6 December 2011

Review: Unto These Hills by Emily Sue Harvey

Note: Review contains minor spoilers

When I am picking books to read and review, I tend to limit my searching to those books categorised as ‘Christian’ by genre.  I read more widely than this, but the focus of this blog is Christian fiction, so that is what I look for.  Most of the books I select to review are tagged as ‘Christian’ and ‘Literature & Fiction’, with the occasional ‘Romance’, ‘History’ or ‘Nonfiction’ appearing.  So my excuse for selecting this title is that as it was tagged ‘Christian’, ‘Literature & Fiction’, ‘Parenting & Families’ and ‘Romance’.  Hmm.  The ‘Parenting & Families’ tag should have been a clue, as that is usually reserved for non-fiction titles… I suspect the publisher added a couple too many tags in the hope of attracting readers, a tactic that backfired in my case.

I have certain expectations when I read a Christian novel.  Specifically, the novel will not contain any profanity, sexual intimacy, the novel will have a Christian viewpoint, and the major characters will show some personal spiritual development as they overcome whatever conflict the author has arranged for them.  However, while the while the main character of this book is a Christian (and the author may well be), the book is not Christian fiction, at least not by my definition.  My opinion therefore might be overly negative, because I was expecting Christian women’s fiction, and got something quite different, something that was well-written, but a lot more challenging in terms of language, characterisation and plot. 

I probably should been clued in to this when I read the sentence “Hope oozed through me like an endorphin overdose, one akin (I would much later discover) to o*****.”  Nicely worded, but I don't use bedroom words in polite company, and using the ‘o’ word in Christian fiction is a no-no.  This was followed by a developing relationship between the teenage narrator, Sunny, and her one true love, Daniel.  Unfortunately, their happily-ever-after was destroyed by a rape that used the dreaded phrase “spilling his seed” (and was overly graphic for what I thought was a Christian novel).  Sunny then finds out she is pregnant, and enters a marriage of convenience to avoid the shunning that would befall an unwed mother in small-town 1950’s America.  I really should have given up there, but I was hoping that as this was a ‘Christian’ novel that this would turn around and be uplifting. 

Well, it kind of did, but this is an ‘epic’, so it took forty years, and it wasn’t until the last twenty pages or so that Sunny actually rediscovered her faith in God and came to terms with her past.  Most of the book is just plain depressing as Sunny loses her joy, her feelings, her children and her first love.  Parts of the story are frustrating, as the book flipped backwards and forwards in the storyline so the sequence of events was not always clear, and there were so many characters that it became confusing trying to remember who was related to who (and how).  On the plus side, the narrator, Sunny Atkins, had an engaging voice that was easy to read and kept me reading to find out if she would get her happy ending (well, the book was tagged as a Romance, and that is a pre-requisite!).

Unto These Hills was a real struggle to read and finish, not helped by its length (450 pages in hard copy, compared to most Christian Romance novels which are around 300 pages).  It is also expensive (US$17.95, compared to US$12.99 to US$14.99 for Christian fiction from the major publishers).  The writing is good, but the content is dreary and depressing, and not at all what I was expecting.  Needless to say, it is not a book I recommend.

Thanks to The Story Plant and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

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