Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Book Review: Emily's Hope

After one of my periodic rantings either here or in a comment on someone else's blog about how I'd love to read a Catholic version of what is marketed as Christian Fiction, someone recommended this book. It arrived in the mail yesterday and, for the most part, I enjoyed reading it. On the positive side, the author had a really good concept--she told the stories of two women of different generations of the same family. The modern woman was Emily and she was born in 1959, making her only three years older than I am. Her great grandmother, Katherine, was born in 1879 and died in 1961. As part of a high school project, Emily looks into family history and tries to learn about Katherine. She doesn't learn all the details we do, but what she learns disturbs her. In some ways the book is similar to Francine Rivers' Scarlett Thread, but unfortunately, Gable is nowhere near the writer that Rivers is. While Gable does a good job of bringing in detail about the 1970's it almost seems to go overboard, like part of her reason for writing the story was to remind us that boys wore shoulder length hair feathered back from their face and that Shawn Cassidy was everyone's hearthrob. It was a fun trip back for me since I remember that time, but I'm not sure that detail was necessary or even helpful in telling the story. While part of it was set in the '70's, it really could have happened in any decade after that, but for all the style notes.

In general, I found the writing style to be amature. I'm not sure exactly what I mean by that except to say that if you read my blog and read the blogs of professional writers, you don't have any trouble deciding which one of us writes for a living, and which one just plays around. Emily's Hope didn't have bad grammar or obvious spelling errors but the sentence structure, word use and dialogue just weren't the product of a professional writer, IMO.

Basically this novel follows the marriages and reproductive lives of Emily and Katherine. Katherine is in a bad marriage, doesn't believe in God and is an early adopter of abortion and birth control. Emily is from a Catholic family, though by the time she is in college, she is the only one who goes to mass, and she is not a fan of the Church's teachings on sexual morality. While visiting a pen pal in Canada, she falls in love with Jason, who is three years younger than she is. Jason is a devout, by-the-book Catholic. While Emily is a virgin, she has engaged in a certain amount of sexual activity. Jason insists they wait until marriage, and then, insists they use NFP rather than contraception. They get married, use NFP, suffer some sorrows, are faithful to the Church and live happily ever after as the parents of a large homeschooled Catholic family.

If I had only read the first half of the book, I'd review it as a good concept with mediocre writing (at best) and somewhat unrealistic characters. While Emily and Jason have different ideas about sex when they meet, they resolve their differences with little more anguish than they would resolve a difference of opinion about which restaurant they should patronize tonite. Katherine has little to make you like her. Jason is just too good to be true.

However, in the second half of the book Gable pours on the NFP and Catholic information. We listen to this young engaged couple discussing papal documents. We hear Emily practically quoting Couple to Couple League material on NFP. We learn about her spiritual director and listen to them talk about the Church's teachings on sexuality and childbearing. In short, the book becomes very preachy in the second half.

If you are looking for a pleasant carrier for a treatise on Catholic sexual morality, this is the book for you. If you are looking for a well-written novel, unfortunately, this is not one.

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