I hadn’t recently read the description blurb before I opened Never Leave Me, so I jumped into this Christian indie novella without many pre-conceived notions.
On Page 1, Amy’s dad (sole custodial parent) sweeps her from in front of the TV, across state lines, and dumps her on the doorstep of some cousins she’s never heard of, let alone met (while he flees the police).
Within the next chapter or two, the large, farm-living, “homeschooler” family has shared Jesus with her, and Amy is “born again.”
Within a chapter or two of that, we have a kidnapping, threats of violence, and hints at Amy’s dad’s dark secrets.
So…of all the “indie Christian” books I’ve read, this one probably does the best job at equally balancing raging evangelism with melodramatic adventure.
I did know this was a series before diving in (the “Adventures of Amy”, in fact). So I was perfectly ready to study Amy as a main character…and also anticipated her adventures taking longer than a single book. (Well, sort of. See below.)
However, I did struggle with the character of Amy from time to time.
What’s well done:
Amy is just thirteen. She’s not a superhero, or a detective, or even emotionally mature. When her dad (ahem – the man she’s called Dad all her life!) snatches her away from her predictable life, and reveals on the drive that he’s a criminal, she’s realistically shocked and skeptical.
As traumatic events continue to pile on, she shows relatable signs of stress, anger, panic, and fear. At the same time, her rational side fights with her emotions as she tries to please her new Heavenly Father, and figure out what’s going on around her.
What challenged my disbelief:
Some things are foreshadowed so heavily I saw them coming several chapters before Amy finally tumbles to them.
She also exhibits fanatical devotion to her dad (except when she persuades herself to cooperate with the police).
I understand that family loyalty is complicated (which is one reason domestic abuse situations are so messy). But as a third-party, observing the situation from the outside, I saw plenty of evidence and red flags that left me sighing heavily at Amy. It was obvious to me that the man who had raised her wasn’t all he claimed to be…and while it was realistic for Amy to struggle with this, I think it needed something more.
For instance: later in the book, she reminisces about the good times they had together…piggy back rides, movies, all the things he did to demonstrate his love for her. I realize flash-backs are hard to do well, but if I were writing the story, I would have sprinkled some of those good memories into the narrative early on to remind the audience Amy is adding Dad’s current illegal behavior to his previous loving behavior…and isn’t just blinded by her own love for him.
Speaking of planting things earlier…
Amy dashes out of her home with a single suitcase of clothes. But it never states what those clothes are.
About three-fourths through the book, the author drops that Amy’s wearing a skirt.
This may seem like a really weird thing to bring up, but here’s why. Amy’s seven-sibling cousin family has family meals together, does family devotions, lives on a farm…you can practically smell the Christian homeschooler on them. Thus, it is totally legit for her female cousin to wear skirts.
But worldly, “city girl” Amy?
See, when Amy is (SPOILER) being placed in foster care by a social worker, she thinks about how she’s a different girl now…after her adventures, and after coming to Jesus. She thinks she wouldn’t like the same music as she once did. She’s wearing a different clothing style now…because she doesn’t care about style and popularity anymore, but about pleasing Jesus.
Bringing these pieces together: if the author had made a bigger deal about how Amy dressed in the beginning (being careful to pack her favorite jeans; feeling weird that she’s wearing make-up, but her girl-cousin isn’t) then the change at the end (her cousin was much older than she was, but her old skirt fit Amy perfectly…) would make the character change clear to the audience from the evidence. It wouldn’t just be something the author pulls out of nowhere.
Speaking of character changes, though – Amy’s Christian transformation is pretty deep. Her dad is an atheist (and apparently her mom converted mere weeks before dying in an accident)…but after Amy “gets born again” in the early chapters, she jumps into evangelism with both feet. Within a month of her conversion, she’s led a man to the Lord, and has shared the gospel repeatedly with her relatives (and a few strangers).
Maybe…Maybe coming to Christ at four years old is a drawback. I don’t want to bare my soul too much here, but let’s say that has not been my experience. Not only was I not challenged with evangelism from Day 1 (or even Day 2), but over a year after “getting serious” about sharing my faith with others, I have yet to see a single fruit (in the form of unbelievers showing an interest).
It makes sense that someone who came to faith later in life would be more inspired with the part of Christian discipline that directly led to their conversion (AKA evangelism), and I also recognize that we have different testimonies.
This is just one of those things that’s really hard to balance. Just like real life.
I’ve read stories that were almost horrifying in the way they shoved the gospel to the forefront, at the expense of the tale they were supposed to be telling.
I’ve read stories that wore their evangelism on their sleeve – and carried it with varying degrees of success, but with no misconceptions about what kind of story they were presenting.
And then there’s this story. I don’t think it’d be overestimating to say a full half of the book is devoted to religious/Christian themes. The cousin family is deeply religious…and the need for Amy to “trust God” with her traumatic situation and let Him “keep her in perfect peace” (and perfect King James’ English) is heavily leaned on.
But there’s a lot of action layered in there, with constant kidnappings, evil uncles jumping out of cupboards, guns, child abuse, threats of violence or use of deadly force…it’s like an adrenalin junkie’s playground.
Even the ending, which is stuffed with more religious theme-izing than the rest of the book, has actual story conflict issues to keep the tension and pacing brisk.
For all the book’s missteps, the juggling act between gospel-mission and Impossible-Mission is pretty well-handled.
(I could make you all wait until the next review to see where I was going with this…but that would be really dumb! :D)
I knew this was a series. I fully understood that further adventures were in the wings. And yet…
I mentioned briefly how Amy was such a bad deducer (or the clues were laid on so thick) that the plot twists could be seen a mile off.
Thus, I felt a certain story element was so heavily hinted as to be a foregone conclusion…but the book ends before I could see if I was right!
Not only does the book have a kind of unhappy ending, but if I really wanted to see the resolution of that plot-thread, I have to get the other book(s)!
Blah! Don’t the foolish mortals realize I never pay for anything if I can help it? Why should an author want to eat off their earnings? In vengeance, I shall wreck havoc with their review rating –!
I know about the pitfalls of balancing a series-wide story arc with stand-alone installments. I wrestled with the same thing in the White Mesa Chronicles. In this instance, though, I felt disappointed that something had been so built up, just to have it unresolved at the end.
While I’m complaining…
The professionalism of the book was pretty good. Only towards the end (call it the last fourth of the book) did the copy-editing slip, and petty things like typos and word choice crept into the text.
The author does note at the end that this is the first book she wrote — and it’s pretty good for a first book! My own first publication is not mentioned on my online presence…
Incidentally, for some weird reason, the PDF copy I had went cray-cray on my Nook…and used two different fonts (and size of fonts) on the same page – usually within the same paragraph or sentence! Reading it in the programs on my computer, though, had no issues.
If this really was too long, and you didn’t read it, how did you get all the way down here?
The balance of pulse-pounding action and shameless evangelism was one of the best I’ve ever seen. The characters (especially the main character) were a little clueless. Even the villains had one-track minds…but who expects villains to be rational?
Pick it up, support a young, independent, Christian author, and form your own opinion!
DISCLAIMER: I received a FREE copy of Never Leave Me for participating in the November 2017 Indie Christian Book Sale. I was not required to write a review of any kind, and all opinions are my own personal opinions.
You can find out more about the author on her website – PriscillaJKrahn.com – or in my interview with her here on the blog!
Never Leave Me is available on Amazon.
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