25 October 2016

Review: The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

Not Christian Fiction

Marybeth Mayhew Whalen’s Amazon biography says she’s the author of The Things We Wish Were True “and five previous novels”. That’s a clue, that The Things We Wish Were True is not like her previous novels, which were all published by CBA (Christian) publishers such as David C Cook and Zondervan.

Instead, The Things We Wish Were True is published by Lake Union Publishing, a general market publisher. And it’s definitely a general market novel. The clues are in the new publisher, the new name (she was previously Marybeth Whalen, no Mayhew), and the disassociation with her previous work.

I’ve read a couple of Marybeth Whalen’s previous novels, including She Makes Things Look Easy (in which the ‘perfect’ titular character turned out to be not nearly as perfect as she looked). The Things We Wish Were True has some of the same ‘feel’, in that it’s a novel about secrets and lies.

It’s told from several points of view—too many, I thought. Most of the novel was written in third person, and I always got the feeling these third-person narrators were hiding something from me, the reader (spoiler: they were). I also got frustrated, because there was no real character change. Instead, the novels were about bringing the character’s secrets into the open and seeing them for who they really were rather than the people they pretended to be (or the people they wished they were).

I also didn’t like their names. 

They were weird, and I know how hypocritical that is, coming from a reviewer named Iola. The viewpoint characters were Bryte (female. It took me a while to be sure), Everett, Jencey (which I thought was a stupid name, until she revealed she’d gone through school as one of two Jen’s in her class, so she was always Jen C.), Lance, and Zell.

The only character I felt was completely honest was Cailey, a child. Cailey was a curious mix of innocent and grown-up, and the only character written in first person. This in itself took a little getting used to, the continual switches between third and first, but they ended up being the best part of the novel for me.

Is The Things We Wish Were True Christian fiction? 

No, not by even the broadest definition. Is it written from a Christian world view? I didn’t think so, for three reasons. First, there was no mention of God or Jesus, no characters of faith (Christian or otherwise). However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the novel isn’t written from a Christian world view, simply that it is Christian fiction (as usually defined).

Second, there was no underlying Christian theme like hope or love or trust or forgiveness. If anything, the theme was ‘fake it until the truth comes out (and the truth always comes out)’. Hardly uplifting, and the ending didn’t satisfy me.

Finally, there were the actions. Several of the characters did several “unchristian” things, like have affairs, and there was no acknowledgement that this might be less than ideal behaviour.

However, I knew going in that this wasn’t a Christian novel, so I shouldn’t discount it simply because it didn’t meet Christian moral standards or include Christian themes.

But I still didn’t like it. 

The names. The points of view. The secrets. The lies. And the writing, frankly, didn’t impress me. It wasn’t bad—and you could argue the way she hid information from the reader was good. But I don’t like unreliable narrators unless they have a reason to be unreliable (like Cailey, who interpreted things from a child’s point of view).

So overall, this didn’t work for me, and I don’t think it’s Whalen’s best work. Ironic, really, as over 3,300+ Amazon reviews shows this has had more commercial success than her previous books (for example, She Makes it Look Easy has a paltry 115 reviews, although both books have the same 4-star average).

Thanks to Lake Union and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.


  1. I'd been wondering about this one, Iola. Appreciated your thoughts on it.

    1. Thanks, Rel. It wasn't my cup of tea, although I've seen other people say it's the best book they've read in ages. I just think her Christian novels were better :)