5 Book Reviews

Here’s a sprightly introduction to my reviews of the books I’ve read in the past month.

The God We Never Knew by Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg is a theologian and Biblical scholar who admits that he got well into his adult life and graduate studies before he realized that his understanding of God was warped by assumptions he’d picked up as a child in church.  He proceeded to explore and learn more about God.  He explains how God is in everything and everything is in God.  Because God is always and everywhere present, “…we are already in relationship whether we know it or not,” so prayer is not a magic spell addressed to a distant genie but is simply “consciously entering into and nurturing a relationship with God.”  He explains how this God is easy to reach yet heartbreakingly easy to ignore, describing his own surprising realizations that he’s “forgotten” to pray for a few days in a row even while he’s writing a book about God–that makes me feel better about my own lapses!

A debate over inclusive language brought him a startling insight:

Then someone said, “Well, whatever we do, we can’t use ‘it,” for whatever God is, God is not an ‘it.'”  A thought suddenly occurred to me: The problem isn’t really whether to use “he,” “she,” or “it”; rather, the problem is using third-person language for God.  When do we use third-person language to talk about somebody?  When he or she isn’t there….  God is “the you” in our midst, who knows us already and who yearns to be known by us.

He explains how resurrection differs from resuscitation and says,

Thus Easter need not involve the claim that God supernaturally intervened to raise the corpse of Jesus from the tomb.  Rather, the core meaning of Easter is that Jesus continued to be experienced after his death, but in a radically new way: as a spiritual and divine reality.

Instead of the concept of “salvation” as escaping hellish punishment after death for our sins during life, Borg encourages us to understand that salvation is healing the wounds of existence.  “Some of these wounds are inflicted on us, some are the result of our own doing, and some we inflict on others.”  Our understanding of sin and salvation should be based on this idea of healing what is damaged in ourselves and others.

These ideas are just a small taste of this amazing book!

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Everybody knows that Alice Franklin wound up in bed with two guys at one party, and then her slutty behavior caused the car accident that killed the star quarterback.  The whole town of Healy, Texas, is talking about it.  Four teenagers take turns narrating this book, telling you what they know about Alice and about themselves.  None of them is the stereotyped character he or she might appear to be.  Only one of them cares more about Alice as a person than about what Alice’s reputation can do for him–and even he screws up pretty badly in deciding what to do with what he knows.

I had a great time unraveling the mystery of what really happened at the party, in the car, and in the other situations that set those events in motion.  The book reminded me a lot of the film The Breakfast Club in its vivid depiction of the complexities and miseries of adolescence.

The one thing I found weird about this book is Alice’s near-total lack of resistance to the campaign against her.  I understand that having a fast-spreading rumor spread about you by the popular crowd is so shocking that it’s kind of paralyzing–but wouldn’t she have spoken up at least a little bit, at least in one-on-one conversations with the kids she sort of trusted?  She had a fairly high social status before the first rumor; why did she wordlessly let it destroy her life?  I don’t get it.  But I loved this book anyway and will read it again sometime!

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

This is sort of a novel, sort of a collection of interwoven short stories, about four sisters who moved from the Dominican Republic to New York City with their parents as political refugees resisting the Trujillo dictatorship.  It begins with episodes from the sisters’ adult lives and moves backward into their teen years and childhood, including visits back to the Dominican Republic after they’d moved away.  This unconventional structure basically worked for me, setting up some characters and then explaining how they came to be who they are.  Learning more about Dominican politics and culture was kind of interesting.  Ultimately, though, I didn’t like these people very much or really care what happened to them.

The Goodbye Cousins by Maggie Leffler

Di Linzer, single mom of a two-year-old boy, is returning to her native Pittsburgh more than a decade after her divorced mother kidnapped her and fled to Europe rather than let her father get custody.  Both parents have now died, and Di is trying to resume her relationship with her cousin Alecia, who was once her best friend and is very hurt that Di didn’t try harder to get in touch after she became an adult.  Meanwhile, Di and Alecia are caught up in swirls of chick-lit plot involving love, marriage, babies, Barbies, career choices, dream interpretation, slapstick calamities, emotional misunderstandings, fashion, health crises, self-centered obliviousness, etc.  I didn’t like or understand either of them.  I particularly couldn’t comprehend why Alecia’s workplace nemesis’s estranged husband’s creepy toenails triggered Di to fall in love with him, especially since he was nearly twice her age!  And it had one of those overdone, utterly predictable plot twists.  Gluhhh.

The only reason I read the whole book is that it’s set in Pittsburgh, and it does a really good job of that!  Many local places were depicted vividly and accurately, without name-dropping too hard; it just felt like this plot happened to be unfolding in Pittsburgh, the way so many other stories happen in New York City or London.

First You Try Everything by Jane McCafferty

This novel, also set in Pittsburgh, was much more my kind of thing.  Evvie and Ben are in their early forties and have been together for two decades, but Ben can’t stand it anymore.  He has a solid job now and doesn’t feel nostalgic for the old days when they sold food from a cart and played loud music late into the night.  Evvie’s involvement in animal rights and other desperate causes kind of embarrasses him.  Meanwhile, Evvie is certain that their long history of love and shared experiences–especially, the childhood wounds they worked through together and the way they learned to care for each other–will keep them together forever.  When their marriage is looking rocky and then Ben moves out, Evvie thinks she just needs to try harder.  She gets talked into a scheme so crazy, it just might work….

I loved this very real-feeling story of two imperfect people letting you into their minds (they alternate chapters) and their lives in a real place that’s very familiar to me.  The prose is wonderful, with bits like this:

Ben understood that the house of childhood cast a spell, gave her a form of multiple personality disorder, rendered her all the ages she had ever been inside of its walls. Without him, how was she to navigate the collision of selves?

I have indexed all my book reviews!  Check them out, and take a look at The Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 17 Books Everyone Will Be Talking About This Summer!  Visit the Quick Lit Linkup for more book reviews!

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About 'Becca
author of The Earthling's Handbook, about the environment, parenting, cooking, and more!

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