Monday, 18 February 2013

Review: The Bridge by Karen Kingsbury

Molly Allen lives alone in Portland, but her heart is back in Franklin, Tennessee, where five years ago she walked away from a man she cannot forget, a rare sort of love she hasn’t found since.

Ryan Kelly lives in Franklin and spends plenty of time at The Bridge—the oldest bookstore in historic downtown Franklin—remembering the long hours he and Kelly once spent there.

Now, Ryan and Molly’s favorite bookstore is in trouble. For thirty years, Charlie and Donna Barton have run The Bridge, providing the people of middle Tennessee with coffee, conversation, and shelves of good books—even through dismal book sales and the rise of eBooks. Then in May a flood tore through Franklin and destroyed nearly every book in the store. By Christmastime, the bank threatens to pull the lease on The Bridge and is about to take the Bartons’ house as well. Despondent, Charlie considers ending his life. And in the face of tragedy, miracles begin to unfold. (Howard, October 2012)

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 (Average)

I apologise in advance, because this review ended up turning into an article about my experience with reading Karen Kingsbury novels. It prompted an interesting discussion about conversion experiences over on GoodReads, if anyone is interested.

Although I'm a reader, writer, reviewer and historian of Christian Fiction, I've barely read any novels written by Karen Kingsbury, who is apparently "America's #1 Inspirational Novelist". Part of this, I believe, is because I discovered Christian Fiction through the Amish and Historical genres, and have only just started to branch out into contemporary novels. Although, technically, Karen was one of the first Christian authors that I read, long before I was truly aware of the scope of the Christian Fiction genre. I read another of her Christmas novellas, Sarah's Song, back in 2009. It was what I would describe as an easy read, a sweet story for Christmas, but not one that particularly stuck with me after I'd finished it. 

But I was prompted by many of my online friends who were big fans of KK to try one of her full-length novels, and checked Like Dandelion Dust out of the library early in 2012. Unfortunately, I wasn't terribly bowled over by this book either, although it is one of the books that her fans typically cite as being among her best works. Like, Sarah's Song, this novel was an easy read, but as much as I liked the concept of the story, I found it very preachy. I love reading novels about how Christians struggle with realistic, contemporary issues and how this challenges their faith and how their faith strengthens them. But I'm not a big fan of conversion stories, partly because I don't get the same kind of encouragement from reading about previously unbelieving people coming to Christ as I do from reading about people who are already Christians (like myself), but partly because I feel like some of these books present an unrealistic idea of what conversion is really like. A lot of emphasis is placed on the moment of conversion, both in Christian Fiction and in many Christian denominations, and this is something I've never had as I grew up in a Christian home and probably made a personal commitment to Christ when I was about seven. But my husband didn't grow up in a Christian family and didn't become a Christian until he was at university. Neither of us can pinpoint the specific time or date when he became a Christian, because the growth of his faith was a gradual experience, that came about through attending church, praying and becoming friends with other Christians. He has a very strong faith, but there was no dramatic conversion moment in his life. I'm sure that some people do have a "conversion moment", and I know that some of these people won't believe my husband's faith is genuine because he came to believe in Jesus gradually, rather than having one giant moment of repentance. I don't doubt that he repented of his sins as he came to believe in Jesus, but I feel like a lot of Christian novels put pressure on people to have a great conversion story, which isn't always the case. 

But despite my struggles with Like Dandelion Dust, I endeavoured to give KK another try, especially since my local library system stocked several of her books, which is unusual in the UK. One of my friends from my hometown mentioned that her local library had stocked The Bridge, so on the off-chance that my library had done the same, I looked the title up and was surprised to find that they'd ordered three copies for our region! Since I'm a firm believer in giving an author at least three tries - especially when she's been as influential to the Christian Fiction genre as KK has - and since my library actually owned her latest release, I decided to reserve a copy and give her another shot.

My first surprise when this book arrived was at how large the font was. I don't have brilliant eyesight, and unless I'm reading from my Kindle, I normally have to wear my glasses when I read. This wasn't the case with The Bridge, and I actually felt self-conscious reading this book on the bus as I was sure the people across the aisle from me could read my book because the font was truly that large! My husband commented that the book looked like a children's book because of the font, and I know what he means. So although this book technically has 232 pages, I think it would probably be more like 150 if the font was a more typical size. Factor in the Acknowledgements, and the blank pages between each chapter, this book isn't that long, even for a novella. Even so, the story felt a little padded-out.

The first 100 pages focus on the backstory of the four characters - Molly, Ryan, and Donna and Charlie, who own the bookshop. Ultimately, I actually found Donna and Charlie's story the most interesting, mainly because I found their pain of losing their bookshop more compelling than Molly and Ryan each reminiscing about their time at college seven years ago. I struggle with stories that focus on characters who have been kept apart for years due to miscommunication and the dreaded Big Misunderstanding, which is honestly my ultimate least favourite plot device. I know that some people will rationalise Molly and Ryan's separation by saying that they were young and immature and only at college, and people their age make mistakes. If that helps more mature readers to enjoy this book, I'm glad for them. But as a college student who got married, wrote a book, became the Fiction Editor of a Christian e-zine and managed a household while finishing up her degree, I can safely say that we're not all like that. Because of our differences, I struggled to relate to Molly and Ryan simply because I would have handled their situation so incredibly differently. But because miscommunication and misunderstandings are such commonly used catalysts in romance novels, I have to assume that I lot of people make mistakes like Molly and Ryan, and therefore a lot of readers probably can relate to them a lot better than I did. 

After the first 100 pages passed and the entire backstory for the novella had been summarised, the story actually got started. Before this point, I was so tempted to give this book 2*, and I actually had to push myself to keep reading. It really just didn't grab my attention. But once the story got started, I actually rather enjoyed it. It's predictable and everything gets tied up neatly in a little bow at the end, but it was a sweet, heartwarming Christmas novella, and I can see the appeal of that. There's not a lot to say about the actual plot, as you know everything has to work out well in the end - it's a Karen Kingsbury Christmas novella, after all! But I do wonder how many people would struggle to get past the first 100 pages of backstory and actually get into the plot itself. 

This story was cute, but very forgettable. And from the reviews I've read, it seems like this isn't actually a typical KK novel. So where do I go from here? I've read a couple of Christmas novellas and one of her standalone books (which are apparently her best works) and I'm still not overly impressed with KK. I feel like I want to give her yet another chance, to see if something does speak to me. She's obviously touched the lives of a lot of readers with her "Life Changing Fiction" (I'm sorry, but who trademarks that kind of phrase? It seems a little odd!) but I've yet to find any of her books much more than sweet, easy reads. I'd like to be able to just catch a glimpse of what makes her such a popular writer with Christian women. As it stands, this book didn't really do that. 

Any recommendations?

1 comment:

  1. Her Baxter family series is good, as is her 911 series. She is not one of my favorite Christian authors. Though my friends love her writing. I guess each their own.