Monday, November 29, 2010

Christian Fiction Book Club discussion: The Sweet By and By

The November book club pick was The Sweet By and By by Sara Evans and Rachel Hauck. Participants read the novel and chose one or more discussion questions from the back of the book to address in a blog post. This month's host is Juju from Tales of Whimsy. To join our discussion, link up your post at her website.

Short Review:

I'm not usually a women's fiction fan, but I am a huge Rachel Hauck fan and her collaboration with Sara Evans did not let me down. Like her other stories, this book was filled with her signature multi-layered characters.

Beryl is an aging hippie trying to reconnect with her estranged daughter Jade. Unfortunately, Jade carries a lot of bitterness and anger toward her mother. As the authors deftly reveal her hurts to us one layer at a time, we ache over her past but cheer her on as she finally learns to release the pain.

This is ultimately a feel good story about a woman who discovers God's love for her runs deeper than the wounds on her soul. It had just enough romance mixed with the drama to satisfy this die hard romantic.

Need more info? Here's the publisher's description:
Jade Fitzgerald left the pain of her past in the dust when she headed out for college a decade ago. Now she's thriving in her career and glowing in the light of Max Benson's love.

But then Jade's hippie mother, Beryl Hill, arrives in Whisper Hollow, Tennessee, for Jade's wedding along with Willow, her wild younger sister. Their arrival forces Jade to throw open the dark closets of her past--the insecurity of living with a restless, wandering mother, the silence of her absent father, and the heart-ripping pain of first-love's rejection.

Turns out Beryl has a secret of her own. She needs reconciliation with her oldest daughter before illness takes her life. In the final days leading to the wedding, Jade meets the One who shows her that the past has no hold on her future. With a little grace, they'll meet in the middle, maybe even before that sweet by and by.

My rating:

Warning: This post continues with a frank discussion of the book and includes spoilers.

Discussion Question:

Why does Harlan show up at the wedding? What do you think of Jade's response?

I chose this question because the scene where Jade's father shows up at her wedding was the scene in this book that surprised me the most. It was no surprise that Harlan came (he'd felt God's tug in that direction for a while), but Jade's reaction to him completely shocked me.

This man abandoned her at eight years old, and instead of treating him with wariness or anger like she did with her mom, she fell into his arms and sobbed, "You came for me, I knew you would, I knew you would."

I had no idea that Jade harbored that secret hope in her heart this whole time. I believed she'd given up on him a long time ago. Jade kept a lot of secrets in this novel but that was one she kept from the reader (and maybe even from herself) right up until that moment.

I was surprised, but not in a "that doesn't fit with her character" kind of way. No, it made total sense to me and it just showed how deep old wounds can go. I cried at that point because it seemed God worked things out to give her the desires of her heart.

Further thoughts for discussion:

Recently, Amy Riley of My Friend Amy asked on her blog if there were any books where the main character considers Christianity but ultimately rejects the faith. Mike Duran followed it with a post of his own on the subject, wondering why we don't see more faith rejection in Christian fiction. They asked for examples of stories like that. I never responded because I couldn't think of any.

Honestly, I wasn't even sure I wanted to read a book where a main character rejects the faith. I thought it would leave me without a sense of closure. And as a romance fan, I do love my happily ever afters.

But in this novel, Beryl (the aging hippie) is not a believer. And neither is her other daughter Willow. I actually found myself hoping that she wouldn't have a conversion experience during the story. It would just make the ending too tidy. Maybe the authors thought so too, because the book ended without her choosing to believe.

(Note to Sara Evans and Rachel Hauck: I am not opposed to Beryl converting in a sequel- hint, hint).

So what do you think? Did it bother you that Beryl didn't have her come to Jesus moment before the end of the story?

I found a neat video on YouTube of Sara Evans discussing the characters in this book and its sequel:


  1. Lovely review!!! I think thats the one thing I can take away from this book was the fact the God healed Jades past, however I just didnt connect to the story..

