A book review for parents
This contemporary Christian drama by Elizabeth Musser is published by Bethany House Publishers, an imprint of Baker Publishing Group and is written for young adults ages 16 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
When a tragic car accident kills Lissa Randall's mother, Lissa's life comes to a standstill. Many things frighten her now, particularly getting behind the wheel of a car. When she seeks the help of a driving teacher named Ev MacAllister, he and his wife, Annie, take Lissa under their wings. Readers subsequently learn about Ev and Annie's daughters. Janelle is a missionary suffering severe depression, and Katy Lynn, the estranged elder daughter, is a socialite on the brink of divorce. The narrator also introduces Silvano, a young, handsome Italian hungry for money and fame, and Ted, a stockbroker whose desire to succeed leads to illegal trading.
The common thread in the lives of these diverse characters is a mysterious, reclusive best-selling author named S.A. Green. As Lissa, Katy Lynn and Janelle find courage and comfort in the author's books, Ted steals money from the author's portfolio, and Silvano vows to discover the writer's identity and sell an exclusive story on it. Ev and Annie, who have a secret, sordid past of their own, strive to help the other characters realize that life experiences, events and interactions are not random, but orchestrated by a loving Creator. When Silvano threatens to expose Ev as S.A. Green, Ev has a heart attack, which leads to his death. Silvano decides not to write his expose after all. Lissa learns to drive again and goes back to college.
Janelle and her husband, Brian, are missionaries in France. Suffering from depression over the death of her 3-year-old, she often prays and quotes Scripture to herself for comfort and to be reminded of her purpose. Janelle wrestles with God over why He would allow her son to die. When faith-skeptical Katy Lynn comes to visit, Janelle tries to explain that as a missionary, she's not trying to change people's minds herself but aiding the Holy Spirit in changing hearts. People have sometimes mistakenly referred to Ev as a prophet or like Jesus because he has the uncanny ability to predict what may happen to individuals based on their behaviors. Ev and Annie frequently pray about their children, Lissa, people they support and sponsor, and other life concerns. They also pray out of thankfulness to God for the beauty of His Creation and the change He's brought to their lives. Some of Ev's statements, coupled with phrases from S.A. Green's books, cause Lissa to consult her Bible and keep it nearby. After reading S.A. Green, Ted entertains the idea that there may be a God and urgently pleas for help in the wake of his illegal activities because he knows he will be caught.
Lissa's deceased mother is described as someone who always supported and encouraged her daughter's educational and equestrian activities. Lissa's dad, experiencing grief in his own way through most of the book, is cold, distant and easily angered by Lissa's inability to overcome obstacles. He admits, in the end, that he's afraid of losing her, too. Ev and Annie take on parental roles in Lissa's life. They invite her into their home, share spiritual insights and even stay with her when she's contemplating suicide. They also do a lot of volunteer work with a rehabilitation center and support many Christ-centered causes. Ev and Annie have kept a number of secrets about their past from their children in an effort to protect them. For example, they don't tell Janelle about Ev's drinking problems and infidelity before she was born, and they don't let either daughter know that Ev is really a famous author.
Other Belief Systems
Janelle briefly mentions hearing about some of the dangerous incidents taking place around Halloween time in America. She's glad the holiday hasn't taken hold in France, because she fears that French people's interest in the occult would render it a particularly frightening event.
Janelle and Brian refer to Katy Lynn's first visit to their home as the visit from h---, and Ted is sure his talk with S.A. Green will be a trip through h---. The word darn also appears once or twice. Lissa's mom is thrown 20 feet onto the interstate when a car slams into her. Lissa recalls the thud, a scream and the splattering of blood on the pavement. When Katy Lynn's teenage daughter, Gina, learns about her father's affair, she carves "I hate Dad” into her arms.
Several passages suggest that married couples are preparing to have or have just had sex with one another. When Katy Lynn visits France, she buys Janelle French lingerie, and Brian enjoys it. Without much detail, readers learn that Ev was often unfaithful to Annie prior to accepting Christ. Katy Lynn silently mocks Janelle's and Brian's faith and thinks Brian probably secretly enjoys all of the bare-breasted women on the beaches. Silvano tries several times to kiss Lissa on their first date, but she tells him to slow down.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Why do Annie and Ev keep their pasts and Ev's writing career a secret?
If you were one of their daughters, would you have felt deceived, or would you have understood their decision?
What does the Bible say about lying by omission?
Did Annie's and Ev's deceit contradict their Christian beliefs, or did it allow them to live out their faith more effectively? Explain your answer.
- How is Ev teaching Lissa to drive a metaphor for the way God walks through difficulties and trials with us?
What does Ev have on his side of his car that comforts Lissa?
Why is this brake pedal significant?
What does Ev say to Lissa when she admits that she hears voices?
What does he tell her about thinking vs. thanking?
- What key message does S.A. Green try to get across in his novels?
Do you agree or disagree that nothing in life is random?
What has happened in your life to make you adopt this point of view?
- Have you ever suffered from depression or known anyone who has?
What brought on the depression?
Was it a particular incident, or a chemical imbalance?
What are some ways to help and encourage a person who is depressed?
What are some things not to say or do?
How can having a faith in God aid in a person's recovery from depression?
- What is the message in this story concerning alcohol use and abuse?
What happens to Ev because of his alcohol addiction?
What happens to his sister, Tate, because of hers?
Is it wrong to drink alcohol if you're legally old enough?
What are your thoughts on how a person should or shouldn't use alcohol?
- What causes the downfalls of Ted and Silvano?
Do lying and cheating ever lead to long-term success? Give an example to support your answer.
What would God say about their choices?
- Why does Katy Lynn decide not to ruin her husband's life and reputation after he's had an affair?
What does God say about seeking revenge?
Why is it difficult to leave revenge to God?
Alcohol: Many characters, including Christian missionaries in France, drink alcoholic beverages. Ev no longer drinks because of the way his past alcohol intake nearly destroyed his family. He also saw how alcohol abuse contributed to the death of his younger sister.
Smoking: A few characters, including Katy Lynn and Silvano, smoke cigars or cigarettes.
Depression/Suicide: A handful of the characters experience depression in the book or have in their pasts, most due to losses of loved ones. Lissa considers taking her own life on a number of occasions, either by overdosing on her medication or running her car into something. She tells her father she hates him and wishes he had died instead of her mother: She feels if she and her mom had been left alive, at least they could have worked through their pain together. Ev's teenage sister kills herself in a car wreck one of the many times she had been drinking too much.
Drugs: Ev briefly mentions a young man who came to his driving lesson high and cursed at Ev for refusing to take him driving. A few days later, the teen killed a mother of three in a hit-and-run accident.
Lying: Both Silvano and Ted lie regularly to their employers and other people to achieve their career and financial goals. Silvano steals an unpublished manuscript, and Ted steals money from S.A. Green's account to put into someone else's in an effort to cover up his illegal trading. Lissa lies to her dad about where she's been because she doesn't want him to know she's been riding her horse (which he feels is dangerous).
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.