Book Review: The Highly Sensitive Person

HSPThe first time I heard the term “highly sensitive person” as a personality designation, I felt it sounded like me. When I read the chapter on the highly sensitive in Reading People, I knew for sure that was me. On the self test I scored 25 out of 27. I wanted to learn more, so I looked up the book which started it all: The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron.

Actually, people have been writing about this personalty type since Jung, according to Aron, but she is the first to study and write about it in a major way.

A highly sensitive person is not someone who is extra touchy or prickly. The scientific name Aron coined is Sensory-Processing Sensitivity, not to be confused with Sensory Processing Disorder or Sensory Integration Disorder. SPS or HSP is not a disorder at all, but an innate personality characteristic summarized by the acronym DOES:

D is for depth of processing. Our fundamental characteristic is that we observe and reflect before we act. We process everything more, whether we are conscious of it or not. O is for being easily overstimulated, because if you are going to pay more attention to everything, you are bound to tire sooner. E is for giving emphasis to our emotional reactions and having strong empathy which among other things helps us notice and learn. S is for being sensitive to all the subtleties around us.

HSPs tend to be more aware of subtleties and process information more deeply. As a result they can be easily overstimulated and overwhelmed by things like bright lights, noise, too-busy schedules, too much social interaction. HS is not introversion, though many introverts are highly sensitive.  HSPs are also not neurotic by definition: one difference Aron found was that neurotic people tended to have a troubled childhood, which, combined with their sensitivity, made them more depressed or anxious.

Aron spends a lot of time discussing how higher sensitivity can be negatively perceived by others, especially when an HS companion gets overly aroused. Aron encourages what she calls reframing memories in light of this new information: when someone was impatient with you for being afraid or needing to leave, now you know you had good reason for your reaction.

She also emphasizes the good aspects of being highly sensitive: conscientiousness, being better able to “spot errors and avoid making errors,” “to concentrate deeply,” to process material deeply, being “deeply affected by other people’s moods and emotions, being “especially good at tasks requiring vigilance, accuracy, speed, and the detection of minor differences.”

She likens society to being divided into “warrior kings” and “royal advisors.” The warrior kings are aggressive, conquering, competing. They show initiative, expand territory, crush the competition. The “priest-judge-advisor class” provides balance and “is a more thoughtful group, often acting to check the impulses of the warrior-kings.”

HSPs tend to fill that advisor role. We are the writers, historians, philosophers, judges, artists, researchers, theologians, therapists, teachers, parents, and plain conscientious citizens. What we bring to any of these roles is a tendency to think about all the possible effects of an idea. Often we have to make ourselves unpopular by stopping the majority from rushing ahead. Thus, to perform our role well, we have to feel very good about ourselves. We have to ignore all the messages from the warriors that we are not as good as they are. The warriors have their bold style, which has its value. But we, too, have our style and our own important contribution to make.

Aron goes on to share ways to find balance between avoiding or dealing with over-stimulation yet not becoming a hermit to do so. She also discusses relationships, work, medication’s pluses and minuses, and different types of psychotherapy for those who might be interested in that route.

Personally, though I found much that was helpful, Aron’s style rubbed me the wrong way many times. For instance, she talks about picturing your highly sensitive personality as an infant and learning how to “reparent yourself.” Then she refers to the reader’s “infant/body self” so often the term began to have a fingernails-on-chalkboard effect on me. Some of her approaches are too New-Age-y for my tastes. For instance: “Perhaps the greatest maturity is our ability to conceive the whole universe as our container, our body as a microcosm of that universe, with no boundaries. That is more or less enlightenment.” She suggests an exercise in which the reader is instructed (in more detail) to curl up like a baby, breath from your diaphragm for three minutes, and then “become yourself as a baby.” Another is to imagine “your infant/body self” as a young baby and ask it what it needs. I guess some might find these exercises helpful, but they put me off. I also disagreed with the Jungian concept she describes as an inner helpmate or anima figure or spiritual guide. Discernment is needed in wading through the spiritual aspects of the book.

