28/10/2013

The Calling of Emily Evans (by Janette Oke)

Janette Oke is, in my view, one of the better writers of that strange genre of American Christian fiction. Possibly because she is Canadian! I’m all for having Christian values in a book, and seeing real stories about ordinary followers of Jesus. I’m less enthused about having direct gospel messages thinly disguised as conversations, but I guess the American evangelical publishers require it, so I just skim over those sections when I read a book from that genre.

However, Janette Oke's plots and characters are usually well developed, with - very often - a solid and interesting historical background. The writing is usually fairly simple - they’re teenage books, really - but I have no problem with that. I love re-reading books for children and teens, so long as they are good stories.

Unfortunately, 'The Calling of Emily Evans' was not one of Janette Oke's best works.

Still, let’s start with the positives. It was free for my Kindle. I downloaded it just before going away for a couple of weeks, despite having a couple of hundred unread books already, and I read it at bedtimes over about a week. It passed the time pleasantly enough, and certainly didn’t keep me awake.

The story involves a girl (Emily) who feels called to be a Bible teacher. She goes to Bible college, and although she is quite frail and not as intelligent as some of her classmates, she eventually graduates and is sent to look after a small, dilapidated church in a village where there has been no pastor for many years. The exact date is not made clear but it feels as if it was about the turn of the 20th century. Trains exist; cars do not, or are very rare.

So far so good, and it was, in general terms, a fascinating account of a period of American history which I knew little about. I was quite surprised to learn that girls were sent out to look after churches, even though they were expected, sooner or later, to get married in order that their husbands could be the ‘real’ pastors.

Unfortunately, there really wasn’t much story. Emily arrives in her new post to find herself not really welcome at all. The church building and her own home are falling apart through disuse, and not many people are eager to help. So she sets to work, and gradually builds up the trust of some of her neighbours although others remain suspicious... but there wasn't a whole lot of character development.

It was obvious from that start that she was going to succeed in her duties eventually, and that she would probably marry one of the young men who appeared in her life. However the majority of the book just charts her day-to-day life, introducing a large number of people whom she gets to know, but whose personalities were too thinly described to be of much interest. I could barely remember from day to day who each person was - and, worse, it didn’t really matter.

All of which probably sounds over-negative. It really wasn’t a bad book; I kept reading, and it fulfilled a useful role for me. But it wasn’t very well written, and there was nobody I really cared about. Even Emily was not particularly likeable. The ‘religious’ parts were a little over-done, in my view, and the ending too sudden (albeit not unexpected).

So, I wouldn't really recommended this, unless you like this writer and are interested in this kind of situation. Or if you want something undemanding that costs nothing for your Kindle. (Links, as ever, are to the paperback versions).

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews


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