Tackling Doubt after Divorce: Not Your Typical Chick-Lit Novel
I rarely read chick lit, but I couldn't walk past the Jesus bobble head on the cover of Sarah Healy's Can I Get an Amen? without flipping it open. And after reading the first few pages—which include apple juice at Sunday school, Christian camp and friendship bracelets, and "a Match.com type of deity" who wants to have a "relationship with you, Ellen!"—I decided to take the book home.
I finished Healy's debut novel, out recently from NAL Trade/Penguin, in an afternoon, and considered it one well spent. Though it deals too realistically with some touchy subjects to fit well in the Christian chick lit category, the book is shot through with a faith both complex and charitably cast.
Four pages in, a four-letter word answered my first question: why Healy hadn't gone with a Christian publishing house.
The story deals with the broken lives and messy relationships surrounding recent divorcee Ellen Carlisle. The book follows the 31-year-old's move back home with her cheery, conservative Christian parents after Ellen's husband leaves over her inability to conceive.
As Carlisle tries to rebuild her life, she faces an outspoken mother who, for instance, asks for public congregational prayer for the divorce and infertility, a father who keeps secrets, a gay brother, an outcast sister, and old high school friends and enemies with unexpected adult problems. At first, Ellen copes with her divorce by flirting with strangers at bars as often as she can. When one such evening nearly ends in disaster, she meets a man named Mark. Throw in a few faith-based twists, and you can probably take the enjoyable, albeit somewhat predictable, plot from there.
There are a solid half-dozen reasons Healy's book would never make it to the shelves of a Christian bookstore. Can I Get an Amen? covers nearly every hot-potato social issue, including adultery, abortion, homosexuality, and suicide. Rather than painting these topics in black and white categories, Healy gives them human faces and compels the reader to think through them as they affect real people. Ellen makes mistakes throughout the book as she struggles to move on from her divorce. And she must also come to terms with the Pollyanna-ish faith of a mother whose first words after the divorce are, "I know that you can't see it yet, but this is all a part of God's plan for you."
In fact, Ellen's mom is one of the book's surprises, a character who could easily have been the target for a big joke but instead is cast respectfully. Ellen's mother is kind and compassionate even while dealing with demons of her own. Too often it seems like lit—of the chick variety or otherwise—makes faith into a label that means a character should instantly deserve your respect or derision, depending on the book's publisher.