Monday, 12 March 2012

Like Dandelion Dust - Karen Kingsbury

READ: JAN 31 - FEB 03, 2012

Jack and Molly Campbell enjoyed an idyllic life in their small hometown outside Atlanta with their adopted 4-year-old, Joey. Then they receive the phone call that shatters their world: a social worker delivers the news that Joeys biological father has been released from prison and is ready to start life overbut with his son. When a judge rules that Joey must be returned to his father, the Campbells, in a silent haze of grief and utter disbelief, watch their son pick a dandelion and blow the feathery seeds into the wind. Struggling with the dilemma of following the law, their hearts, and what they know to be morally right, the Campbells find that desperation leads to dangerous thoughts. What if they can devise a plan? Take Joey and simply disappear....LIKE DANDELION DUST.

It's not often that I say this about Christian fiction, but this book was just too preachy for my tastes. I proudly say that I'm a born-again Christian and lover of Christian fiction, but the way that the Christian aspect was woven into this story came across as forced and unrealistic in places. I really wanted to enjoy this book as I'd read glowing reviews of it and cried when I'd watched the movie trailer. I've only read one of Karen Kingsbury's books before, a Christmas novella, and while I'd found it incredibly cheesy I'd blamed that on the shortness of the book and the subject matter. Kingsbury is massively popular in the Christian genre, and while a lot of her storylines appeal to me I just haven't got around to reading any of her other books until now. But when I noticed that this one was in my local library catalogue I requested it and was determined to read it over my intersemester break. The plot really did have a lot of potential, but the way that Kingsbury went about the spiritual parts of the book really left a bad taste in my mouth, and there were a couple of other part of the story that bugged me. 

I didn't hate this book but I didn't particularly like it either. Comparing it to other novels in the Christian market, it's a pretty average story. It could have done a lot more with the subject matter, but unfortunately I found that most of the book revolved around the main characters coming to believe in Christ and not their custody battle for their adopted son. Conversion stories always rub me wrong, especially ones like this that don't seem entirely believable. And in all honesty - I'm already a Christian, and I don't need to read books about other people coming to Christ in order to remind me of Christ's saving grace and how I'm sanctified through my belief in him. I much prefer reading books about Christians who use their faith to overcome difficulties. So perhaps my distaste for conversion stories is why I wasn't so keen on the subject matter of this book, since all three main characters came to Christ during the book. Joey's sections were the most believable, to be honest. And very cute. But his parents' sudden belief in God didn't entirely convince me. 

I also got annoyed at the ways that Beth and Bill kept trying to witness to Molly and Jack, who were clearly uncomfortable with it, and that they wouldn't change their methods of showing their friends Christ's love for them when they realised that their friends just weren't in the right place for receiving God's good news. Sometimes the best way to witness to someone is to show God's love through your actions (especially if the people in question are uncomfortable with you talking openly about God), not preach the gospel every five minutes and refer to everything in life as "God's will". I was particularly annoyed when Beth told her son to share his toy because "That's what Jesus wants". She never explained WHY Jesus wanted people to share their belongings, just that that was how life was. One day, this little boy is going to grow up and go to high school, and when someone asks him why he will or won't do anything, all he'll be able to say is "Because Jesus says I should" and when questioned further he'll realise that he doesn't know WHY Jesus commands such things. I've seen so many children grow up to be disillusioned with the church because their entire lives are ordained by "This is what the Bible says we should do" without any deeper understanding of why God wants us to do such things. 

I fully admit that my uncomfortableness with the preachy sections of this stems from personal experience, but I imagine I'm not the only one who cringed when Beth brought God or church into every conversation with her sister even though it was pushing her brother-in-law away from them. Especially when she prayed for God to show himself to Molly and Jack in his own way, and then continued to pressure them about church and talked about God all the time rather than waiting for Molly to make the first step. I'm not entirely sure what it is, but something just didn't sit right with me in this book. I don't believe that this is the way that God calls us to witness to people, nor did I think that the way Bill and Beth brought church or God into every conversation or thought seemed realistic of Christian behaviour. A lot of what they said felt forced. 

