Book Review: My Hands Came Away Red

HandsIn the novel My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay, eighteen-year-old Cori decides to spend her summer on a backpacking mission trip in Indonesia. Though she has a vague desire to do good, to help people, to “spread the love of Jesus,” her main purpose for going is to get some time away from Scott, her boyfriend. Cori is a Christian, but her relationship with God isn’t as close as it once was. Scott is not a believer, but he wants to marry Cori. So Cori needs time away to think, to sort things out.

After meeting the mission leader and the five other teens who will be going on the trip, they spend several days in a grueling boot camp. Then they travel on to Indonesia where they will help build a church as well as performing puppet shows and such. They meet Mani, the son of the local pastor, whose English is best and who acts as an unofficial liaison between the mission group and the church folks.

The group learns there is a tenuous peace between the Christian and Muslim villages. The Muslims view those who convert from Islam to Christianity as traitors, and Mani’s father is such a convert. But, though they are advised to be careful, no serious trouble is expected.

After several weeks of work and getting to know each other in the process, when the thatched-roof church is nearly finished, the mission group leader’s wife falls suddenly and dangerously ill. As the leader, Gary, makes hasty plans to get the group ready to leave, the kids protest. They can finish the church in the next couple of days and catch the next boat to meet up with Gary. Reluctantly, Gary agrees.

When the church is finished, the teens decide it needs a cross on top, so they go into the woods to find a suitable log. Nearing the village on their return, they hear angry voices. Mani stops the group close enough to listen, but far away enough not to be seen. Men from a neighboring Muslim village are angry that Christians have attacked their village, and, grouping all Christians together, they call on this village to answer for it. Mani’s father tries to explain and calm, but tempers flare and fighting breaks out. Mani’s parents are killed before the group’s eyes. One of the teen guys rescues Mani’s younger sister, Tina, while Cori tries to help Mani’s father. But it’s too late. The horrified and shaken teens head back into the woods. Mani says it would be no use to try to go back to the village. Their best bet would be to hike through the mountains to a neighboring village and then to the airport.

Thus begins a harrowing three-week journey in which the teens are tested in almost every imaginable way.

My thoughts:

Though teens are the main characters, and this book would be good for teens to read, it’s not just teen or young-adult fare. I found the story riveting. First, from my own standpoint, I don’t think I could have survived what the teens went through. And secondly, as a parent of young people, I can imagine what the parents went through with news of fighting in the area and no word from their kids.

On top of the physical hardships and mental and emotional strain they all face, some of them, especially Cori, wrestle with their faith. Reading Bible passages about God’s protection seem hollow after what they witnessed. Yet, to whom else can they turn?

Before this summer those words [Romans 8:28] were part of whole set of trusty beliefs that defined my life. I knew they were true the same way I knew it really was good for me to eat my green vegetables. God is good, and everything works out for the best . . . and we all live happily ever after. I was so naïve. It’s not that I don’t want to trust those promises I’ve always believed in, but I just don’t understand

_____

If God didn’t see fit to save them, who’s to say that we weren’t all going to end up dead in this whole mess? And I hardly saw how that might produce a rich crop of faith, hope, and peace in my life. Unless it was in my heavenly life. Which, as much as I believed in heaven, was hardly a comforting thought.

In some ways I wish Cori’s faith struggles were more resolved by the end, but then I think part of the author’s point is that there are some things we can never resolve. One of the other teens tells Cori, after everything is over physically, but not mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, that sometimes you “just have to make a choice based on what you know about God. And relax and trust for the rest of what you don’t know” and “You know, life’s a journey…Some questions get answered later. You can’t stop traveling just because that’s not now.”

Besides the story itself, I loved the clearly-drawn characters. And I love the Jip and Kiki story game that started back in boot camp and helped distract the kids on their trek. One of the teens would start with, “Once there was a boy named Jip,” who loved chocolate and had a pet monkey named Kiki, and each one would add a few sentences, often based on what the kids themselves were going through.

