Thursday, October 13, 2011

Secular Fiction and Christian Fiction

This weekend I went garage saling with my kids as I often do on Saturday mornings.  My mom was with us for the first time.  She was surprised by how many conversations I struck up with strangers.  But, she chuckled about it and told my husband many stories about our adventures when we got home.

One of my conversations was with a woman who has written a book.  She self published it back in 2007.  She's been trying to publicize it and get it out there for the past 4 years.  It was interesting to hear from her how challenging that has been--and how much she's invested in it.  She wrote a book that matters to her.  I suspect that most authors feel that way.   Or at least I hope they do.  During my conversation, I discovered that the book was a fictional story about a young woman who has an autistic son.  The author has an autistic son who is in his 20s now.  Autism is such a mystery and I was very curious about this story.  So, I offered to review it.

Janet Lord Leszl tells the story of a young single parent with an autistic child in her book A Pebble to Polish.  The young woman, Cassie Delaine, is isolated without family or friends.  The story follows her from college through her first days learning that her son is autistic.  There are breaks in time when the story skips ahead to other periods of time in her life.  The story is well written and very true to life.  It does not feel contrived or forced at any point.  It is a good story, but...

I was surprised by my strong reaction to this book.  It was strong in good ways and in bad.  

On the first page, I realized this was not the kind of book I usually read.  It was in the middle of the second paragraph that I caught a glimpse of the main character's personality and perspective on life.  It became very clear within a few pages.  Early in the book there's also a sexual scene on page 15 that I'd recommend skipping.  I think many people would be surprised at this specific recommendation, after all it the scene does not go into all the graphic details of what happens.  Words can be very suggestive and I don't think our minds need to go where this scene leads us.  I've heard romantic fiction described before as porn for women and I do think it can be.  Words are very powerful.

The words used by the characters as they speak to one another reflected to me the biggest way that this book is different than many others I read.  I learned a great lesson in reading this book.  I have read several books over the past few years about suffering.  I have struggled to understand and accept the purpose that God has for it in our lives.  This book kind of brought things together for me.  This explanation isn't going to be very theological, but hopefully it will make sense.  

When Christians say, "Why me?  I'm a Christian.  Christians shouldn't suffer."  Their thinking is not in line with what the Word tells us.  The verse my girls have been learning this week is:  
John 16:33b "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

God doesn't say we won't suffer, but he does say this:
John 16:33a “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace." 

In our lives, we will suffer.  But, that suffering is lessened by God's peace.  Our suffering isn't pointless or hopeless.  That is what I saw in the characters in this book.  As the women shared about their lives with their autistic children, I felt such a hopelessness in them.  They saw their lives as just plain yucky.  Several of them blamed God--which grieved me to read.  A few of them did go to church, but none spoke of knowing the love of God.  I was saddened to hear about how the churches they went to or had visited treated them and their children.  But, I felt it was sadly a very realistic picture.  We are often afraid of what we don't know or understand.  As believers, we need to show more grace and love for people that we do.  

I realized in reading this book that God has lessened the suffering in my life by  giving me peace.
Philippians 4:6-7  " Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

That peace and Christ's love change my life.  In this story, the women feel they only have themselves to rely on.  They're mistaken.  They feel they're alone and on their own.  They're mistaken.  

In the course of the story, Cassie finds support in a group of women who are able to encourage her and help her understand what's going on with her son and what's ahead.  

At the end, the reader could think that Cassie has done it on her own.  She's survived by her own strength that she found within herself.  Yes, she has survived and she is even doing reasonably well.  But, how's her heart?  How is it really?

I'm glad I read this book, I learned a lot about autism and the struggles of parents with autistic children.  It made me realize how much more sensitive, understanding, and compassionate I need to be towards other parents--especially parents who have autistic children.  I also realized that I need to love these children better, listen to them, and care when I have the chance to.

But, would I give this blanket recommendation?  I can't without the caveats I've mentioned in this review... Skip page 15 and skip the cuss words when you can.  Remind yourself on pages 225-226 of God's truth.  Romans 8:28 is a good verse to combat the lies that can creep into our minds.  And remember Jesus' promise in John 16:33.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author for review.

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