Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Need You Now by Beth Wiseman

Darlene and Brad Henderson leave big city Houston for small town Round Top, Texas, hoping that a simpler country life will be a better environment for their three teenage children.  Despite their strong faith, all is not storybook perfect.  Middle child, Grace, is having problems fitting in at the new school and finds herself trapped in a secret world of cutting to alleviate her anxiety. The couple's son seems to have attracted a "perfect" girlfriend to both Brad and Darlene's relief since his circle of friends in Houston was a deciding factor in the move.  The parents' delight over the new girlfriend just shows how totally in the dark parents can be. 

As the children seem to settle into their new lives and Brad handles his longer commute and busy tax season, Darlene becomes restless.  For the first time since she became a mother, Darlene finds a job outside the home working as an aide in a private school for special needs children.  There she becomes attached to the young autistic girl she is teaching and eventually makes friends with the girl's father, David.  When Darlene and Brad finally find out about Grace's secret, their own relationship becomes estranged.  Darlene believes Brad blames her for missing signals of Grace's problem, and she feels she must quit her job.  Resentments on both sides build, and Darlene finds herself confiding in David and then regretting their growing closeness.  How can she save her marriage and keep her daughter safe?

I listened to this book on cd as I sewed.  It's a busy time of year for me and finding time to actually read is a chore.  I always like when I find an audio book that keeps my interest.  This was an easy listen, but I don't think it ranks high for realism.  I liked the friendship that blossomed between Darlene and her aloof neighbor, but I had didn't buy the whole "get a job - family goes bad - quit a job routine."  First, Darlene gets a job as a teacher's aide in a specialized school when she has no education or credentials for that job.  Then, in the story, the author keeps referring to her as a teacher, not as an aide.  Having been a teacher for my career, I was somewhat offended by that lapse, but mostly I was upset because I know the training that even aides who work with autistic children go through.  To have a character have that kind of responsibility and then so easily quit, I felt was a little too unrealistic.  All around us are families that have big struggles; many families face emotional catastrophes such as Grace's and yet having a parent quit a job just is not an option.  Real families must juggle counseling, emotional toil on the family, all the while still maintaining their workloads.   I questioned the author's choice to have Darlene quit her job, when she then kept writing scenes in which Darlene left the kids alone while she went to town (where she would run into Dave). For me, it did not compute!  I would have bought the mother's choice a whole lot more if she had spent her time taking the kids camping, horse back riding, or even painting the house!  But then those activities would not have been conducive to the plot of having David become a problem in her life.

At first I was tempted to say that Wiseman did not create a strong enough "problem" behind Grace's actions, but unfortunately I know that smart, talented, well-liked teens who look like they have it all on the outside can be a mess of skewed emotions on the inside. There is somebody like Grace is almost every school. And the author's portrayal of a strong marriage suddenly going sour under the strain is all too true. 

Beth Wiseman is known for her Amish novels and this was a first attempt at contemporary fiction.  Personally, I probably have a higher standard of expectation when I am reading contemporary Christian fiction.  I want it to jive with the world I see around me. I want a strong sense of authenticity in the characters. their choices, and how their faith affects those choices.  I hope that Beth Wiseman continues to write for both genres, but I will be expecting a deeper story next time.

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