Carol Lynch Williams
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In the midst of her devastation over a break-up, Sarah realizes something isn’t right with her twin. Annie has been withdrawing from the family for some time, but her behavior seems to be escalating. She chops off her hair, gains weight, and gives up the beauty pageants she once lived for. Though shy and socially anxious Sarah has always been jealous of the way her parents favor Annie, she begins to worry about her sister. Sarah pushes toward her sister, and finds that in return, Annie reluctantly opens up to her.
The writing style was the first thing that captured me in this story. The voice is strong, conveying Sarah’s inner agony and Annie’s mounting frustration with aching clarity. There was one moment at the beginning where I felt like the story was a bit repetitive in describing Sarah’s reaction to her family’s interactions. Other than that, things moved forward at a great pace, and I tore through the story in one sitting of just a few hours.
Annie’s weight gain dramatically changes the way the other students interact with her. While Annie feels that her new look is a shield against unwanted male attention, she also endures some hateful behavior from other kids. The exploration of body image and how weight affects the way others perceive us is important. Williams doesn’t shy away from the sad reality there. Annie eventually decides to return to her old look, and while I get it, I found myself wishing somehow that there had been a bigger pause, a bigger moment to say that it really doesn’t/shouldn’t matter what her weight is. Returning to her slimmer figure doesn’t increase her actual value, though it functioned as an indicator of Annie’s rising sense of her own value – she’d been hiding behind those extra pounds and shedding them would be like facing an enemy head-on. It showed real courage.
The resolution was a bit quick. All the way through the story Annie hints that she has a secret. It smells like sexual abuse, but we don’t find out what it is until the big reveal maybe three-quarters of the way through the story. Once this comes out, Sarah takes some action to protect her sister. Following this, we get kind of a summary of how everyone responded and what happened after that (visit spoiler section if you want to know more.) I felt like some of that was a bit rushed and didn’t allow me a chance to soak in the characters’ emotions in what was a really big moment.
I loved watching the sisters’ relationship develop. As a girl with two sisters, one close enough in age that we were often mistaken for twins, the tug-of-war Annie and Sarah experienced in terms of establishing their own identities and finding ways to connect despite their differences and pressure from parents or friends felt extremely real.
As I read, I found myself looking for the spiritual tie-in. Though this is a Zondervan book, there was not really any link that I could see to pursuing a Christian faith or even searching out questions about whether God is real or anything like that. I found it a bit puzzling, to be honest.
Sarah recalls time spent with her boyfriend snuggling in his bed (clothed), kissing, and sneaking in/out of each other’s rooms. (see below for additional content which includes spoilers.)
Shocked? Me too. Despite the fact that Zondervan is a Christian publisher… I can’t remember faith really playing any sort of role whatsoever in the story.
SPOILER (select the text below to read…)
Sexual content continued… Annie reveals that she’s no longer a virgin and that she’s had sex with a married man, even after she told him no. It’s a quick conversation and there’s not a lot of follow-up information.
While I appreciate that we weren’t dragged through the gory details of Annie’s relationship, I kind of felt like the resolution of this information, which the whole story has been building up to, was too quick and too many things were left unsaid. We have enough infer that it’s a bad relationship from the brief information Annie reveals, and there’s a brief wrap-up letting us know that this guy isn’t going to get off scot-free. I just felt like it needed to be a bigger moment. I wanted to really feel Annie’s parents realize what’s been happening and see them respond to her with all the shock, horror, and protection, rather than just have Sarah tell us that was so.
There are so many Christian moms that ask me on a regular basis how to find clean *good* books for their kids to read. I don’t think they are looking for in-your-face Christianity, but they want something with a good message and an author they can trust without having to read the book themselves first.
That’s why I think a site like this is so important. You are reading/reviewing a wide range of books and are very clear about what the book contains so parents/readers can make up their own minds. I do think there is a market for Christian YA, but publishers don’t want to commit the resources to seek it out.
Thanks, Jennifer. 🙂 As a parent myself, I’m in the same boat. I want to encourage my daughter to read all kinds of books but not give her things that I think are inappropriate to her age or experience. I hope posting my reviews helps other parents and readers, too!
I think you’re right about there being a market for Christian YA out there somewhere. There is definitely a readership, and I’m sure a lot of frustration now that it’s so much harder to get hold of Christian books. There’s so much emphasis on tolerance right now in the general YA market and on creating a welcoming environment for diverse books. I hope that at some point there’s a place within that market for solidly written YA that has Christian characters, too. I’d like to see it happen.
Oh, missed the update! What are you writing?
I’m working on a contemporary YA novel of my own. Putting some finishing touches on it in prep for the YARWA Pitch Party. We’ll see how that goes. 🙂 Thanks for asking. 🙂
I completely agree with you. Unfortunately, those “canned” scenes and weird terminology are what make Christian novels unappealing. I think when faith, bible stories, and the gospel are written about in a fresh way they can make an impact. It’s harder for sure, but not impossible!
Totally agree with you.
Was considering reading this book, thanks for the review, Kasey! I find it interesting too, that so many of today’s Christian YA novels are devoid of faith. They are more feel good/moral based. But, as a YA writer myself, I am constantly aware that one wrong word of “Christian-ease” thrown in will turn off even Christian kids. It’s a fine line of walking in the world and giving the reader some real meat at the same time.
Thanks, Jennifer! I know what you mean about finding that fine line. I find myself cringing when I encounter scenes in fiction that make spiritual experiences seem cheap and canned or inaccessible due to weird terminology. On the other hand I can’t help feeling like censoring ourselves as Believers draws really near to the proverbial hiding the light under the bushel. There’s got to be a middle ground somewhere. In a YA market clamoring for diversity, it seems to me that the Christian viewpoint should be more valid, not less, when it’s presented with openness and authenticity. I hope there’s a future for Christian YA.
** Updated – I don’t mean that every Christian writer needs to write Christian novels. Just that if we’re afraid to do so, it says something about us. I’m wrestling with this a bit myself, so I don’t mean to sound judgmental. I’m mostly talking to myself.
I’ve pondered over it too, Kasey. In this “don’t shove your beliefs down my throat” mentality people have these days, how can I spread Christianity without being direct?
I don’t feel people are afraid to write a Christian book, they just haven’t figured out the best approach yet. We’ll all take our turns till someone gets it right.
I agree with you– it’s hard to find that balance between sharing faith and not turning readers away. I think one of my fav examples is Peace Like a River, which I’ll admit did have this sort of mythical overlay to the spirituality in it. What I loved was the way the author related his experiences in this unapologetic but non-confrontational way. He’s just telling a story, and a Christian man happens to feature largely in it. Leif Enger leaves the reader to draw his own conclusions and take or leave any of the ideas presented. I liked the indie novella The Girl Who Played Chess with an Angel for similar reasons.
I think right now in both mainstream and Christian markets it’s VERY hard to write Christian YA. A lot of houses just don’t publish Christian YA– there’s no place to sell it– and the ones that do, like Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, seem to be moving toward books with little or no direct Christian content. So I do kind of disagree with you that people aren’t afraid to write Christian YA. If you’re a writer seeking traditional publication, there just aren’t a lot of venues right now for your work to be published and promoted. I know for myself, it definitely makes a difference in what and how I write.
Which I guess brings me back to my comment about that fine line between it being okay to write secular stories vs. hiding one’s lamp under the proverbial bushel. I do hope people keep trying. Writers, publishers, the whole gamut. I know there are a lot of people with a passion for Christian YA. I wish I had answers for how to bring the readers and the books together more effectively.