Okay! So last month’s reads were more based on, “I need to chill. I need to not think about big things for a while.” So, where I’d normally have read something on mental health or spirituality, I decided to focus more on fiction.
I’ve got several theology-centred books that I’m already working through for August as I prepare to enter into a new season of ministry with Ezer Rising, a group whose agenda I’ve admired since their beginning. I will still write here about my thoughts on faith, evangelicalism, deconstruction, and emotional health. But I will also be more vocal in my passion for true equality in the church between men and women. More details will be released in the coming weeks. Keep your eyes peeled on this site and my social media.
Meanwhile, let’s take a look at what I was reading last month.
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (finished July 14)
This was a little bit different from your average rom-com style novel. It was about a woman named Esme Tran who meets a strange woman one day. This woman has come to Vietnam, Esme’s country, from the USA to secure a wife for her son, Khai. She interviews several ladies and finds herself disappointed in each of them. But then, in a random twist of fate, she meets Esme and immediately decides that she’s found The One for Khai. She manages to talk a very hesitant Esme into spending the summer in the USA with her son to figure out if marriage is an actual possibility.
Khai is on the Autism spectrum. Everything he knows about love and emotion are things he’s gleaned from outside sources. He’s been told his whole life that he doesn’t feel emotions and therefore thinks himself incapable of ever falling in love or experiencing true and deep relationships with anyone. The book follows him as he begins to explore what being in love might mean for him and if it is something he is capable of.
I enjoyed reading a love story from both the immigrant perspective as well as the perspective from someone on the spectrum. These are ideas that we don’t typically see explored in literature, so it was quite a thought-provoking spin. I also loved learning a bit about Vietnamese culture.
My one complaint is that the author did not seem to research how the immigration/visa process works in the current US system. It could be argued that it was a flaw on the part of the characters in the book that these things were not well researched and that, inevitably, these characters would face difficulties not covered in the pages of the novel. However, as someone who recently moved to the USA on what would have been the same visa Esme would have had to use to even enter the country – it was a little bothersome to see old Hollywood tropes used to address these things.
Overall, however, it was an enjoyable read.
It by Stephen King (Finished July 16)
This may be surprising to some, and unsurprising to others: I love scary books. I’ve been reading Stephen King novels since I was about 14. But this is one I’ve never actually read all of the way through. With Chapter One released into theatres last summer and Chapter Two out this year, I thought it was time to change that.
‘It’ is a typical Stephen King novel. A creepy shape-shifting monster that seems indestructible and who is haunting a small town Derry, ME. Only a select few seem to have the ability to understand that something odd is happening and figure out what it takes to defeat this monster.
Stan, Richie, Ben, Bill, Beverly, Mike, and Eddie come together as children to take on the monster they’ve taken to calling, “It”, and ultimately defeat it. They don’t kill It as children, but they wound the creature badly enough to send it into hiding and hibernation for 27 years.
But then the strange killings start to haunt Derry again. So Mike has to call each member of the so-called “losers” club to come back to Derry and fight once more.
I love much of the creepy and scary things that come out of King’s brain, I won’t lie. I know that it’s a good book if I go to bed at night and the nearly demonic images are still in my brain. That’s why we read these kinds of books, right? We want to be scared.
I do get tired of some of the more abusive themes I see in his work, however. Such as the relationship between Beverly Marsh and her father. Its heavily hinted at on more than one occasion that Beverly’s father views her as his personal sexual property. He feels jealousy at the thought of any other male being with her sexually. Beverly’s mother even picks up on it and asks her once, directly, if her father has ever touched her.
There are also multiple scenes when children are actively involved in sexual activity with each other. This includes an entire chapter describing an orgy that includes all seven members of “the losers club” as children.
I do understand that King was trying to create a theme of the loss of innocence each child in this book experienced. And nothing robs a child of their innocence quite like an introduction to sexuality at too young an age or sexual abuse. But as a recurring theme in his work, this does get old (If you want proof of a pattern, click here. But it might be disturbing. Consider yourself warned).
There are other troublesome aspects of abuse and the sorts of deadbeats that seem to frequent the world of Stephen King literature. But, then again, I s’ppose it’s hard to have a scary novel if everyone was a decent human being.
Did He Hit You? By Aubri Black (Finished July 19)
I connected a tiny bit with Aubri over Instagram and Twitter this past year and I always found myself agreeing with so much of what she posts. She’s someone that I’ve come to respect quite a bit. We even lived in the same region, and have at least one person in common in our lives, and never connected until I had already left the country. Life. It’s so funny, sometimes, right?