But the same can be said for the non-Christian sections of the book, the ones that dealt with Joey's custody battle. So many times, Molly would be discussing something with Jack or thinking something over and then the text would include a phrase along the lines of "Suddenly, she realised that this would never work out." or "Suddenly, it all became clear to her." or "Suddenly, she completely understood Jack's point of view." Molly had a lot of moments of sudden clarity in this book, and every time she had one of these moments it jerked me out of the flow of reading and forced me to examine the style of writing that Kingsbury used. It's very simplistic, but not in a particularly bad way. But sometimes her simplistic style of writing also utilised simplistic writing devices, such as Molly's moments of clarity, which always came to her suddenly, when she needed them most, and about two lines after she'd been struggling with the issue. I wouldn't have minded if this came up once or twice but this was used frequently throughout the book and really irritated me as it never seemed entirely realistic that two sentences after she'd been worrying about something she'd be able to immediately discern the root of the problem. To be honest, this device was just weird. I'm not sure why Kingsbury constantly used it. 

I realised early into the book that I was meant to be convinced of Beth and Molly's strong friendship, which was constantly reinforced by flashbacks to their childhood and references to special events that they'd shared. These kept being brought up over and over, but when Molly and Beth were actually together, even early on in the book before the Joey situation came up, I didn't see any evidence of this relationship. They both seemed uncomfortable since their husbands didn't get on very well and Beth's faith seemed to have distanced them. And since their friendship was such a vital part of the plot, I think the fact that I wasn't convinced of their relationship stopped me from appreciating other parts of the plot. 

This book wasn't all bad. It definitely gets a star for wrenching my heart during the sections with Wendy and Joey. Wendy was the most convincing character in the entire book (even if I wasn't sure why she was so certain that she would take Rip back when he came out of jail, the social worker was clearly keen to help her there). Her love for her son that led her to want to protect him even though she was desperate to be a mother really touched me, and I even shed a tear in places. I felt much stronger emotions regarding Wendy than I did Molly, which I don't think was Kingsbury's intention. Wendy and Joey were definitely my favourite characters in the whole book, and I also liked Allyson, the social worker who understood the injustice of the situation but felt that her hands were tied. 

I have a lot of bones to pick with this book, and I can understand why some Christians swear off Christian fiction because of its preachiness if this is the sort of book they've read. This book had a lot of potential, even with just focusing on the stories of the two mothers and the decisions they had to make to protect their son. I'm not suggesting that Molly, Jack and Joey's coming to believe in Christ should have been taken out of the book, just that it could have been more subtly woven into the story. Likewise, other elements of the story telling could have been toned down, and others (like Molly and Beth's friendship) needed more work to be convincing. 

I imagine that I'm going to be offending a lot of Karen Kingsbury fans with my review. I totally came to this book with an open mind, but within the first five or so chapters I knew that it was too preachy for my liking. But I persevered as a lot of my friends enjoy her books, and I did enjoy this novel on some level, but sadly not as much as I'd hoped. But I'm not giving up on Kingsbury, and I plan to try another of her books in the future. If you have any recommendations of other Kingsbury novels that don't have such an overbearing message and don't feature conversion scenes I'd much appreciate it! Overall, I'd give this book 6/10 as I did enjoy the main story even if other factors took away from this enjoyment at times.


  1. I agree with your thoughts about Kingsbury's writing. I have read 3 of her books, and 2 of them came across the same way to me. It seemed as if her characters go around telling everyone what to do (believing in Christ, doing the right thing) rather than loving people and understanding where they are coming from, and being an example.

    I do believe as Christians that we have a responsibility to share the gospel with those around us, but there needs to be a point where a person quits beating their friend over the head with it. Sometimes all you can do is pray for them.

    It seems to be so hard for Christian authors to find a balance between preachy and not enough spiritual depth. (We have discussed this before on TCM). I love when I find an author who does this well!

    -Sara Shoop

    1. I'm glad it's not just me who isn't the biggest fan of Kingsbury. I don't want to write her off completely and I'll probably give her books a try again sometime, but I'm getting the vibe that she's probably just going to be one of those authors that I think is "okay" but never really gets above that level.

      I agree, we do have a duty to share the gospel, but I constantly cringed at the way that Beth went about doing it. Her attempts to convert her sister kept driving them apart and destroying their friendship, and like you said, that's probably the point that you need to step back and pray.

      A lot of people really like Kingsbury's novels, and I guess I can see why: they're very safe, Biblically sound and reaffirm what Christians believe. I guess I want books that challenge me in my faith, rather than ones that make me think, "Yep, that's why I'm a Christian." But there are a lot of authors who do spirituality without preaching, so if I continue to find Kingsbury a bit much for me in the preaching section, at least I know that there are other authors that can fulfil what I want from my Christian fiction. Sometimes I'm glad I discovered Christian fiction so recently as there is such a huge variety now to choose from, whereas I get the impression that five or ten years ago, most Christian fiction was similar to the novels that Kingsbury writes.