Perhaps some of you, like me, have been following Rachel Coker's amazing story for the past several months. This home schooled young lady received an offer of publication from Zondervan for her finished manuscript Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words--that's not surprising. What is surprising: she received the contract at the age of fifteen. After its successful run in the months since its publication, Zondervan plans to release her next work later this year in December. Needless to say, all author-wanna-bes are pointing to her story as a ray of hope in a sometimes discouraging field. But recently, I had the pleasure to go beyond her publication story and secure a copy of her book through our ever-obliging library system. Does it stack up to all it's claimed to be? Let's find out.
14-year-old Alcyone Everly spends her days coping with a sick mother. Such a problem would be difficult for any young teen, but add the fact that it's mentally debilitating, and it's terminal, and you have the set-up for a tragic situation. The visits from neighbor Sam Carroll, who's close to her age, don't offer much comfort; but her drawing and her writing--along with a talent for piano and a love for Emily Dickenson--add a little sparkle to otherwise grey days. Allie is fiercely loyal to her mom, trying to protect her growing childishness from the eyes of curious neighbors. But she knows that the end is growing closer, and when her mother falls and sinks into a coma while Allie was talking with Sam Carroll at the door, it only takes a few days before she dies. Allie is devastated--orphaned--and if Sam Carroll hadn't come, she might have been there to save her mother. An adoption agency takes her after the funeral to her new home in Maine: and her new mother, Miss Beatrice Lovell.
She determines three things: Maine will never be her home, Miss Beatrice will never be her mother, and she will never forget her real mother's memory.
Miss Beatrice is a Christian, and Allie definitely isn't. Her Christian father walked out when she was a small girl, and her mother told her: Christians will make you feel loved--make you feel wanted. But they don't mean any of it. Allie's held tight to this advice ever since, and this added dimension creates further tension between the two opposites. Miss Beatrice simply keeps praying that Allie's heart of stone will be turned to a heart of flesh.
Gradually she adjusts to her new life. 1939 fades into 1943, and finds her writing in her ever-present notebook: poems, and letters to "Mama". She's graduated from high school, close friends with another girl, Charlie Cooper, struggling with the same relationship problems with Miss Beatrice. Then, in the midst of the growing tension surrounding the war: Sam Carroll shows up in Maine to visit his aunt. And he remembers her.
'Nuf said. :)
Coker's book, though it's fairly short and not too complicated, had a quality that kept coming back and teasing my mind. Because it's her first novel, it has a good mix of worth, and elements yet to be worked on. I'll discuss a few of them below:
It's clean, it's concise, it's straightforward--Coker doesn't compromise on language, she knows her plot and she sticks with it; and she doesn't get sidetracked by each one of her characters. Though I enjoy complicated tomes, I liked the fact that this was 250 pages of just one story. Allie. That's it. It was easy to concentrate, and fun to read on the beach. (Yes, I did.) I have heard some reviewers criticise Coker for her straightforward conclusion, but personally, I think that best fits the plot style she chose. It's a straightforward problem, and the solution is--straightforward. So why shouldn't Coker use that one? Is it "unrealistic" to have someone come to their senses and choose the right, rather than choosing all the wrong options first? I don't think so. Some people do find resolution the complicated way, but not everybody does. And it's okay to have a predictable ending. Another criticism was, again, that her conclusion moved to fast. But as I read all of part two in one day, I got a bird's eye view of the story, and again, I would say that the pace of the conclusion fit the pace of the plot. Coker doesn't string it out. It happens, we move on, it happens, we move on, etc. It wouldn't make sense to pause for a long time over the end conflict when all the other conflicts along the way have been solved fairly speedily.
Elements yet to refine--Allie is not a Christian; Coker presents that well, I think, in portraying her unsaved heart throughout her thought life. This tactic is the safest way to leave no regrets that you've made your character too bad. Mostly, her thoughts are ones of self-sufficiency. She doesn't need adult help, adult council, or adult care. I think that most readers will recognize that Allie is not a Christian, and that her thoughts are poor because of this, but if they do not, I would clarify that they are meant to show a poor example. I would say, however, that I think a different adjective than "prissy" might have been chosen in her silent criticism of the adults around her. That's going a bit farther than I prefer.
The only other point I would have to offer is Sam's relationship with his parents. The conclusion Coker gave left something to be desired, and made it look like Sam wanted his parents approval, but he was going to follow his desires regardless. Perhaps this wasn't the case and I mis-read it, but the potential for misunderstanding on the part of her readers does exist. It's not okay to place your desires in life direction before your parents' blessing. God will give you both, if you cry out to Him for favor in their eyes. He controls the heart of authorities, and if it is His will for you to pursue your dream, than He will grant you the support of your parents before you pursue it.
The best element by far--Coker's descriptions of the town, the ocean, the houses Allie lives in; they were all well written. I felt as if I could see every one of them. I loved her references to songs of the times; (while I might not listen to them, they added the 1940s flavor excellently). I think, with only a couple of exceptions, she pulled off the time period which she was aiming to portray. Well done.
My ultimate encouragement for her (as a reader, not an expert) would be the following: She has great potential, and I look forward to seeing further works. I like the fact that she isn't following the mainstream Christian idea of making every issue so complicated. Allie has a right choice, and a wrong choice. She doesn't struggle with "grey" areas, situational ethics, etc. Some critics find this too simple, but I think it's unique and a worthy style to preserve. I enjoy struggling through a book with the above themes upon occasion, but not every Christian author should think it's an indispensable element. Coker will do well as long as she keeps the voice God has given her, and doesn't give in to the mediocrity of mainstream Christian fiction: namely the cliche (every book the same), the starstruck (every character has all their wants fulfilled), or the romance (childhood friends fall for you every time). I don't think she will as long as she reads the best literature has to offer, and continues to press for biblical excellence.
I have found only one other author of teen fiction I enjoy following. Coker made it two. And as the years pass, and God leads her, I look forward to seeing her grow as she seeks his leading in her writing dream.
I recommend Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words for a great weekend read. And all author-wanna-bes take heart: if God controls the hearts of kings, then he also has the publishers in His Hands--no matter your age. :)