Longing is the third book in the Bailey Flanigan series (following Leaving and Learning, with the final book, Loving, due to be published in March 2012). I haven’t read the first two (although I have read all the previous books right back from the beginning of the Baxter Family books), and I found it easy to pick up any details I may have missed in those two books. However, aspects of the novel would probably be quite confusing for someone who has not read the any of the previous novels, as the whole series (21 books and counting, over more than ten years) feels like a long-running soap opera. For example, one chapter of Longingwas pure Baxter catch-up, with little relevance to the rest of the story, and another scene at the Flanigan house felt like a public service announcement drug warning, as it bore little relation to the rest of the plot.
Bailey is now 22, and is working in Broadway, going out with movie star Brandon while still having some feelings for Cody because the relationship never had closure. Longingis a fun young adult novel, full of contemporary pop culture references to things like Twitter, Owl City and Adele, things I know because I have kids, and which reinforce the youth focus.
I think my problem with this series is that somewhere along the way, it has moved from being a true-to-life problems of normal (albeit fictional) characters to being some kind of fantasy more suited to the teen and young adult audience. The original Redemptionand Firstbornnovels appealed to a much wider age group, and dealt with issues many of us face, whereas Bailey has led what seems to be a totally charmed life in which her biggest decisions have been to act on Broadway or Hollywood, to date the heartthrob movie superstar or the disabled war hero who just coached a high school football team to the state final. Yeah, right. It’s like a Christian version of having to chose between a vampire and a werewolf (I chose the wrong side there, and may have done it again with Team Cody).
It’s not that the books are not good – they are, in a long-running family saga kind of way. It is that I think they have moved away from their original audience. I commend Karen Kingsbury for the way her novels have spoken to people, young and old, and for wanting her newer books to touch young people in the same way as her previous books have spoken to women of all ages all over the world. People have read my Kingsbury books and returned them, saying “that’s me!” because they related so well to what she is saying. But those same people stopped borrowing them during the Sunrise series. I suspect Kingsbury would have been better off creating a new set of unrelated characters for the more youth-oriented Above the Line and Bailey Flanigan novels. And, on a lighter note, I wish that Jenny Flanigan wasn’t quite so perfect. It’s a tough act for us real-life mothers to have to live up to!
If you have read and enjoyed the Above the Lineseries or the first two Bailey Flanigan stories, then you will probably enjoy Longing. If you haven’t, then this is probably not the best book to start with. I would suggest young adults start with Take One, and older adults start with Redemption.
Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.