Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book Review: Send Me Down A Miracle

Originally published on August 1, 2012.

Back in January, I read Han Nolan's Pregnant Pause and gave it a rave review. It was the first book I'd read by her, and I've been meaning to read more by her ever since. I just finished her Send Me Down A Miracle, which was named a National Book Award Finalist. However, I came away disappointed.

Fourteen-year-old Charity Pittman is the daughter of a fiery Southern preacher in a tiny town where everyone knows everyone else's business. She seems destined to follow in his footsteps until eccentric artist Adrienne Dabney comes to town. Adrienne locks herself in her old, boarded-up house for an entire month, apparently subsisting solely on fruit juice, as a "sensory deprivation project," which she believes will help her in the creation of her art. Adrienne describes herself as "not a God person," but during the course of that month, she has three visions--all of Jesus sitting in a chair in her living room.

When she emerges from her sensory deprivation and tells the townspeople about her visions, the entire town just goes nuts. Everyone wants to sit and worship at her "Jesus chair." The townspeople are convinced that it can solve all their problems. Charity's father, the reverand, explodes with anger and preaches endless fire-and-brimstone sermons about how the townspeople have gone astray in choosing to worship a "graven image." Meanwhile, Charity is torn between her duty to her father, her fascination with Adrienne, and trying to make sense of her faith.

Several reviewers described this book as "humorous," and while the characters were definitely quirky, I didn't find it to be funny. Charity's father was incredibly angry for the entire book, and I didn't really care for Charity's voice. (That being said, kudos to Han Nolan for her talent in developing her narrator's voices--this one was quite different from Elly in Pregnant Pause, and both were very well-done.) The "quirky" townspeople just made me sad--like Mad Joe, whose twin daughters were dying of sickle cell anemia, or Charity's friend Sharalee, whose mother's obsession with losing weight is causing Sharalee to starve herself (or foray into bulimia, which the book is rather unclear on). Then there's Boo, a little boy who has some unnamed disease that causes him to remain completely hairless and cold even in the heat of the Southern summer. And absent from the story is Charity's mother, who departed for a trip to "visit family" before the novel began--but the reader can assume that she has actually abandoned her children in an effort to get away from her incredibly overbearing and angry husband. The characters put their faith in the "Jesus chair" to help them with all of these problems, and the novel progresses to a tragic end.

The takeaway from the book is supposed to be Charity's contemplations of faith--does God live in the Bible, in a chair, or in the human heart? While I did enjoy her consideration and conclusions, I found both her father and the townspeople to be such misguided caricatures that I couldn't really enjoy either.

In short, I was still impressed with Han Nolan's writing, but I didn't enjoy this story. Before finishing it, though, I did check out another of her books from my local library, so I'll give her another try and let you know what I think. Happy reading, everyone!

* For a review that I enjoyed of Send Me Down a Miracle, you can check out Bookshelves of Doom here.

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