She just recently published her first book, and I was intrigued to read it. So I snagged a copy for my kindle app and got to reading.
She has such a powerful story to share.
Aubri grew up in the evangelical church. She attended Bible college. She dreamt, like all women do, about finding the love of her life and living happily ever after. But what actually ended up happening for her isn’t something that is often discussed in Evangelical churches.
She met Jay when she was a teenager. There was always something off about the way he treated her. He made it no secret from the beginning that he liked her. Really liked her. He was pushy about being with her, ignoring her many isgnals of disinterest. He manipulated her into dates and into offering physical affection that she did not want to give – such as hand-holding and massages. He pursued her until she decided to give him a chance. He pushed her into marriage quickly, under the guise of trying to get out from under his abusive mother’s thumb.
The pages of this book spell out her story of living with an emotionally, verbally, and sexually abusive husband. She discusses the cloud of confusion she lived under as she tried to keep up with his constantly changing moods and the gaslighting. She describes the progression from verbal abuse to cheating. She talks about being afraid for her physical safety, and the process that she needed to take in order to decide that enough is enough and to finally get away from him.
I think books like this are necessary to help highlight where the church is failing couples. Aubri discusses her abusive husband being elevated to a position of ministry in his church, even when his own church noted troublesome behaviour towards women. She discusses having concerns and suspicions about what was normal vs abnormal behaviour and being dismissed. She discusses having to do the work herself to be able to claim the label of “abuse” to describe her marriage.
The church, generally speaking, doesn’t know how to properly address abuse in marriage. Church leaders often are not educated to understand whether or not divorce is an option for an abuse victim. This is how women (and men) are far too often shamed into staying in dysfunctional marriages. Victims aren’t validated in their concerns about what is normal and healthy, and are often shamed into believing that they are the ones at fault – if they just loved more, sinned less, were more patient, etc… the harmful behaviour would end. Victims are often not even given a label to define what they are experiencing: which is abuse.
I appreciate Aubri’s boldness in, not only advocating for herself, but also in sharing her story. Other abuse victims need to know that they aren’t alone and that they can get help for themselves, and even leave if they need too. They need to know what is normal and healthy behaviour. They need to know what healthy looks like in regards to marital conflict.I pray that the church becomes wiser in this area and begins to advocate for and empower the victims of abuse.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (Finished July 24)
This was a Peak Picks suggestion from my local library. I kept hearing people talking about it, and I was intrigued. So I gave it a chance.
City of Girls is about a 90-something woman who is contacted by a lady asking her one simple question: “Who were you to my father?”
Thus begins a nearly 500-page “biography” of Vivian Morris who turned 19 in the year 1940.
She begins her story by talking about how she flunked out of Vassar College. She was subsequently sent to live with her Aunt Peg in New York City by her WASP parents who had no idea what to do with a young woman who wasn’t measuring up to their expectations.
Aunt Peg runs a tiny and nearly defunct theatre called the “Lily Playhouse”. The scripts are subpar but enjoyed by their tiny and loyal audience. The performers are checked out, but stay because they love the easy hours and the party atmosphere. Aunt Peg is unorganized and unconcerned with the day-to-day responsibilities of running a playhouse, but she has her trusty and anxious partner, Olive, to worry about all of that.
Vivian is quickly introduced to a whole new world, driven by sexuality and alcohol. She quickly discovers her own body and how to seduce strange men. She falls into a habit of late-night partying with her new friend, Celia Ray. She plays the part of a teenager who has just lost the boundaries set upon her by her parents and is now learning how to navigate the world as a young adult – missteps and all.
Shortly after Vivian arrives, an actress from London -well-known to those in the theatre world -moves into The Lily, having lost her home in England to WW2 bombings. Aunt Peg resolves to put on a world-class play worthy of her famous friend’s renown and even calls in her estranged husband from Hollywood to help write and mount a whole new show.
This is when Vivian meets her first real love. Vivian discusses what this was like for her: passion, sex, and everything in between. Eventually, things happen and drama ensues, tearing everyone’s lives apart.
Vivian spends the rest of the book recounting how she processed the trauma and moved on with her life.
This was a mostly enjoyable book for me. It was a quick and easy read. It took me less than a week to read the whole thing. However, it did become a little tiring to read so much about Vivian’s sexual exploits. It also did make me wonder, “who the heck is she writing to that wants to know all the graphic details of her sex life from decades ago?”
(The answer to that question was unsatisfactory to me, but I’ll let you decide if it makes sense to you.)
Thats it for July Reads! Let me know your thoughts in the comments if you’ve read any of these books!