When A Book Just Hits So Close To Home

Sometimes when a book hits super close to home I don’t know how to write about it. I decided to go for the method I did when I wrote about Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson and write a letter to the author.

The book in question?

Emery Lord’s The Names They Gave Us which is OUT TODAY! I did receive this book as a review copy, c/o Bloomsbury for review consideration, but I pinky swear that these are all my own thoughts and I wasn’t compensated for them.

 

The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

This book spoke so much to my personal experience with having a mom who had cancer (don’t worry…it’s not a Cancer Book or only super sad, I promise, even though her mom having cancer obviously is a big part of the story and it IS sad).  I just wanted to talk about how it impacted me and talk about something I have never ever talked about, in the almost 7 years I’ve been doing this, on my blog before — faith and how I lost it. I didn’t talk spoilers or at least was very vague about the actual content of the book so don’t be scared I’m going to be talking about super specific things.

I highly recommend this book and if you are like EHHHH about a book that explores faith…I promise you that it’s not that type of book that is super religious or anything like that. Lucy grew up with a pastor for a dad and faith has been something that has just been part of her whole life. I PROMISE YOU….if the mention of faith makes you wary…you have nothing to worry about.

This post is super long. I’m sorry. I just felt really compelled to write about it and share an important part of my story.

 

Dear Emery,

You know I have read and loved all of your books that you have written. But The Names They Gave Us? It  just absolutely undid me because it hit so close to home.

Before I get to that — I have to say that the book is just wonderful — honestly a 5 star, added to my “favorites” shelf kind of book. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking. It’s also fun and compulsively readable. I loved the summer camp/camp counselor setting. The friends she makes, the campers and camp staff are all super memorable. I loved what a diverse group they were! The romance is ADORABLE. It captures so much about living, and even finding joy in life, while someone you love is dying. Even without the personal connection, it’s just a really wonderful book. It just made it that more special for me to see something I went through explored in such a thoughtful and non-heavy handed way. Something that I still have to work through.

Little details I really appreciated and related to:

  • not wanting to leave your dying parent (I had to go off to college so I understood Lucy’s hesistance to not spend the summer at the same place as her mom).
  • having a good day and then just having the reminder of this AWFUL THING come rushing back to you in a moment and then feeling guilty for having not thought about it
  • watching your other parent’s facade crumble (Lucy’s dad made me bawl in that one moment he thought nobody was watching…I remember witnessing my stepdad break down)
  • watching your mom need help but so defiantly not want help because it meant losing control and also SHE’S THE MOM and she doesn’t want you to do things for her even though she needs you to.
  • pleading with God that your mom would make it to see big moments in your future (graduation, getting married, etc) and also mourning that it might not happen.

I knew immediately I would probably relate to Lucy because of the whole mom-having-cancer thing  but I also was interested in how I would relate to her exploration of faith. It made me sob and sob and sob with how it brought me back. I loved that it wasn’t heavy handed and preachy but just this raw exploration of how faith can falter and change for you in the face of hard things…when everything you know just crumbles and the ground falls out from under you.

I talk a lot about losing my mom and grief on my blog and Twitter but the faith aspect? I have never ever touched on it because I never know what to say and it’s still so, so hard to contend with.

When I was a teenager I was really into my youth group and I’d say I was a Christian who was newer in my faith. I didn’t grow up with religious parents, like Lucy did, but I ended up going to church and youth group with a friend and really found a place there.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer in my senior year of high school I tried to hold close to this newfound faith I had and I tried to pray more and read the Bible verses that youth leaders would give me and do All The Things I was told to do in the face of adversity as a Christian. I tried to will ~faith~ to just take the wheel because I felt out of control.

And it grew harder. I went off to a Christian college and my mom got more and more sick and I struggled to know what I even believed anymore. Faith seemed like an easy thing before anything happened to me that truly turned the world upside down for me. I could have faith that something small would work out because the stakes weren’t so high but the more sick my mom got the more I just didn’t know if I even believed in anything anymore.

To be in a Christian college when you are going through a crisis of faith? Literally the worst for me. You’d think that would be the place you’d want to be but it was not at all my experience. Instead of feeling strong and buoyed by the faith of those surrounding me, I felt more and more isolated and bitter because the faith I’d had felt like it didn’t fit anymore. I felt like when everyone talked about “having faith” that I was being spoken to in another language because it didn’t seem as simple to me anymore. It didn’t make as much sense.

I felt like when I confided in my friends about how I was feeling they just couldn’t understand and the words they were saying and the passages they shared with me felt hollow to me — because they truly hadn’t ever faced anything like the test of faith I did so how could they know what it felt like for your faith to crumble. I felt like I was treated differently for even questioning/having doubts and because I wasn’t super happy and bubbly and bursting with faith (truthfully I was very depressed but would catch wind of people being sick of my “grumpiness” and “bad attitude”). So that stuff kind of didn’t help me claw my way back to faith…

So I stopped being real about it and I would try to pretend every day that I had the faith that all my friends and classmates did. I would say the right things when people asked about my mom and how I was doing. I had all the Right Answers and Words to Pray about the situation but on the inside I was angry and bitter and my words were so, so hollow. I was just going through the motions and I felt like something was wrong with me because I couldn’t have this unshakeable faith that everyone else seemed to have. Faking it til I made it really didn’t work.

