also produces guilt and encourages Christians to grasp for power and control that we are not meant to have.
I finished this book about a week ago, so there may be information I miss here.
For those who have experienced the loss of a child, this may be a very challenging read.
There’s a mocking reference to “those weird Japanese cartoons..”. While I am definitely not impressed with all of the content in shows like Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon (the following line indicates these are the shows being referenced), I feel a bit weird about the cultural element being tied in with the mocking.
This is the only content note I can think of, in terms of things I usually note.
While I grabbed this book in a hurry (the Bethany House insignia helped), it ended up being one I will gladly recommend. It’s well-written and realistic, with an excellent message that showcases God’s forgiveness and love.