Today I'm joining Modern Mrs. Darcy 's monthly "Quick Lit" linkup, where we share short reviews of what we've been reading.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. This novel begins with the words "Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet" -- Lydia being a sixteen-year-old girl, and "they" being her family, the Lees. As her parents, Marilyn and James, and two younger siblings, Nathan and Hannah, deal with the devastation surrounding Lydia's mysterious death by drowning, they are forced to confront family secrets and deceptions. Marilyn, whose own dream of being a doctor was unfulfilled, has tried to push Lydia in that career direction, while James has insisted on Lydia having the social popularity that he, as a Chinese-American growing up in Ohio, missed; now they both face guilt and regret. And the younger children have their own suspicions of why and how Lydia died, involving an enigmatic neighbour. Ng is so skilled at weaving all the characters' different voices together and combining a sense of mystery with the poignancy of the family's loss. This is Ng's first novel, and it's excellent.
The Life We Never Expected: Hopeful Reflections on the Challenges of Parenting Children With Special Needs by Andrew and Rachel Wilson. The Wilsons, who are on the leadership team at their church in England, write from their experiences of parenting two children with autism -- both of whom developed quite normally and then regressed and lost skills at around 3 or 4 years of age. This book is not a chronological narrative, but a series of reflections, each written by one of the parents, highlighting different aspects of their journey. One chapter is simply a day-in-the-life; another addresses lament; another explores suffering; another is about lack of sleep and how not having their prayers for sleep answered has affected their faith in God; and so on.
I've read quite a few books on special needs parenting, and I haven't seen anything like this one. It's totally real and honest (I had many "me too" moments), funny, and encouraging.
I have a few misgivings about it, though. Theologically, the Wilsons are of the John Piper school; the DesiringGod website is cited at the end as a primse source for their Christian outlook. This gives me pause because I am not a huge fan of Piper's form of Reformed theology (I often find him and others of this theological bent to be "so heavenly minded that they're no earthly good"), and I dislike their complementarian views on gender. At one point the Wilsons describe their struggle with the challenges of their children's autism, and Andrew speaks of how hard it was for him as husband because he could not "protect" his wife from the severe stress she was experiencing. This seems oddto me, that a husband would see it as his role to protect his wife from suffering. Perhaps the reality of their life challenges put a bit of a dent in this husband-as-protector-hero paradigm, though -- which I think is a good thing.
It is also troubling that in some places in the book autism is depicted as a source of suffering which God will one day do away with: "One day there will be no autism and no suffering whatsoever, but until that day, we wait." For autistic people and others who see autism simply as a difference and not as a deficit or disease, this is bound to be hurtful. However, I give the Wilsons credit for acknowledging at the beginning of the book that this is a journey for them, that they are wrestling with the spiritual implications of what's happening in their family, and that the feelings and opinions they express in the book may change at some future point. Maybe their whole concept of autism will change as their children grow up; they may become more attuned to autism identity and advocacy.
Overall, I liked this book very much. I think it would make any parent of an autistic child feel that they are not alone and that there is hope and joy in the journey.
Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark by Addie Zierman. I really liked Zierman's first memoir, When We Were On Fire, which I reviewed here on Quick Lit a couple of years ago. In Night Driving, Zierman writes of a midwinter road trip she takes from Minnesota to Florida with her two little boys -- ostensibly going on a book promotion tour, but really seeking something deeper. Struggling with the numbness of depression, the darkness of winter, and the fact that she doesn't feel God's presence as her Christian upbringing said she should, she hopes that this trip will help her find those feelings again.
Reading Zierman's writing is both unnerving and reassuring, for the same reason: her honest vulnerability. I remember someone saying about another memoir that they didn't want to put the book down in case something bad happened to the narrator while they were gone. I felt that way about this book. I was honestly terrified that she was going to have a car accident after falling asleep at the wheel or texting while driving, and I cringed at her descriptions of screaming at her kids and collapsing in sobs at a friend's house after a book talk. But to me those aspects are what make her so appealing as a writer: that honesty, that sense that she has bravely explored the gap between what we think faith "should" look and feel like and what, so often, it actually is. As Zierman says on her website, "Night Driving is a book for anyone who has ever felt far away from God. For anyone who has felt far from themselves. For anyone groping for faith in the dark."
My current read is Silence and Beauty , a very beautiful and profound book by Makoto Fujimura. That will be a challenging review: stay tuned for next time!
What have you been reading? And have you read any of the books above? Please share in the comments.