Years ago, the day before Ellie moved from Georgia to California, she and her best friend Nolan sat beneath the Spanish moss of an ancient oak tree where they wrote letters to each other, and sealed them in a rusty old metal box. The plan was to return eleven years later and read them. But now, as that date arrives, much has changed. Ellie, bereft of the faith she grew up with, is a single mom living in a tired apartment trying to make ends meet. Sometimes she watches television to catch a glimpse of her old friend —Nolan, now an NBA star, whose terrible personal tragedies fueled his faith and athletic drive in equal measure. But Nolan also suffers from a transcendent loneliness that nothing has ever eased. In their separate lives, as Ellie and Nolan move toward the possibility of a reunion at the oak tree, Kingsbury weaves a tale of heart-wrenching loss, the power of faith, and the wounds that only love can heal.
Though Kingsbury is a well known name in the realms of Christian fiction, this is my first foray into her writing. I don’t know what I was expecting but I’m pretty sure this book pleasantly surprised me into rethinking my views on religious fiction.
We start off the book with Elli dealing with her parents’ rocky relationship. The truth comes out about her mother’s affair and subsequent pregnancy, causing the chain reaction of change and sadness in Ellie’s life. One that leads to her disbelief and doubts with God. Her bitter father decides a change of scenery is necessary not just for the family (though just him and Ellie), but to get back at his wayward wife. But his anger at her affects some of the decisions he makes and therefore his relationship with Ellie.
The only part I didn’t 100% love was Nolan Cook. At first I could appreciate his part in young Ellie’s life. He was her best friend and clearly a rock in her unsteady life as her parents’ relationship took a turn for the worse. But after Ellie’s move away and Nolan attained his dream of playing for the NBA, the 11-year promise of two kids just didn’t seem that important. Then again, that could be the cynical part of me since, at the same time, I wanted Ellie to be happy.
Throughout the book, there are constant references to faith. (Which makes sense, given that this is a religious fiction novel.) For anyone who doesn’t like constant indications of faith, this might not be the best choice reading material. But for anyone who doesn’t mind or likes that sort of thing, this is an emotional roller coaster of struggle that delivers that happy ending. The end is a bit naively optimistic considering all that happened through the course of the novel, but that doesn’t mean this book isn’t worth a chance. (Yes, the pun was intended.)
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