“So Many Secrets. So Many Lies. And So Much Anger.” Yes, the title of this review is a direct quote from the book. Yes, it is during the final 10%, when everything is being revealed and wrapped up. And yet you still have no idea what it actually refers to. 😉 But that particular line really does sum the book up in and of itself. This is a four person family consisting of mom and dad who have been married for over 20 years, 20 yo college dropout son, and 17yo high school junior daughter – and *every single one of them* are keeping secrets from all the others and actively lying to both the other people and themselves. Harding does a tremendous job of showing flawed, nuanced characters just trying to do what they think is right with limited information… sometimes with tragic results. No one comes out looking squeaky clean, and yet no one comes out looking overly monstrous either. Great job of showing just how murky real life often is. Very much recommended.
Complicated Yet Beautiful. Hawker has a way of painting pictures with words that are utterly beautiful, and yet also utterly ugly at the same time. Ultimately, this book reads like a more evocative, more painting quality version of the somewhat similar story David Duchovny created in Truly Like Lightning, even as it seems that both authors were working on these works for quite a number of years. Particularly in their showing of the worse sides of Mormon life, complete with overbearing and hypocritical fathers, this reads almost like as much an attack on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as the character study that it is. And yet, again, the way Hawker executes it here is utterly beautiful in its prose and storytelling. Hawker sucks you in, weaving these plot threads near and around each other before bringing them all together to grand effect. Ultimately the biggest quibble with this entire effort isn’t Hawker’s writing, but the actual description of the book – which leads one to believe certain aspects arguably happen sooner than they do. Indeed, Linda becoming “privy to a secret Aran and Tamsin share that could dismantle everything everyone holds dear” happens quite late (later than 80%, maybe even closer to the 90% mark), though again, the actual execution here is quite solid and indeed allows the book to end in surprising ways that were only very subtly hinted at much earlier. Even Aran and Lucy getting together to begin with seems to happen much later in the tale than the description seems to indicate, though that relationship *is* particularly well developed. Ultimately this is a book that Mormons likely won’t like, people with various misconceptions about Mormonism will probably tout, but one that tells a remarkable tale in the end. Recommended.
Solid Exploration. Once one gets past the rampant (and expected) proof texting and leftist/ West Coast language barriers. Here, Willems makes a lot of really strong points about Jesus, pain, and Jesus’ humanity that many have rarely if ever considered. And thus this is truly a strong book. It drops a star due to the rampant (beginning on page 2 or so) proof texting (which was expected, he *is* a pastor, after all) and I am waging a one-man war against the practice, with my book reviews being really my only weapon. And thus, any time I see the practice in a book I am reading, it is an automatic one star deduction, no matter how strong the rest of the text is. The rest of the text, away from the prooftexting, will largely vary by the reader’s comfort level with leftist/ West Coast language, which is also rampant. To me, Willems could have adjusted the diction in these places to reflect more inclusive – see what I did there? 😉 – language and arguably made a stronger book as a whole. As it is, the book reads a bit political with its talk of privilege and context and intersectionality, among other terms, even as Willems actually repeatedly makes the point that if you’re looking to politics for solutions, you’re looking in the wrong place. So ultimately the book will likely play better in certain crowds than others, and truly YMMV with the text solely based on the diction Willems uses. But ultimately his actual points are sound no matter your own political bent, and that is the very reason this book is recommended as highly as it is. Seriously, don’t let Willems’ word choices have you throwing the book out the window in disgust, keep reading and auto-translating in your head. It was very much worth it, at least for me. Truly a strong book with a couple of quibbles, it is still very much recommended.