Thursday, November 20, 2014

When Mockingbirds Sing by Billy Coffey

Leah and her parents are newcomers to Mattingly.  Little Leah's severe stutter and shyness, along with her father's career as a psychologist set them even farther apart from the "regulars" of this small Southern town.  A birthday party that starts out as a way to make their daughter feel part of the community instead sets the background for a drama that will test the beliefs of everyone within miles.
An imaginary friend whom Leah calls "Rainbow Man" instructs her to paint a picture and give it to Barney, an older neighbor with a disabled wife.  When he reveals that he saw secret numbers in the painting, numbers which he used to buy a lotto ticket, some people see what happened afterward as a miracle.  Others see darkness and evil.  Leah's father refuses to believe either and his disbelief threatens his marriage and further erodes Leah's fragile emotions.  Allie, Leah's only friend must decide if she is going to believe what Leah has told her or hold to what she's always believed.

Big questions are asked in this story -- about what we accept as truth, about faith, and about miracles.  Barney sees himself as a modern day Job, but when his life begins to change, does he understand what is happening and why?  Pastor Reggie is sure that Leah's miracles as a threat to him and his flock, yet he cannot ignore her presence. On the other hand, if God was going to make himself known, wouldn't he pick someone loyal and deserving, like Reggie?  Dr. Norcross, Leah's father, passionately denies all talk of religion and God, but he's called to a great action of faith.  Coffey's writing style is as complex as the story itself.  At first, I could barely read a page without wondering why I had begun, by mid-book I was finding passages to mark, and by the end, I was enthralled -- rushing to the finish, all the while juggling symbolism and meaning in my mind.  What kept coming to mind were those throughout history who professed to witness miracles, apparitions, and such.  Certainly, they faced the kind of doubt and disbelief that Leah does.  It's hard to put a label on this book -- maybe part allegory?  mystical?  Not the type of book I normally select, but I am glad I read it.

Understanding Coffey's writing style and his take on the "mysteries of faith" would have been easier if I had read THE DEVIL WALKS IN MATTINGLY, the book which precedes this one.  WHEN MOCKINGBIRDS SING was our book club's book for this month and I was anxiously anticipating the discussion.  We are quite diverse in our views and beliefs so I was not sure at all about other people's reactions. Our group met tonight, but being November and our yearly wrap up with a dinner, our normal discussion didn't take place.  Did talk about the book with a few people who ate at the same table as I did -- maybe a couple of us will read the next book which follows Allie into the Dark Woods the next year.  If anyone has read WHEN MOCKINGBIRDS SING, let me know your take on the book.

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