Opinions, Emotions, and Authors: A Story of My Response to Francine Rivers

There’s a lot of hype among Christian fiction readers over Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love.  Originally released in 2005, the book is still ranking high in the genre’s sales states 12 years later.  In my cursory search today, I found the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association ranked Redeeming Love as seventh on its February 2017 fiction sales list.

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Allegorically a retelling of the biblical story of Gomer and Hosea, Redeeming Love has a strong theme of grace woven through that has, according to many reviews, powerfully depicted God’s mercy for His children.  I’ve got a lot of friends and acquaintances that place this near the top of their favorites list.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who decry the work for various reasons including its redundancy, poorly written prose, and a too overt message.  There’s actually a great review (and resulting comments thread) found here that provides diverse and well thought out opinions on the matter.  It presents various opinions on the writing and on the subjectivity of readers – both of which contribute significantly to the reception of any novel.

But Redeeming Love is not my main concern in this entry.  Instead, this launches me into a discussion of one of my strongest opinions regarding fiction in general and Christian fiction in particular:  Authors can be widely varied in their talent, creativity, and success at fusing moving plots with spiritual themes.  I’m not referring to the wide variation between various authors (that’s certainly obvious).  I’m talking about the wide variance in any one author’s entire body of work.

For me, Francine Rivers is a prime example of this.  Years ago I read Redeeming Love because I was interested in the acclaim it was getting from many directions (including some of my own acquaintances).  What I discovered upon reading was an overly emotional and frustrating novel that all-to-obviously tried to humanize the reality of God’s grace.  I was not impacted by the novel.  It did not grip me.  And I have never once recommended it to another reader.

Despite my distaste for Redeeming Love, however, Francine Rivers is still an author I respect.  Why is this?  It’s because of a trilogy I read years before embarking upon Redeeming Love.  Rivers won me over when I first read A Voice in the Wind.  In some ways, this story grabbed me because of my love of history.  The first century setting and its vivid descriptions immediately pulled me in.  img_9712-2

A Voice in the Wind is a lyrical story about a Jewish girl, Hadassah, who is sold into slavery after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  While serving a Roman family who treats her well, she discovers what it means to serve, what it means to love, and what it means to cast out fear through faith.  In some ways, it’s a coming of age story of a girl who has lost everything to war and struggled through the realities of feeling lost and alone.  In another way, it’s about the faith required when trying to follow the teachings of Jesus in a culture that scorns his name and those who try to follow his teaching.  It is about clothing strength with humility and clothing servitude with love.

This story, which is actually told through three books (though only the first two closely follow the character Hadassah), still moves me upon every re-read.  I can identify with the emotions and struggles of the young slave girl and I enter into her world with verisimilitude that goes unbroken.  In a lot of ways, I wonder how Redeeming Love was written by the same author as A Voice in the Wind.  How can one book move me so fully while another leaves me so unfulfilled?

I’m not certain of the answer.  It might rest in plot choices, changes in writing style, or even my own personal frame of reference.  Somewhere in there, though, is a reason that A Voice in the Wind grips me.  And, ironically, it may be the same reason it failed to grip a friend I recommended it to.

So I depart with two thoughts:

1) If you enjoy historical fiction, the kind with vivid detail, I highly recommend giving Rivers’ Mark of the Lion trilogy a try.  Especially if you’re looking for a story that aims to challenge your faith.  I’ve yet to find anything in the CBA market that’s quite like Hadassah’s story.

2) As you embark in the world of Christian fiction (or even fiction in general), I’d recommend giving any author more than one shot.  If you disliked the first thing you read from them, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll dislike the next.  And vice versa.  No author should be judged based on one work, for good or for bad.  Writing is, after all, a very fluid work.  Writers develop and change over time.  You may even find their purposes altered.  I’ve disliked just as many of Rivers’ works as I’ve enjoyed.  Her Bridge to Haven was another allegorical novel that fell far short for me, while The Atonement Child intrigued me with its fascinating indictment of the Christian church and how it analyzes the church’s response to and lack of support provided to unwed mothers.  I’ve come to realize I can’t predict which of Rivers’ offerings I’ll like or dislike, so I strive hard not to rush to judgment for any of them.

In the end, authors work hard.  Some may appeal to you and some may not.  But it’s worth giving some a second or third chance.  You might be surprised what you find.

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7 thoughts on “Opinions, Emotions, and Authors: A Story of My Response to Francine Rivers

  1. Abigail says:

    Just found your blog through Sibella Giorella’s pingback of your post on CF. So glad I did! Thank you for articulating so much that has been floating around in my head–its like you’ve taken a tour of my thoughts on CF in the past 10 years. haha.

    I’m in my mid-30s and devoured CF as a teen, didn’t have time to read in college and then as adult have struggled to maintain interest as I’ve now experienced real life and found most CF lacking.

