Posted May 24, 2014
Originally posted on my blog, ReadLove.
This was my first experience with both NetGalley and Jenny B. Jones (thank you, Thomas Nelson!). I'm happy to report it was a positive one. I don't have a lot of experience reading Christian fiction, so I was a little surprised that There You'll Find Me felt very contemporary. In fact, in the early pages, I was looking for differences to set it apart from similar mainstream releases like Anna and the French Kiss. On the surface, these two titles seemed similar: an American teenaged-girl goes abroad for school and drama and relationships ensue. A hotel heiress whose rebellious ways made her a tabloid star meets a Hollywood big ticket vampire boy. A young Paris Hilton and Rob Pattinson in a Christian book? And Finley is a cynic? The differences were not obvious, but who says Christian books can't be hip and funny?
Luckily, I enjoyed There You'll Find Me a lot more than I did Anna and the French Kiss. This novel succeeds in many areas. It has humor without ever being rude or vulgar. You won't find any underage drinking in this book -- Finley's rebellious time immediately following the death of her brother is mentioned, but we are not given details. Finley's family comes across as loving and supportive. This is a rare treat to see in a teen book! Emotions feel genuine. When Finley is upset, she never sounds whiny. Given that she's still grieving the loss of her brother, her occasionally standoffish attitude makes sense. Her grief gives a context and a meaning to her actions, and Finley is very self aware. Her character is one that many girls will be able to relate to. She's very hard on herself. In fact, one aspect of Finley's personality quickly became bothersome: her compulsive counting of calories! This annoyed me for some time, as I felt like the book was looking the other way. In actuality, though, the novel turns this behavior into a discussion point and successfully deals very plainly and honestly with a difficult subject.
The relationships in the novel were realistic and solid. Love was real. Finley and Beckett develop a legitimate friendship and have good conversation. They forge bonds based on trust and caring. This is no heated, lusty teen angst style romance. Finley's friendship with Mrs. Sweeney also develops in a believable manner. Nothing comes too easily or quickly. The two learn slowly how to trust each other and communicate in a productive way. There is a lot of humor and a lot of heart in the dynamic between Finley and Mrs. Sweeney. I laughed and cried while reading this book, and it's rare for me to find myself laughing out loud or with tears trickling down my face while reading. Have no fear, this is not melodrama; it's more subtle and measured. And you'll cry because events unfold in a way that is neither forced nor manipulated. Additionally, when Finley starts dealing with her emotions, you'll find that Jones does not sugarcoat things or bring resolution too quickly. Isn't this how life works? We struggle and we fight, and we may or may not succeed. But we don't learn to fly overnight. I loved that Jones doesn't oversimplify things.
There You'll Find Me is indeed a Christian book. I think you'll notice some of the differences I've outlined above. The novel succeeds in presenting the story of a girl struggling to find God and hear God's voice during a time of personal upheaval in a manner that is current, subtle, and even-handed. Readers will never feel they are being preached to. Finley's questioning is shown as healthy and normal. It's encouraged. And when Finley prays, it feels like it's coming from her heart and her mouth, not the voice of an authoress on a soapbox. We see characters care for and love one another. I believe they all hear God's voice through their heartfelt efforts to help each other and their desire to know one another. Again, this is life. And as such, any reader should be able to read this book without feeling discomfort or exclusion.
The only quibble I have is a minor one: the author may have taken on too many plot elements. In doing so, some areas or characters are left unexplored or underrepresented. For instance, I would have enjoyed seeing more daily life interaction between Finley and her host family. And though at times, the various narrative pieces felt hard to manage, I feel this was an intentional effort to highlight Finley's struggle: She is trying to juggle grief, expectations and pressure surrounding her music school audition, issues surrounding life and death in her burgeoning friendship with Mrs. Sweeney, her relationship with Beckett, issues with control and self-image, as well as her quest to find God again. That's an awful lot to deal with! But this is a reality many are faced with every day.
I highly recommend There You'll Find Me.
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