Monday, June 2, 2014

"Bridge to Haven" Review

Left under a bridge to die as an infant, Abra Matthews knows what it is to be abandoned. As if that wasn’t bad enough, at the age of five, when a tragedy occurs, the family who rescued her as a baby decides to give her away to another family.

Pastor Ezekiel Freeman regrets every day that he had to allow Abra to live with the Matthews family after his beloved wife passed away. Since finding her under that bridge in Haven as a newborn, he knew she was something special. He and his son, Joshua, watch from afar as Abra grows into a beautiful young woman – but still a girl who feels as if everyone and everything in her life has disappointed her, including God.

Following a bad boy to Hollywood, Abra thinks she has found her escape from Haven. But what she finds in the alluring world of movies, glamour, and the rich and famous turns out to be a prison like she never imagined. Will she ever be able to find that bridge back to Haven – to those who love her and to the One who has loved her from the start?

I have read a few Francine Rivers novels over the years, starting with the popular Redeeming Love several years ago. I have enjoyed her novels, but I haven’t been able to read as many as I would like. When I saw that she was coming out with a new one, though, I jumped at the chance to review it. My book club is reading this one later in the year, too, so it will be neat to hear what they think about it as well.

To me this novel seemed like a blend between Redeeming Love and Her Mother’s Hope. Most of Francine Rivers’s books focus on the same themes of forgiveness, love, and redemption, and these themes are woven seamlessly throughout the novel. She is so talented at working the gospel and God into the story and into the characters’ lives without it coming across as pushy or unrealistic. The best example of this in Bridge to Haven was when Abra encountered Murray and Mary Ellen during her time in Hollywood. Both of these characters were able to connect with Abra and be that light for God in her dark world, and they were able to do it without being pushy or fake. They loved Jesus, and they showed it in their daily interactions. I think this was almost my favorite part of the novel, even though it wasn’t a huge part in the book.

I also really enjoyed the secondary characters in this novel. The residents of Haven were real and made the small town come alive. I especially liked Mitzi, Abra’s friend who encouraged her to play the piano. As a girl who grew up playing hymns almost from day one of piano lessons, I absolutely loved that part of the story. I so appreciated and identified with how those old hymns would just pop into Abra’s mind when times were hard to give her comfort and peace.

The overall plot in this book is not necessarily surprising. You can see where it is going the whole time, but with these sweeping saga-type novels, the story is really in the journey. You might be able to see where it is going to end up, but the path that the characters take to get there is what makes the story. And this is where Francine Rivers excels. I did think this one got to be a little long, especially towards the end. I was ready for Abra to hurry up and get there, but that, of course, would not have been as realistic.

The romance in this book is part of the story, but it is definitely not the main plot. Abra’s story of grace and redemption is the main focus. It’s kind of refreshing to read a Christian fiction book every once in a while that isn’t so wrapped up in the romantic plot. That being said, the romance in this story was not quite as good as I had hoped. [SPOILER ALERT] The story was fine, but I just could not get over the fact that the romance was between two characters who had been raised for five years as brother and sister. Now, I understand that they were not actually blood relatives and that for those five years Abra was a baby and small child. But Joshua was not. He was five when Abra came to live with them and was ten when she went to live with the Matthews family. I just found it too much of a stretch that he could ever think of her as anything other than a little sister. [SPOILER OVER]

I also feel I should warn readers that this is not a light Christian story. It is real and brutally honest in its portrayal of war, sexuality, and abusive relationships. If Redeeming Love is PG-13, this one is even more so. I especially thought the last sexual scene was way too descriptive for a Christian book, even though it was within the boundary of a marriage.
Even though there were things about this novel that I had trouble with, the story as a whole was completely engrossing. At times I just wanted to yell at Abra to run back to Haven. It was so interesting to see from Abra’s perspective how she didn’t feel that anyone loved her, even though so many people did. It is a true representation of how we too often run from God when we should be running to Him with open arms to receive His grace and mercy and forgiveness.

I will give Bridge to Haven … 4 BookWorms.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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