January 10, 2019

Jeri Smith-Ready: "This Side of Salvation"

Title: This Side of Salvation [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Jeri Smith-Ready [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary, Thriller/Mystery
Year: 2014
Age: 14+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Fascinating premise. Believable, full-fleshed characters. Open-minded story that doesn't take sides.
Cons: Both Bible quotes and baseball talk are sprinkled rather freely, so you might get tired of them (they're integral to the plot though).
WARNING! Some teen sex, though not explicit or graphic.
Will appeal to: Both believers and agnostics (and even atheists, I swear) looking for a family/friendship/love story with funny touches and lots of depth.

Blurb: When his older brother was killed, David got angry. But his parents? They got religious. David’s still figuring out his relationship with a higher power, but there’s one thing he knows for sure: the closer he gets to new girl Bailey, the better, brighter, happier, more he feels. Then his parents start cutting all their worldly ties in preparation for the Rush, the divine moment when the faithful will be whisked off to Heaven…and they want David to do the same. David’s torn. He likes living in the moment, and isn’t sure about giving up his best friend, varsity baseball, and Bailey - especially Bailey - in hope of salvation. But when he comes home late from prom, and late for the Rush, to find that his parents have vanished, David is in more trouble than he ever could have imagined…(Amazon excerpt)

Review: I'm not a religious person, but I loved this book, also BUT not only because it tells both sides of the story (or maybe even three). I usually stay clear from romance, but the one here was done well AND was integral to the plot. Also, Smith-Ready knows how to write. Is this recommendation enough?

WHATEVER YOU BELIEVE

Writing a book where religion plays a main theme without turning it into a pamphlet for a specific belief (or lack thereof) is not an easy feat. Writing a book that's respectful of any stance on religion, where the author lets the characters tell the story without making any one of them a spokesperson, is an impressive accomplishment. The characters in TSOS cover all the spectrum from die-hard believers, to questioning Christians, to atheists, and even the ones who believe come in different packages (for example, David's friend Kane is gay, but his church doesn't consider it a sin). Each and every one of them - the main ones at least - also comes with their set of flaws and their chance at redemption (I'm using the word in a secular way here), except those who exploit faith for their own profit of course. At its core though, TSOS is not so much a story about believing, as a story about love and loss and the attempt of finding the meaning of life - or one of its possible meanings. And a coming-of-age tale where teens are not the only ones who have to grow into a better, more mature version of themselves. (Oh...and a story about baseball. Baseball is pivotal in the plot, but it's more like a way of life and a moral compass than a mere sport...). [...]

THE REAL DEAL

The main teen characters in this book are all different and all wonderfully fleshed-out, as are their relationships. David and his sister Mara have a strong bond (especially since their older brother John got killed) and are there for each other when it counts, but they can bicker and not always politely beg to differ, just like real siblings. David and his girlfriend Bailey's romance is slow-burn and believable, both in its physical and intellectual aspects. I love it how Mara is into singing AND motors - screw all the feminine tropes, you can dress up for prom and being handy with a wrench at the same time. I love how David is still a virgin (and wonders about the pros and cons of having sex), while Bailey is one year older and experienced, but at no point does she get slut-shamed for it. There's a sex-positive quality in David and Bailey's relationship that is refreshing to read about*. As it's refreshing that David has a gay best friend who isn't just a token. BTW, talking about diversity - Bailey is a vegan, and even that is portrayed sympathetically and accurately, all the while not making an issue out of it, or a "box" to tick.
* (The only time when I thought David and Bailey's romance was going offhand was when they were actually making out and thinking of having sex on the very first day of David's parents disappearance...really? ๐Ÿ™„ ๐Ÿ˜’).

QUIBBLES BIG AND SMALL

TSOS is also a mystery, though it's fairly clear from the start of David and Mara's investigation where it's heading, at least for the reader. Still it's a hell of a ride to follow their attempts at uncovering the truth, and to see all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Plus them bonding further over it. I have to say, though, that once the mystery is unveiled, there's at least one piece of that puzzle that sticks out like a sore thumb - the siblings' parents actions (especially the father's) don't make any sense, in the face of a certain major event. As doesn't the abrupt change that occurs in David and Mara's dad at some point (though the author tries to explain it away).
More quibbles:
  • Bailey uses the word "spastic" (though only while describing a certain air guitar style);
  • Kane's parents are relieved he isn't bisexual - and no one chastises such attitude.
Quibbles aside (and which book doesn't stir at least a couple?), this is quite a lovely story, and the ending is bittersweet and believable, with a ray of hope. And religious or not, baseball fan or not, if you're craving a deep contemporary with realistic teen characters and a refreshing lack of tropes, this is a book I wholeheartedly recommend ๐Ÿ™‚.

For Adult books by Jeri Smith-Ready click here.
For more Contemporary books click here.

9 comments:

  1. I am always scared to read YA books with religion, because the authors seem to attack any and all Christian based faiths. I really appreciate it when an author approaches religion from all sides, which is what it sounds like Smith-Ready did here.

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    Replies
    1. It's easy to attack religion, as it is to write a pamphlet. This book (this author, to be precise) covers all bases without doing either of those things. That's why I can honestly recommend TSOS to...pretty much everyone ๐Ÿ™‚.

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  2. I'm a little bias because I beta read this one lol but I truly loved it. I think it managed to examine religion without denigrating anyone's beliefs and not being *about* religion - even though it was. Does that make any sense?

    I do agree with you about David's dad.

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL, yes, it does of course. Hey, we read the same book and took away the same things from it? How did it happen? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ ๐Ÿ˜‚

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  3. This sounds really-really good, though, not being religious myself, I'm always wary of approaching religious-themed novels, because they can read as preach-y in my experience, particularly Christian novels. There is only one I read and loved, Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu, and if you haven't yet heard of it, I highly recommend checking it out. Such a respectful portrayal of both religious and non-religious characters, deserves to be appreciated more. Anyhow, back to This Side of Salvation - it sounds like another respectfully written novel, so I'll make sure to check it out. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think I remember you mentioning Devoted? I must go and check.

      TSOS has this poignant religious angle (that goes both ways), but is also funny and deep and heartbreaking at the same time as the best contemporaries should be (well, to me at least LOL), with well-developed relationships (mostly among the youngsters). Highly recommended to...pretty much everyone.

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    2. I keep mentioning this everywhere, because I love it A LOT, and it's very-very underrated. I reviewed it, if you are interested - https://reading-is-dreaming-with-open-eyes.blogspot.com/2016/01/jennifer-mathieu-devoted.html

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    3. I remember reading your review now!

      Delete

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