Readers bring so much to the table when they pick up a book, whether we realize it or not. Our expectations, experiences, and tastes determine so much what we receive when we’re reading.
I was reminded of this when discussing recent release The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck.
When the opportunity to review Bethany Turner’s debut novel came up, I jumped at the chance. I had been told that this was an edgy approach to Christian fiction, that Turner’s voice was fresh and funny. It had been pitched to me as a perfect read for the fans of Sophie Kinsella and Helen Fielding (of Confessions of a Shopaholic and Bridget Jones’s Diary fame respectively)—two of my favorites, so I figured this book was pretty much my guilty pleasure cup of tea.
Here is what I loved about The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck:
- Turner is a just-plain-talented writer. Her voice is strong, especially for a debut novelist.
- I laughed out loud a lot—something I’ve never done with a Christian fiction novel (at least not when I was supposed too…)
- The fact that it’s was a light, slightly-edgy, fast-passed, romantic comedy in Christian fiction! The publisher taking a risk in this direction was encouraging.
This said, I was a little thrown that the plot was perfectly set up to subvert the usual Christian romance formula, but then ran into it’s arms…quite literally.
There is nothing wrong with that at all. It’s just not my preference as a reader.
So fast forward a week and I’m discussing my disappointment with a friend who works in the industry who I knew had also read the book. She is much more critical of what she reads than I am, so expected her to be “on my side” in this.
My friend very much enjoyed the book. She also found it fresh and funny. She was pleasantly surprised to see the boundaries the book pushed in Christian fiction.
See, my friend did not have the same pitch I had before the book came out. She instead had it come across her desk while she was working. No expectations—just the book itself. In the midst of Amish and prairie romances she often works with came a smart, modern book with an honest, funny, and relatable protagonist.
And it was true! The book may have been what I thought was formulaic, but it challenged a lot of the genres “rules.” The protagonist was actually broken and relatably flawed. She and her love interest felt sexual desire, but were convicted to actually be aware of it and deal with it—something authors just pretend isn’t a factor in a Christian relationship. The protagonist was divorced and unsaved at the beginning of the novel and her conversion was not an overnight now-she’s-perfect kind of thing. I saw myself and my friends in Sarah’s character and so did my friend.
I had put expectations on this book to be something I don’t think the Christian fiction genre is ready for. But after talking with my friend, I see great value in the strides this book has taken to bring the genre forward, and that I can respect.
Perhaps my expectations were not met, but I honestly look forward to Turner’s next book. Her wit and voice are a great contribution to Christian fiction and I can’t wait to see how she will continue to push boundaries.
I would recommend The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck for readers of Christian fiction looking for a good laugh and a great character. This is a quick read, perfect for upcoming holiday travels.
How have your expectations or preconceived ideas effected how you’ve approached a book? Tell me on the comments below!
Enter to win a copy of The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by giving Bethany or I some love on social! There are multiple ways to enter. The winner will be randomly selected on Saturday, November 18, 2018 and contacted via email. Must be within the U.S. to be eligible to win.