I disagreed with her about the nature of shyness as well. She says shyness is different from sensitivity, which I agree with. But then she goes on to say “Shyness is the fear others are not going to like us or approve of us. That makes it a response to a situation. It is a certain state, not an always-present trait.” I have been shy all my life, but my reactions weren’t related to fear of not being liked or approved of. When I panicked over being drawn into a conversation, it wasn’t because I feared others wouldn’t like what I had to say: it was because I couldn’t think of anything to say. Probably a lot of that had to do with an introvert’s penchant for being slower to process things. She prefers the term “social discomfort” to shyness, which I could go along with.

The edition I read was updated from the original with new research. Though I would have preferred a more straightforward style, I did benefit from the information and practical tips.

 

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Book Review: Gospel Meditations for Mothers

GM4Mothers Gospel Meditations for Mothers by Chris Anderson, Joe Tyrpak, Hannah Anderson, and others, was just published a few weeks ago, in time for Mother’s Day. Like the others in the Gospel Meditations series published by Church Works Media, this booklet contains 31 one-page devotionals relating to various aspects of its topic.

Topics covered include grace, to ourselves and other mothers; love; criticism and commendation; fear; discipline; trusting God for our loved ones. A sample of chapter titles:

How to Raise a Pharisee
Motherhood Is a Marathon
The Source of Your Strength
How to Clothe Yourself With Love
Show the Joys of Mundane Christianity

A couple of quotes that stood out to me:

You can be certain that every trial God puts in your domestic life is there to strengthen, purify, and mature you (Day 22).

Christ’s call to rest is a call to come away from other masters and submit to Him alone. It is a call to come away from following the expectations of other people and our own sense of performance. It is a call to be conformed to nothing but His perfect image, to allow His nature to mold and shape our own. So that as we follow Him, our souls–just like His–will be free from the weight, free from the strain, free from the feeling of being driven like a pack animal (Day 23).

I’ve read several in this series, and this is a great addition, both encouraging and convicting.

As a father

A section of a recent book I read compared a daughter’s loving relationship with her father to our relationship to the Lord. It’s an apt comparison with many parallels: resting in his love, asking freely for needs and even wants, trusting his protection, etc.

But I thought of someone to whom I had given this same book to read. Her relationship with her father was nonexistent for twenty years (by his choice) and abusive before that. I hoped this ideal father-daughter description in the book did not bring her pain.

When the word “father” comes with painful baggage, the thought of God as a father is not necessarily comforting until we learn the ways He is different.

Someone told me once that it’s impossible for a person with a poor father figure to have a right view of God as a Father. I disagree. If that were the case, none of us would have a right view of God because none of us has a perfect father. Even the very best of earthly fathers is flawed in some way, though some are certainly better than others.

However, I think we all have an ideal father in mind. As a child I had an image in my mind of a father as a kindly, soft-spoken man in a cardigan sweater and slippers carrying a newspaper and a pipe. That was not my father at all. Years later I realized that mental image came from a 1960s TV show.

C. S. Lewis once said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Similarly, I think our longing for an ideal father figure is a reflection of our need and desire for our heavenly Father.

If your father has been a gracious and godly example, thank God for that and rejoice in your father’s reflection of Him. If your earthly father fell far short of perfect, thank God that your heavenly Father never will. He always welcomes His children, loves them, corrects them, provides for them, protects them.

Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.
Psalm 27:10, NIV

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
 he remembers that we are dust.


Psalm 103:11-14, ESV

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories)

Laudable Linkage

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Here are noteworthy reads discovered this last week:

Reaching for the Light. A mom’s struggle to spend time with the Lord and four kids.

Why I Took My Six-year-old Son on an Overnight Trip. Thoughts on Scripture’s instruction, “Son, give me your heart.”

The Hardest Part of Mothering.

Youth Group or Frat House? HT to Out of the Ordinary. Wisdom about youth group activities that humiliate.

