Monday, July 29, 2013

Review of Believe by Sarah Aronson

Carolrhoda Books
by Sarah Aronson
Released September 1, 2013
2 Stars

While on a trip to Israel when she was six years old, Janine Freeman was the sole survivor of a suicide bomber. Now she is sixteen, and the man who rescued her from the rubble believes that her broken hands have the power to heal. Janine doesn’t believe in God, and she’s tired of the media stalking her and making her a symbol of faith, or the “Soul Survivor.” How will she find peace in a world that won’t let her be the person she wants to be?

For a novel with such bold ambition and monumental themes, the narrative starts slowly and does little to increase speed from there. The prose is choppy and uneven, bordering on distracting. The setting, Bethlehem, PA is a great example of forced irony. And while the character of Lo, Janine’s aunt and adoptive mother, is a strong, insightful character, she alone cannot hold the action of the book. Janine is a shallow character with little to offer that might invest the reader in her fate. She wants to be a fashion designer on her own merit and not because she is a celebrity. She hardly ever ventures into public without scanning her surroundings for paparazzi so she can avoid them.  However, as stated by her best friend, Miriam, Janine doesn’t “want to be famous, but if anyone ever—for a split second—forgets who [she] is and what [she] lived through—[she] makes sure they remember.” If her friends ask a favor of her, she declines or lets them down. If her fashion design teacher offers solid critical advice, she balks. If she is asked to keep a life or death promise, she blabs. Janine is perhaps the most unsympathetic character ever placed in the pages of a book—she rarely admits fault and enjoys criticizing others. What connections she has are superficial. Even her relationship with her boyfriend, Dan, is one-sided. She refuses to show him affection in public, she only mentions him in the book in passing (he only appears in a few scenes), and when Dan breaks up with her, she shows little emotion, only slight confusion. Certainly there have been unsympathetic characters in literature before, but the difference is that these characters usually experience phenomenal growth through the events and tests they face in the story. Don’t get me wrong, the story has tests. Janine faces difficulty and disappointment, but it is unclear how all of these ups and downs shape her character. Maybe the goal of the novel is to show Janine discover humility and faith, and perhaps the author seeks to achieve this through the novel’s ending. Alas, Janine’s change is unconvincing and falls flat—too little too late. The conclusion only slaps an unlikely ending on a more unlikely story.

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