31/08/2013

Helen Sloane's Diary [Heaven Help Helen Sloane] (by Jeff Lucas)

I have very much enjoyed the books I have read by Jeff Lucas, since being introduced to his writing a few years ago. He has the gift of making quite profound, thought-provoking points in a light-hearted way, sometimes tinged with humour. I like his style of writing, his self-deprecating anecdotes, and his honesty about his faith - or, sometimes, lack of faith.

So I was quite excited when I first realised that he had written a couple of fiction books, albeit in diary form. I have long been a fan of Adrian Plass’s ‘Sacred Diary’ series, and while I didn’t suppose it would reach quite those heights, I looked forward very much to reading ‘Helen Sloane’s Diary’ when I received it as a gift.

Jeff Lucas, according to the blurb on the back of the book, has ‘got in touch with his feminine side’ in creating the twenty-something Helen who decides to keep a journal of her life and spiritual progress. And that’s where my first niggle begins… she doesn’t feel entirely female. I don’t know if this is because I know she is penned by a man, or whether there’s something about male writing that shines through.. but I had to keep reminding myself that she is supposed to represent a typically confused young adult. It did get easier as the book progressed.

There is certainly much to ponder, as Helen asks some difficult questions and tries to work out what God wants her to do. She’s very eager to find a boyfriend, and there is more than one possible candidate… the likeable James, who co-leads a house group with her, the rather arrogant (but very good looking) Kristian, who leads worship at her local church, or Aaron, the guy she dated some years previously, but who has lost his faith entirely and now dabbles in the New Age.

But while I could picture these young men quite clearly (even though Kristian is a rather unpleasant caricature) I had a much harder time imagining Helen’s female friends, one of whom has no faith, as far as she knows, and one of whom is a gushing over-enthusiastic Christian of the kind that I personally would have avoided at all costs if I were Helen.

There are other minor characters too, including Helen’s parents whom she mostly gets along with very well. They are involved in one of the subplots - involving council campaigns - as Helen tries to start a youth group and agonises over whether or not to continue with her house group. She attends a Christian festival - although she doesn’t write all that much about it - and has long chats with her pastor’s wife.

It’s certainly a very readable book, with a shocking climax that was extremely poignant, and perhaps too close to home for me in my current circumstances. The ending worked - it gives some finality but is also somewhat open, without most of Helen’s wishes granted. It thus paves the way for the sequel which I have on my shelves and plan to read soon.

I think I would have enjoyed it more had the blurb not described it, among other things, as ‘frequently hilarious’. I did smile once or twice, but nothing made me laugh aloud, and I did not find any of it particularly funny. To be fair, the blurb also calls it ‘moving’ and ‘insightful’, both of which I found to be the case.

On the whole I would recommend it - just don’t expect much humour.

Note: 'Helen Sloane's Diary' has been republished in the US with the title 'Heaven Help Helen Sloane.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 31st August 2013


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