- Author: Michaela Bush
- Released Oct. 25th (Available Now)
- Synopsis: In the aftermath of years of trauma, Bridget Owens doesn’t recognize the person she’s become, but finds encouragement through friends, counseling and the Holy Spirit.
- Disclosure: I received a complimentary ecopy of the book via a contest. I was not expected to write a review and opinions expressed are my own.
Note: Based on the book’s synopsis, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Some kind of a thriller? As a reviewer, I want to mention, up front, that this book deals with recovering from sexual abuse.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.2 Cor. 1:3-4
In addition to experiencing physical and sexual abuse, in her childhood church, Bridget grew up under a lot of spiritual abuse. As a result, she’s held captive to fear, memories and an overwhelming sense of unworthiness: what she refers to as “It.” She’s resistant to physical contact of any kind and is hesitant to form deep friendships.
Bridget does recognize, to some extent, that what happened to her was very wrong, but also wrestles with the idea that she is somehow guilty. She continues to hear God’s voice, but is also very hesitant to place her trust in Him, based on the abuse she has received from those who claim to represent Him.
To be clear, Bridget seeks very much to distance herself from organized churches. I do not conflate this with choosing to walk away from God. I have witnessed idolatry in the Christian faith that makes the two synonymous, and, while the author does not attempt to do so, this is a very important distinction, in my opinion.
Throughout the book, the Lord uses counseling and positive relationships to bring healing to Bridget, as she recognizes that she is not to blame for the abuse and that her worth comes from her Creator.
What I Liked
I am so grateful that the Lord put it on the author’s heart to write this novel, which so clearly exemplifies the 2 Corinthians 1 verse. The novel deals with sexual abuse within the church: specifically, abuse instigated by those in positions of leadership. This is one of those topics that needs to be brought to light, and all the moreso (not less!) when those in pastoral roles are involved. I applaud Bush’s bravery and vulnerability in sharing a story that appears to be rooted, to some extent, in personal experience (see the Author’s Note at the end of the book).
I appreciated the friendships portrayed. Bridget’s friends are loving and compassionate, willing to listen but not overly pushy. It was beautiful to see how they watched out for her. On a personal level, I was glad that they didn’t demand her trust, but allowed her space, while also demonstrating their concern for her. These are definitely the sort of friends a person would want to have!
I felt that the author achieved a good balance in her treatment of pastors as potential perpetrators of sexual abuse. While she certainly did not generalize this behavior to all pastors, she also did not lessen the reality/harshness of the abuse—and the fact that it does occur. That is, she didn’t imply that the pastor in the story was the only pastor who has ever abused someone. I also appreciate that the counseling pastor in the story is not portrayed as perfect, either. We see him make a few mistakes, which he is willing to acknowledge as such.
Likewise, there is a strong emphasis on forgiveness, but NOT at the expense of truth. It is repeatedly noted that the abuse was completely wrong and completely not Bridget’s fault.
I found the writing to be particularly engaging and zoomed through the story. I’m also grateful that the author deals very gently with the subject matter, with very few specific details of the abuse. Instead, details emphasize how others responded to the abuse that Bridget experienced.
Additionally, I felt that the portrayal of “It” was well-executed. “It” becomes something of a character, throughout the novel, and the personification resonated with me, not in terms of sexual abuse, but as a potential metaphor for anxiety. This is, of course, what “It” represents in the story, but is what a point of connection, for me. And, the symbolism of the water, attached to It— flowed beautifully with the story. I think this was one of the strongest elements.
As mentioned above, the book is all about recovering from sexual abuse, so its subject matter is mature. However, the content is not graphic and really focuses on the mental recovery, rather than going deeply into the nature of the abuse. With the tragic reality that abuse can occur long before adulthood, I would feel comfortable recommending this book to a mature high schooler.
There is one use of the word “g—z.”
Back to Me is a meaningful, hopeful work that engages with the healing process, following sexual and spiritual abuse. As someone who has not been in the same situation as the protagonist, I’m not sure whether or not I’d recommend it to someone who is also healing. However, I’m so grateful that the author sheds light on a very hard subject, while consistently pointing to Christ, and by extension, hope. The subject matter could have lent to a much darker narrative, but I wasn’t left feeling depressed. (And, the author notes in a foreword that fiction portrays healing in a quicker way than real life).
This is a book I very much enjoyed, and I look forward to revisiting the characters in its sequel, Between Us.