The following has the same content as the review which will be posted on the Christian Book Preview site, so this review is officially "as seen on the Christian Book Preview site." However, this version is the unedited longer review.
The Good Nearby is loaded with conflict and intriguing characters. Margery wants to be treated with respect and loved by her husband. But her greatest longing is to have a child. She believes that is her purpose in life--what she was born to do. Angie wants to be unconditionally loved by her husband, whose need to control her at times is suffocating and maddening. She longs for peace. To be free to make her own choices. Gladys is losing her sight. She desperately needs to give and receive love, but she has always been strong and self-sufficient. For her, to soften and let someone into her heart is perceived as weak, something she refuses to be.
Gennifer is a successful attorney with a health condition so shameful to her that she won't even tell her husband or daughter. Her emotional withdrawal pushes her husband toward another woman, and her daughter toward a female mentor, thus sending Gennifer's core relationships into a crisis mode. But for Gennifer to admit her need for support is too painful, so she holds back and suffers alone, until God grabs ahold of her heart.
Talia's husband is going to die if he doesn't get a heart transplant. So not only does Talia have to take care of her two-year-old and her husband, but she has to keep the house in order, cook, work full-time to pay the bills, and to top all that...she's seven months pregnant. She longs for rest; to feel desired and wanted. Her boss distracts her when he pays her the kind of attention her husband used to lavish on her. She longs for her Christian husband to be well, to take back control of the finances, and to have a love life again. But she refuses to ask God to help her until she feels him slipping away.
And finally there is Gigi, the lost and abandoned child who is a very quirky character--and I loved her. She's obsessed with the number 96 and thinks anything connected with that number is lucky. She also is entralled with the idea of death because her grandmother tought her about faith, and her grandmother said she looked forward to dying because she would be with the Lord. Gigi is told by her grandmother before her death that Gigi will be the good nearby if she lets God work in her life. As Gigi grows up she struggles to survive emotionally, and forgets some of the things she learned as a young girl from her grandmother, the only person who had genuinely loved her. God brings those memories back as she goes through hard times. He redeems her pain for His glory.
The Good Nearby moved me to tears...of joy. It's the most fantastic redemption story I've ever read besides the Bible. It's also the best illustration I've seen of how God takes our pain and makes beauty from the ashes of our lives. Gigi's character is written in the first person. The reader sees the world through Gigi's eyes. The other characters are written in the third person so you know what they are thinking, but the way it's done is so amazing and powerful that it's hard to explain.
Experiencing The Good Nearby is like examining a tapestry from the back side. You see some attractive places, but you also find a lot of knots and stuff that doesn't resemble anything upon close examination. Just like the lives of the characters in this story. They are real, messed up people whom I could identify with. Not everyone is strong. In fact, many of us are dysfunctional and weak at times. The author beautifully illustrates their struggles in a way that makes you want to encourage them rather than slap them senseless. You see their history and exactly what led them to the place they were at in life. You also see what "had" to happen in their lives for God to reach their hearts. And of course, not everyone is reached. But that's real life.
As mentioned above, The Good Nearby is like examining a tapestry from the wrong side. Only at the end of the story the author flips it around and you see the beautiful work that God created as He moved in the characters' lives. For me, the experience was breathtaking. I found it absolutely amazing how the author transformed things at the end of the story. I'm convinced that God's hand is in this story. And just when I thought the loose ends came together with perfection, the author entwined a few more.
As a social worker I've seen miracles like this happen in real life, so none of it seemed contrived or unrealistic to me. In fact, this story blessed me so much I felt like I was coming out of my skin when I finished. I found it very difficult to explain to others, however, because there are so many characters with different problems that my listeners got lost in the details. So I just told people, "You just have to read the book. It'll change the way you see things and your heart will be forever changed." As I'm typing this review my eyes are filling with tears because I can feel the Holy Spirit moving. I give The Good Nearby my highest recommendation. The story was published by Tyndale and will be released in October 2006.