In Defense of Preachy Children’s Books. HT to Story Warren. “Kids want to be entertained and delighted. The first thing you can do is erase the words moral, teach, message, and lesson out of your vocabulary…keep authoritative figures, like parents, teachers, or older siblings, in the background. Lastly, never let the adults in the story tell what the main character should do. Remember, it is a sin to preach in fiction.” The author counters this advice with examples from beloved children’s classics, and I agree with her. There was something in me that rose up to meet and welcome moral instruction in stories. It can be overdone, of course. And there are times to let readers realize what the story is about rather than telling them directly. But, “Rather than detracting or distracting from the story, were these passages giving me the names of the lovely ideals I sensed in the characters I admired? Were they revealing to me an eternal, universal world of Courage, Sacrifice, Hope, Joy, Love that, unlike the long-ago and fairytale story-lands I longed to enter, was near at hand for me to dwell in? Could this be why didacticism, properly woven into story, does not ruin but elevates it?”

100 Summer Crafts and Activities for Kids, HT to Story Warren.

And a thought for the day, HT to Jody Hedlund re writing, but applicable to many areas:

Friday’s Fave Five


It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

Somehow we’re halfway through June already. Whatever happened to the lazy days of summer? At any rate, I  welcome the opportunity to reflect on and recount the blessings of the past week lest I forget them completely.

1. Lunch with my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. They invited us for lunch on Saturday. Really enjoyed tostadas and churros, and it was fun to see what was new and play with Timothy in his room.

2. A church potluck lunch after the Sunday morning service. Good food and fellowship.

3. An impromptu family get-together.  We had some leftovers from the potluck, so we invited my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson over to help us work on them. Then my oldest son Facetimed, so we all got to talk a bit.

4. A free haircut. The place I go gives out these cards that you have initialed each time you get a haircut, and the 10th one is free. I forget to get it initialed most of the time, but thankfully my stylist reminds me. This week my 10th cut came up, so I got it free!

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5. Return of our favorite bath aide. Last week our regular bath aide for my mother-in-law was assigned to another area due to one aide being on vacation and another out sick. We had two different substitutes, so the timing was different, and neither of them brought the supplies that our usual aide does. I wasn’t sure if things would be back to normal or not this week, and I was so glad to see the regular lady. I don’t know why they don’t send the substitutes where they send her instead of rearranging so many, but I am sure it’s a complicated business to cover all the bases.

I could add so many more – air conditioning on hot days, root beer floats, good books, music, to name a few. There are good things about every day if we stop to consider them.

Happy Friday!

 

Book Review: A Long Fatal Love Chase

Long Fatal Love ChaseLouisa May Alcott based her Little Women characters to a great degree on her own family. Just as Jo wrote both for a creative outlet and to support her family, so did Louisa. Louisa’s editor asked for a new novel to be published in installments in a magazine, and Louisa came up with A Long Fatal Love Chase. The novel was rejected, however, as being “too sensational.” Two years later Louisa published Little Women, and according to Wikipedia, stayed with children’s stories after that. A Long Fatal Love Chase was set aside and eventually discovered at a rare book dealer’s, bought, edited, and published by Kent Bicknell in 1995.

The story involves teenager Rosamond Vivian, who lives alone with an aloof grandfather. Tired of her boring, confined life and lack of love, she declares, Faust-like, “I often feel as if I’d gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom.” Right on cue, in walks her father’s old friend Phillip Tempest, who bears a striking resemblance to a portrait of Mephistopheles (why Rosamond’s grandfather has a portrait of Mephistopheles is not explained.)

Eventually Rosamond and Phillip fall in love and marry. She knows he has a past and is not a saint, but he has been nothing but kind to her. She feels love will conquer all. After while, however, she becomes aware of some of Phillip’s shady dealings. Unsettled, she becomes more wary. When she discovers that her marriage is a sham and Phillip already has a wife and son, she flees.

Thus the chase in the title ensues. Louisa wrote this not long after she had toured Europe as a paid companion to an invalid, and her experiences  there inform her novel. Rosamond puts on various disguises, travels to different places, receives help from a variety of people, but somehow Phillip and his spy, Batiste, find her every time until the tragic end alluded to in the title.