  2. Oh, I so agree!

    The father thing irked me. There is just no way - except that Jade was ready to forgive.

    I was also glad it wasn't too tidy.. but it came close!

  3. What a great question. I was so glad that Beryl didn't have her moment. But I think it will come in a future story now that she has made peace with Jade.

    I liked the father thing even though it did feel a bit rushed.

    Thank you soooo much for your input on Rachel. After reading this I wasn't sure I wanted to try another RH, so I'm glad to hear her writing usually involves some laughs.

  4. I've seen you talking about this book all over the place. I really need to find myself a copy so I can play with the book club!

  5. @Sarah, oooh join us, join us! :)

    @Juju- If someone held me down and forced me to only pick my top 5 favorite authors (a virtually impossible task)...Rachel Hauck would definitely be on the list. Try Love Starts with Elle next.

    @Gina and Tina- I'm getting over to your blogs today to comment. :)

  6. I, too, would like to see more happen with Beryl. And since you've said how much you love Rachel as an author, you've inspired me to put Dining with Joy on my wish list. I've read a charming story where the main character is not a Christian by the end, tho' her teenage daughter comes to Christ. I's Sharon Hinck's Symphony of Secrets. And it's light--it made me laugh out loud!

  7. Hey, thanks for reading this book!

    I love Joy's assessment of Harlan showing up. Spot on. And it was very odd to include him like that. My editor hesitated over it, but we realized it worked and actually added something to Jade's journey.

    I think she wanted to forgive him, and love him. But I wanted him to see he couldn't just walk in and take over. It's why he didn't walk her down the aisle.

    YES, there is more to Beryl in the up coming Softly and Tenderly. I'm telling you all, there is a scene with her that makes me CRY every single time I read it and I've read it at least ten times. I cried when the scene came to me as I was falling asleep one night.

    I can appreciate those who felt we bordered on being almost too tidy in the end. It was a struggle because once we dealt with Jade's big issue, the story kind of "ended" and I just needed to get her married. :) How do you have a happy ending, a wedding, but not tie things up? It's hard to know sometimes. Of course, now that the book is over a year old in my mind, almost two years old, I'd find a way. But at the time, you have to find the best ending in your heart, as a writer, and go for it.

    ;) Thanks everyone!!


  8. @juju, my solo books are more romantic and humorous! These books with Sara have her flavor and input. She likes drama. But she's a natural, gifted storyteller!

    But no pressure, you know, to go out and buy my books, I mean, none, not at all. ;)

    Seriously, thanks for reading this one! I really appreciate it. You all are why I do what I do. Could NOT do it without you!


  9. Rachel,

    Thanks so much for stopping by to offer insight into the story. I love the explanation for why Harlan didn't walk her down the aisle.

    I'm always up for a good cry (they're so cathartic!) so I can't wait for Softly and Tenderly.

  10. Renee- Dining with Joy is on my wishlist too. Thanks for the tip about Symphony of Secrets. :)

  11. Rachel: Oh my goodness! Thank you soooooo much for visiting! I promise promise promise to try one of your other books :) I don't read much contemporary women's fiction but I love books that incorporate humor.

    As for Beryl: Yah! I (like Renee Ann) want more Beryl too. I really enjoyed reading from her perspective. She's the kind of character I never get to explore. I spent soooo much of this book feeling bad for her.

    Will we get more Aiden? I sort of have a crush on him.

  12. Such an interesting take on Harlan's storyline. I hadn't thought of it that way, but now in hindsight it makes complete sense!

  13. Rachel-

    How awesome that you commented!! I picked up Love Starts with Elle yesterday after Joys recommendations.....:) Juju-we'll have to have a book chat about that one!!!

  14. Hey ladies, I just discovered an interesting video of Sara Evans discussing this book and the sequel. I added it to my post above.

  15. I can't tell you exactly how I made my way here because I have been tripping across the net clicking links on book reader's blogs (and supposedly cooking dinner at the same time). At any rate, do you plan to continue your book club on 2011 and are you open to a new member?


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