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Softly and tenderly is a story about two families all connected by one woman, Jade Benson. She is in her thirties, married to Max, a Lawyer. She lives near her in-laws June and Reb who are well-to-do Southern folks. Jade owns two businesses and is trying to care for her ailing mother, Beryl who is dying of leukemia. Jade and the family members around her have to grapple with enormous life issues in this 289 page story. There is infertility, abortion, divorce, infidelity, adoption, pre-marital sex, drug addictions, death, deception, abandonment issues and social climbers. Frankly I was overwhelmed. I had a hard time relating to the main character. I couldn’t believe with everything on her plate she was still standing. If I wasn’t reading this book for a review I would have shelved it. But I didn’t and by the end I was glad I kept going.
I really wanted to like this book. I liked the edgy feeling to the book, the very natural and casual voice of the authors. Yet, I found it did not follow a ‘typical’ Christian format. I do not want to open a whole new can of worms, but for a story about all believers but one in the main cast, the issues of sin were handled so lightly. A few characters felt their indiscretions were no big deal. That is fine on page ten of a story but by the end as a reader I want to see restoration. I want to believe that my God is bigger than ALL the stuff Jade is dealing with. And He is, but the story doesn’t actually say that.
I struggled to keep engaged with the plot until almost 100 pages. Then I reached the point where I wanted to find closure. I needed some form of redemption for the weary sinners. This is something I never fully received. There is an undercurrent of Christian themes but not woven in as much as I would like. The characters seem to come back to Christ but there is no actual outward repentance. They simply decide to keep trying. Some of the characters have no resolution at all (June and Reb).
Despite my concerns with the book I still feel it is a good read. The authors have done well in creating authentic issues that real women face. I only wished they had taken a few of them and delved deeper into the heart of those issues instead of cramming them all into one story. Jade does ‘crack’ before the end of the book which helped me tremendously in believing her. However, then suddenly the book jumps to a semi-sorted out “happy ending”. It was too soon. It felt like there were chapters missing. If this young woman has been dealing with some of these issues most of her adult life and some of them intensely for several weeks you can’t just say, ‘okay, I’m feeling better and everything is going to work out fine’. The spiritual journey she was on seemed stunted. Again this is something I feel would be eliminated if the issues were fewer.
After reading other reviews I discovered this book is number two in a three book series. Perhaps the characters would have felt more real to me if I had some history with them. When I read the discussion questions at the back I learned a little more about where the authors wanted to take me as a reader. I only wished I had arrived there before the end of the book.
I will pick up and read the third book by these two authors in hopes of a little easier ride.