I was a little afraid of just how “sensational” this book might be, but it contains nothing explicit or lurid. Phillip is evil, but other classic villains are as bad or worse. Someone quoted on the Wikipedia page suggested perhaps in those times, a woman finding herself in a false marriage would hide away in shame even though the situation was no fault of her own, and the fact that Rosamond did not do that might have shocked some people.

Readers can tell this was originally written for magazine serialization, because every chapter ends with a cliffhanger. Alcott was quite good at writing that way and crafting enough sudden twists and turns to give one whiplash. A few lines border on silly (“She…looked at the vigorous figure before her with genuine womanly admiration for a manly man”[p. 13]. “Tempest…[enjoyed] her innocent companionship with the relish of a man eager for novelty and skillful in the art of playing on that delicate instrument, a woman’s heart” [p. 36].) But, overall, though this kind of novel isn’t my usual cup of tea, it was interesting to see this side of Alcott. The book was certainly exciting and suspenseful. And, though, it wasn’t written to have a moral, it has one nevertheless. Tempest’s love is destructive because it is obsessive and selfish, whereas that of someone Rosamond meets later is completely selfless, giving though he cannot receive her love in return. Though Rosamond is more independent than Little Women’s females, she is of the same character and fiber.

I was glad to win this book in a drawing for last year’s Mount TBR Challenge hosted by Bev at My Reader’s Block and save it for Tarissa’s Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge this month.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)

Flawed Authorities

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“The teacher is always right.”

I had so far enjoyed the book on motherhood from which this statement came, but this sentence stopped me in my tracks.

The well-meaning author made the point that children are not perfect and need discipline and correction. Sometimes that correction comes through the attention of a teacher or other authority, and a wise parent will not immediately side with her child against the authority.  Parents need to consult child and teacher, get the whole story, and then weigh a response.

But a teacher is not always right. No one is always right. We do need to respect authorities and teach our children to do the same. But respect does not require that we assume infallibility. In this #metoo era, it’s dangerous to teach a child to follow an authority without question. Teachers, coaches, group leaders, authorities of every kind have been found to take advantage of the ones they should have protected. Sadly, the #churchtoo movement reveals that even spiritual authorities cannot be wholly trusted without reserve.

Even if an authority’s flaws do not extend to actual abuse, innate human sinfulness is going to lead to misunderstandings and mistakes. A child is going to feel that she has no recourse even to her closest allies and protectors if “the teacher is always right” is the mantra of the home.

I feel the better approach teaches children that, yes, we are under authorities (Romans 13:1-7), but there are right ways to respond when an authority is wrong. God gave them to us for our good (verse 4), and we’re to respect them (verse 7) and obey them unless they require of us something contrary to God’s Word (Acts 4:1-20). The emperor in power at the time of Paul’s writing of Romans was Nero, so these truths apply even when an authority is not a paragon of virtue. But precisely because they’re only human, they are going to occasionally misunderstand or act in a flawed way.

We are the same: we misunderstand people and act in flawed ways. How do we want to be treated when that happens? We hope people would give us the benefit of the doubt, and confront us kindly and gently if confrontation is needed.

Sometimes in a disagreement, we have to admit we’re in the wrong. Sometimes a parent has to help a child see that, yes, the authority is right. Untold damage is done when a child is made to think that everything revolves around him and he should always get his way.

Sometimes we overlook wrong against us. “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 1:4, ESV) and “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (Proverbs 10:12, ESV). If we all called each other out for every little thing – well, life would be pretty miserable. The Bible speaks often of forbearing one another. One pastor used to call that “just good old-fashioned putting up with one another.” Ephesians 4:2 goes a step farther, telling us to bear with one another in love.

But sometimes we confront those who have wronged us. Matthew 18 details the steps to take in an offense between two equals, going first to the offender but then bringing others into it if the offender will not listen. If the offended one is a child, it’s best for the parents to confront the authority (assuming that the situation has been discussed and explored and it is determined that the authority is in the wrong.) Biblical confrontation is restorative, not a drawing of battle lines.