In the author’s afterword, she shares that though the people in the story are fictitious, the circumstances, the fighting in the villages she named, were very real. The author’s own international and even inter-continental upbringing informs her writing, making it even more realistic.

I had heard this book highly recommended years ago and have had it on my TBR list since then. Somewhere recently I read that someone bought the rights to the book for a movie, and the book was being re-released. That brought it to the forefront of my attention again, so I decided now was a good time to read it. I am glad I did. I hope the film does it justice.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Book’s You Loved)

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I’ve been mostly absent from the blog this week. It’s rare for me not to do a Friday’s Fave Five, even if I don’t post anything else. But it has been a busy week: card-making and present-shopping and wrapping for a baby shower and my oldest son’s upcoming birthday, house-cleaning for my son’s visit from out of state, buying tons of food for family get-togethers, etc, etc. It’s amazing what you can done when you’re not blogging! 🙂 I am not sure how much I will be online the next week. My oldest son is here, my husband is off, we’ll have more time with the whole family. But, in the past when I have thought I would not be posting much, I have been surprised. Our whole family likes our computer time, so we’ll see.

Meanwhile, I have collected in odd moments online the last week some thought-provoking, helpful reads I wanted to share with you.

Poor Interpretation Lets Us “Believe” the Bible While Denying What It Actually Say, HT to Challies. “Historically, theological liberals denied Scripture, and everyone knew where they stood. But today many so-called evangelicals affirm their belief in Scripture, while attributing meanings to biblical texts that in fact deny what Scripture really says. Hence they ‘believe every word of the Bible’ while actually embracing (and teaching) beliefs that utterly contradict it.”

Grace Comes With Refills.

Love Is Not a Feeling.

Praying the Words of Jesus for Your Teen.

Pants on Fire. The folly of the “I don’t know whether this is true or not; but I just wanted to get it out there” type of post.

Are We All “Harmless Torturers” Now? HT to Challies. “When we think of the savagery of social media, we often think of awful individual behavior…Harmless Torturers never go that far; we just like, retweet and add the occasional clever remark. But there are millions of us, and we’re all turning the dial.”

Why Getting Lost in a Book is So Good for You, HT to Linda.

Finally, you might be blessed by this video even if you don’t know Ron and Shelly Hamilton (of Majesty Music, aka Patch the Pirate and Sissy Seagull) and Shelly’s parents, Frank and Flora Jean Garlock. I had no idea the Garlocks were in this situation or that Ron had been diagnosed with dementia. This is not only an update of how they are doing, but a sweet testimony of a man caring for his wife.

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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:

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Here are recent reads that have captivated my attention:

Love Like Birch Trees.

How to Sit at the Table With Those Who Hurt and Offend You, HT to Linda. “Extending love to someone who offended you does not mean you’re accepting such treatment – it means you realize you cannot thrive in a place of anger and resentment.”

What to Say Instead of “I Know How You Feel” to Someone Who Is Struggling, HT to Linda. Sharing our similar experience in an effort to let someone know they’re not alone often just draws attention to ourselves and makes the other person feel unheard. This gives a helpful distinctive.

When Our Heroes Don’t Live Up to Their Theology, HT to Challies. How do we think about spiritual giants who were blind to the wrongness of slavery.

Helping Your Daughter by Being Her Emotional Coach, HT to Story Warren.

You Can’t Have Ethics Without Stories, HT to Story Warren.. “We often forget what the Bible actually is. If not a dictionary or an encyclopedia, what is it? The Bible is, among other things, he writes, ‘a faith-forming narrative.’”

Why Children’s Books Should be a Little Sad, HT to Story Warren.

How DNA Testing Botched My Family’s Heritage, and Probably Yours, too, HT to Challies.

And finally, this dog has a dedicated owner:

Happy Saturday!

(Links do not imply complete endorsement of sites or authors.)