Thursday, May 21, 2009

Novel Review: My Hands Came Away Red

My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay.

I need to reveal two things here at the beginning. First, I generally loathe Christian fiction. Check that - I generally despise fiction that is published by Christian publishing houses. I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe I find the stories too tame, unrealistic, or cliche. Maybe I prefer novels with more subtle Christian undercurrents like The Hobbit, Out of the Silent Planet, Peace Like a River, etc. Maybe (and more probably) this is just part of my general reaction against the profit-making machine that is the Christian subculture. So a natural question would be, "Why in the world did you read this book published by Moody?" That leads me to my next point.

Second, when Alida (my wife) and I moved out to Southern California we had a hard time finding a church. When we finally did we put down roots in an adult education class at Lake Avenue Church called Crossroads. During one of our first visits we met this very interesting and intelligent young woman named Lisa. She helped us feel welcome in the class and held our interest with her funny banter and Australian accent. We became friends very quickly. Well, after some time had passed we discovered that among other things Lisa was an author and that her first book was going to be published by Moody. Therefore, we simply had to read it! So my opinion of Lisa's book is clearly biased but I want to share it with you anyway!

So this book centers around a quirky girl named Cori who decides to go on a mission trip. Her adventure leads her to Indonesia, where she and her new mission-trip friends assist a church there in various ways, including through the construction of a new building. Unfortunately for the characters (but fortunately for the readers) all hell breaks loose as these teenagers find themselves in the crossfire of the religio-political battle between Islamic and Christian factions in Indonesia. Just as the building they work so hard to erect is burned to the ground, their psyches are smashed to pieces due to the horrors they see and experience. The characters are forced to rely on one another and God as they attempt to find their way back to their homes.

My honest opinion of the book is that it was a fascinating and fast read. Sometimes when you hear that a book is a page-turner you might think that it must be light, beach reading or something like that. My Hands is certainly not a light read! In fact, the book and its themes have weighed on me for quite some time (it probably didn't help that I read this book shortly after returning from a mission trip to Cambodia!). However, the way that Lisa builds the tension in the story makes the reader want to discover the fate of these kids. Therefore, I found myself up at ungodly hours reading this book when we all know that I should be getting my beauty sleep!

Another major strength of the book is the honesty that Lisa exhibits as she navigates the sensitive political and religious terrain of Indonesia. From my limited exposure to Christian fiction this is the exception, not the rule. In our post-9/11 world, painting Muslims, even fundamentalist Muslims, in a negative light is not only easy but seems to be popular. The reader of My Hands can plainly see that Lisa attempts to enlighten the reader to the long-lived religious drama that has rocked Indonesia's world for decades.

All in all, you should read this book if you have time...and I'm not just saying that because I think that Lisa is awesome (which she is by the way)! No, I say that because she has penned a first-rate novel!

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