Always we forgive those who have wronged us. We forgive the way we want to be forgiven when we wrong others (Luke 11:4). We forgive because we have been forgiven (Matthew 18:21-35). We don’t complain or hold grudges or secret resentments (James 5:9).

Forgiveness, however, does not mean that no action is taken. It also does not assume that trust is restored or a close relationship will follow. If abuse of any kind is involved or even suspected, protection of the child should be the first order of business. Abuse needs to be dealt with as a crime and not overlooked.

I don’t think the author of the book I mentioned meant to suggest that authorities are infallible and that students have no recourse against injustice. I think his remark about teachers always being right was offhand and not fully thought through. I understand his intent to warn against assuming that the child is always right. One of our friends during her first year of teaching at an elementary school connected with a Christian university had a horrible time with parents always assuming the teacher was in the wrong. Perhaps the fact that the teacher had been a student at the university, the professor parents still assumed a measure of authority over her or the attitude that she wasn’t up to their level of experience and was therefore wrong. I’m sure all teachers have horror stories of students who could not be taught or corrected because of a parent’s attitude. Parents have an instinctive “Mama bear” protectiveness that can often assume the best of the child and the worst of others. But we need to help our children face their own faults and take steps to confess and correct them.

Yet, while we don’t automatically assume authorities are wrong, we also don’t automatically assume they are right, either. Our children need to always know that they are free and welcome to talk to us about anything. They need to know we’re in their corner and will stand up for them. We need patience and wisdom to help them sort out what happened and what the proper response should be.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Porch Stories, Let’s Have Coffee, Faith on Fire)

Laudable Linkage

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Here are noteworthy reads discovered this last week:

Hope for Parents of Prodigals.

Is Behavior More Important Than Doctrine? HT to Challies.

God Is With Us Every Present Moment. A book I’m reading talks about “reframing” memories. This is a good example.

The Space Between Courtship and Dating. I think this is right on the mark.

How to Repair the National Marriage, HT to Lisa.

Love Other Mothers as Thyself. “When we impose one-size-fits-all labels upon parenting, we fail in our call to love one another, and we also disregard God’s sovereign work in motherhood.”

Contentment in Motherhood, HT to Story Warren. Though the context of the post is motherhood, the encouragement to contentment and basis for contentment in Scripture are good for anyone.

Daring to Be Wholehearted. “The appeal of Cool is obvious in a world where things go wrong and we are sometimes powerless. But like an impulsively purchased pet python that seemed so harmless as a baby, have we forgotten how Cool can consume?”

Growing Old Graciously, HT to Challies.

When Flesh and Heart Fail: Why Believers Should Consider Advanced Directives.

Salvation Bracelets in Africa? No, Thanks, HT to Challies. “In order to share the gospel effectively, we must be willing to let go of our assumptions and to sensitively ask lots of questions in order to examine the culture deeply. We have to forget what feels comfortable and natural in our own culture and embrace what works in the culture we’re serving in.”

This is sweet, HT to Story Warren. A family took in an abandoned calf they found after a hurricane, and their dog “adopted” it:

Friday’s Fave Five


It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

Although the official first day of summer isn’t for a couple of weeks yet, to me June 1 begins summer. And my first week of summer by my reckoning has gone quite nicely. Here are some favorite parts of it:

1. Extended book reading time. Most of my reading is done in shorter bits of time here and there. Sunday, in between church, naps, meals, and Face-timing with my oldest son, I finished 2/3 of a book. It felt so luxurious. But my eyes were really blurry afterward, so it’s probably good I can’t do that too often.

