Earlier this month, author Christa Parrish’s novel Watch Over Me was named the 2010 Christian Book award winner in the fiction category by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. In Christian book publishing, this is a big deal. I reviewed the novel here in the blog back in March, and it’s a well deserved honor.
Parrish’s first novel, Home Another Way, had been nominated for the award in 2008 but another novel was chosen. After reading Watch Over Me, I had to read her first novel. Both books are published by Bethany House, one of the leading publishers of Christian fiction.
Home Another Way is an unusual book; unusual, that is, for Christian fiction. Fromthe first page, the reader meets Sarah Graham, who must be the most unlikely heroine ever encountered in a Christian novel. She’s rude, crude, conniving, obnoxious and totally unlikeable, as in, this is one offensive character. She comes to the small town of Jonah, New York, to claim an inheritance from her deceased father, whom Sarah had despised and hadn’t seen for more than 20 years while he was in prison – for murdering her mother (and you thought your family was dysfunctional). She finds a room at a local inn, gets something to eat, finds a pub – and promptly picks up a one-night stand, whose name she can’t remember the next morning.
I told myself that, if this novel was going to work, there was going to be one massive act of character redemption before the book was over with.
Sarah learns that her inheritance has a catch – she has to live in the town for six months. Since her car’s been stolen and she’s broke, she decides to do exactly that. And in those six months, she finds people she comes to love, values that have been alien to her, someone she’s attracted to romantically, and, ultimately, the truth about her father.
It is a tribute to Parrish that she doesn’t take this story into a clichéd and predictable direction. She could have, and easily. There were several points at which I wanted her to do exactly that. But she didn’t. She kept the story real.
She’s also created a cast of unforgettable characters. From the crotchety Doc who knows more about Sarah’s father than he’s telling, to a very large woman named Memory with a brain-damaged son, Parrish has made what could have been stereotypes into originals.
When I finished reading it, I wanted to say “Sequel! Sequel!” And perhaps there will be, one day. But Home Another Way is the kind of novel that is sufficient without one. It’s a rough, hard story to read. But it’s also a true one.