    Although, I keep trying. I will give new authors a chance, but most of the CF authors I continue to read have gone mainstream or are self-publishing at this point: Susan Meissner, Sibella Giorello. Jenny B. Jones, and Kristen Billerbeck to name a few. Christa Parrish is A-MAZING and still in CF but she hasn’t pubbed in a couple of years. And then there is Lisa Wingate who I LOVED before she switched from mainstream to CF and now she seems to be headed back to mainstream (or so it looks to me).

    I’m a yet-to-be-pubbed writer myself and I have no clue whether an agent would even take myself because it’s got too much God-stuff for the mainstream market, but too edgy for the Christian market if Lifeway is to be my jury.

    Oh, and re the above post: I wouldn’t call myself a Francine Rivers fan, but Mark of the Lion and Atonement Child are two that really left their mark on me. I would consider rereading them.

    And yeah, Bridge to Haven was a DNF for me. Sad.

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  2. Kate says:

    Abigail,
    It’s possible you’re my fiction soulmate. 🙂 Thank you SOOO much for taking the time to read and respond. It’s been a huge encouragement to me tonight. 1. Your story is so much like mine. Voracious CF reader in my earlier years. Less in college (darn all that required work…), and now, I’m SO much pickier. Like you said, it probably has much to do with the new outlook I have now that I (also) am in my mid thirties. Seriously, are you sure you’re not me?

    I’m going to have to check out Susan Meissner now – and Christa Parrish, too. I’ve read a couple Lisa Wingate (her CF) and wasn’t thrilled. But now I’ll have to look into her earlier stuff.

    I’m definitely still a fan of those Francine Rivers novels. The Mark of the Lion as well as Atonement Child. But I haven’t found another Rivers novel that moves me like those do. (Seriously not surprised Safe Haven was a DNF for you).

    Have you read any Kristen Heitzmann? She’s another author I love. I started with her Diamond of the Rockies Series and loved it. But one of my absolute favorites is Indelible.

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  3. Abigail says:

    Yes! I did read Kristen Heiztmann–her earlier stuff, but not any of the historical that I recall. Maybe one. I liked her Rush of Wings series and also the Michelli series–the first one the best. I liked how she turned the gender roles on their head but still pulled off a hugely attractive male hero. 🙂

    Re: Wingate. I ate up all of the Tending Roses series–accidentally reading the last one first (A Thousand Voices). They are a bit slower paced and more realistic that a lot of Christian Fiction. They have elements of faith but they are mainstream, not religious, fiction. I really liked that combination–they were like Literary light I guess? I’ve discovered I like “upmarket” fiction, but true Literary, not so much.

    When she came out with her Daily Texas Series, I nearly wrote Wingate off my list of “must-buy-when-this-author-publishes-a-new-book-even- though-I-can-barely-afford-to-feed-my-family,-I-must-also-feed-my-soul.” Ugh. The first one was DNF so I didn’t even try the others.

    And then she redeemed herself with each Moses Lake book, and then recaptured me for certain as a loyal reader with the Carolina Heirloom series (although, there are some in that series I like much better than others). Try the Story Keeper or Firefly Island. Lots of mystery, some romance, and some humor. 🙂

    Oh, and here’s my blog, which I haven’t written in really since my daughter was born. LOL. http://abigail-matthews.blogspot.com/ I don’t have much time to write anymore so when I do, it’s on my novels, not my blog. 😛

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  4. Kate says:

    Yes! I echo your sentiments on the Michelli series! You’re also ingriguing me about Wingate. I tried that Daily Texas series. Evidently that was my problem. 🙂 Thanks for the suggestions so I have a better starting point for trying her works out!

    Also, thanks for the blog address! Going to head over and take a look. (And seriously, blogging takes TIME! This one only started because of one of my last master’s classes…but so far I’ve been keeping it up, because I’ve had a decent amount of encouragement to do so. But boy, some weeks it’s a lot harder to do that than others.) Good for you, prioritizing the books, though! What kind do you write?

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  5. Abigail says:

    So you inspired me, Kate. I’m rereading one of my favs when I was a teen: the Thoenes. Did you ever read any of their series? I picked up the Vienna Prelude (Book 1 of the Zion Covenant and the very first Theone book I read at age 13) and am about a third through. I’m enjoying it, although it feels differently reading it as an adult–I’m sensitive to different things now.

    Maybe I’ll resurrect my blog and post on it. 🙂

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    • Kate says:

      Abigail, so how was it? Did you remain enjoying it? I know which books you are talking about but never read them myself. For me, I was inspired to begin reading The Cubicle Next Door Again. 🙂 Got sidetracked by a big house move, but I’m a couple chapters in.

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