2. Pain relief. I occasionally have shooting pains from my knuckles through my fingers in my left hand. It only lasts for seconds, so I haven’t thought much about it. I’ve assumed maybe it was the beginning of arthritis. One day last week, that kind of pain started up in my pinkie knuckle and persisted all night, bringing tears to my eyes as every few seconds pain would whoosh down that pathway. The next day my doctor wasn’t available, but I saw the nurse practitioner. She said that kind of pain was more indicative of nerve inflammation – arthritis is more of an ache in the joints. She gave me an anti-inflammatory prescription, but the pain started subsiding on its own. I don’t know what I did to set that nerve off, but I hope it doesn’t happen again.

3. Frozen meals. I discovered some new frozen meal entrees in the grocery freezer section that only took 15 minutes in the skillet to warm up. They’re probably too expensive to have too often, but they’re cheaper than eating out. It’s nice to have a couple of quick meal options on hand for really busy or tiring days. This one was pretty good:

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4. A new file box. I’ve had this file box for scrapbooking paper that I use for cards for years. It’s faded, which is not a big deal, but it started falling apart.

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You can find letter-sized file boxes everywhere, but it was hard to track down one that could accommodate the 12×12 scrapbooking size. I finally found one on Joann’s web site. I thought it was too expensive, but a 40% off coupon helped, and I had gift cards there for Mother’s Day. I enjoyed transferring my paper over to its new home. Unfortunately the new files don’t have tabs, but I’m going to see if stick-on labels will adhere to them.

Being able to remove the files from the box helps, too. (Forgive the messiness of my work desk.)

5. A nice summer family evening. My son and daughter-in-law brought dinner over one night along with their inflatable swimming pool for Timothy. He played in the water a while, then rode his little vehicle, then we threw “Pop-its” on the road – these little noisemaker things that sound like little firecrackers.

Happy Friday!

Book Review: The Mountain Between Us

MountainA snow storm and a broken de-icer strands thousands of travelers in the Salt Lake City airport. Dr. Ben Payne, on his way home from a medical conference, checks in with a charter pilot to see if they could beat the storm and get to Denver. Ben invites Ashley Knox, a fellow passenger he just met, to accompany them. Ashley’s on her way to her wedding rehearsal, so she’s eager to go.

But the pilot has a heart attack over the Uinta mountains. The plane crashes, the pilot dies, Ashley and Ben sustain several injuries. Her leg is severely broken; he has a couple of broken ribs and maybe a collapsed lung.

Thankfully Ben has hiking gear with him, brought along for a few excursions in-between conference meetings. His experience as a doctor and hiker and his athleticism from years of running give him an advantage, but he and Ashley have several things against them: their injuries, the remoteness of their location, the terrain, the cold, the fact that their pilot hadn’t filed a flight plan, and they had not let anyone know of their last-minute changes.

As they get well enough to travel, find food, and start off, Ben records messages to his wife, Rachel, on a voice recorder. Ben tells Ashley that he and Rachel are separated, but this recorder tradition started early in their relationship.  Through Ben’s recordings, both Ashley and readers learn of Ben and Rachel’s backstory. Ashley finds herself questioning whether she and her fiance have the kind of love that will last.

My thoughts:

I’m not usually one for plane crash stories. I don’t want them to come to mind when I have to fly. But I had heard good things about The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin. It is a surviving disaster story, but even more than that, it’s about relationships. The fight to survive is suspenseful and intense, and the relationships between Ben and Rachel, and then Ben and Ashley (and even the pilot and his wife) are beautifully unfolded.

The story is marred for me, though, by some crudities (particularly a joke between Ben and Ashley) and some interaction between Ben and his wife that should have remained private.

Martin says in an afterward that he was inspired by Psalm 121:1-2: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” But that’s not reflected in the story. I know that Christian stories are sometimes subtle: in Esther, for instance, God’s name is not mentioned nor are there any practices that acknowledge God beyond a time of prayer and fasting, yet God’s influence and leading are all throughout the book. Maybe that’s how Martin meant this book, but but it comes across as fairly secular. Perhaps he meant it for the general market.

So – mixed emotions. I loved the story itself. I could have done without the crude parts and private moments, and I would have liked the Christian undercurrent, if there is one, fleshed out more.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)