I learned really quickly it was hard to have unshakeable faith in anything when nothing seemed to make sense. It was even harder to have people, that you KNEW had never dealt with anything like this, trying to tell you to “hang on to your faith” and all the other things that people of faith will say to you in times like this. I wanted to scream in all their faces because I didn’t understand this faith they spoke of anymore. I know they meant well and really believed what they were saying, truly, but it was hard. I felt so, so isolated.

And then when she died….it all fell apart for me even more. I didn’t know what to believe anymore and I frankly didn’t care. I faked a little more faith until I graduated — went to mandatory chapel every Monday/Wed/Fri like I was supposed to and read the Bible for my classes and wrote essays on subjects like grace and God’s love and all that…but it all just bounced right off me.

And now here we are all these years later. I’m 31 and faith is still shaky for me. I think I believe in God but I honestly feel like I’ve never come back to a place that I was before my mom got sick and passed away. I think as I’ve gotten older it’s been even harder for me to cling to any sort of faith even though I’ve tried since then — I’ve tried to waltz back into church hoping that something will happen. Even harder as I feel like other Real Life things (both in my own life and in the world) have made me question all of it all over again.

Reading this book just reminded me of that time in my life and I’m in awe of how amazingly you explored Lucy finding herself on shaky ground in her faith — it’s not an easy subject to explore without coming off a certain way. I feel like at some point we all wonder and grapple with what we believe in and find ourselves losing faith in the things we hold on to in life (whatever that may be) and it was refreshing to see it explored in such a non-preachy/non-religious, raw way.

So thank you thank you thank you for a book that mirrors so much of my own experience because sometimes I still feel so alone in it but Lucy’s story made me see my own experience with different eyes now as an adult and made me feel so less guilty about my own imperfect faith during that time.

Thank you for telling this story with such care and for making me reflect on this thing that weighs heavily on me to this day.

Love,

Jamie

 

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About Jamie

Jamie is a 30 year old married lady who is in denial that she's actually that old. When she's not reading you can find her doing Pilates followed by eating ice cream, listening to music with oversized headphones and having adventures with her husband and dog.

Comments

  1. What a beautifully written post! Thanks for sharing!

  2. OH MY GOD JAMIE SO GOOD TO HEAR YOU ENJOYED THIS! I have an ARC of it but I haven’t yet had the chance to read it but all the positive reviews online have me SO HYPED for it and it seems like such a fantastic read! And it’s the best feeling ever when you find books that tell your story so I am glad you found this one! <3 Thanks so much for your lovely review!

    • It’s so wonderful! I hate picking favorites but it’s my favorite out of all her books! I hope you love it too!!

  3. I’m always leery of books involving faith/religion because I’m afraid it’ll be too preachy or judgmental, like the stereotypes suggest. I didn’t grow up with religion whatsoever and neither of my parents believed in God. It was a really interesting experience reading about her questioning her faith! It reminded me a little bit of when I was little and thought MAYBE my church-going friends were onto something. I quickly realized that none of it was for me but the community/group aspects can be great for some people. I loved this post! <3

  4. Thanks so much for writing such a beautifully honest post, Jamie! I adored THE NAMES THEY GAVE US, but I have never been and still am not religious. It’s really wonderful to see your perspective and how much you related to Lucy. I’m so happy you could see yourself and your experiences reflected in this book! <3 Emery Lord's words are magic, I swear.

  5. Oh, sweet girl, so many hugs for you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Many of my father’s family members were super religious (a pastor and several deacons) and I got the same “helpfulness” when he was suffering with cancer, and after he died. I was older (24) and had basically lost my “faith” already, but still had to pretend for my father’s sake. It is so difficult. I don’t know what I would have done in your shoes being completely surrounded by the “faith is all you need” crowd at school. You are a strong person. I am glad this book struck a chord with you in a positive way. I think I will have to read it, too. <3

  6. Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing about such a tricky topic. I’ve been a Christian most of my life but I would be lying if I said I haven’t spent time questioning why God allows certain things to happen or if He actually cares about me. I DO believe in those things though, some days more deep down and other days more easily.

    I haven’t read this book yet but I think it’s great that it explores faith without being preachy. I feel we could use a little more of that in YA.

  7. Oh Jamie! What a wonderful post in lieu of a review. I have a feeling this will touch so many people more than a normal review would. I’m glad you found a book that resonated with you.

  8. Wow, this was such a touching review. Thank you so much for writing it. I’m so glad you loved this book, I did as well. It’s easily already one of my favourites this year. I’ve never been religious so when I saw religion mentioned in this book I was a little hesitant because I didn’t wan’t it to come across as preachy, but you’re so right, it doesn’t at all. I actually really enjoyed the exploration of faith and how Lucy dealt with her feelings about it! Great review 💖

  9. Great post, Jamie. Thanks for your vulnerability. I grew up in a very conservative, evangelical home and, while my faith has changed considerably since those years, the journey has been tough. I still consider my faith to be a precious part of my life, but it looks so different these days. If you’re interested in reading more about people walking through a faith-change journey, I definitely recommend Rachel Held Evans’s book Searching for Sunday (or any of her books), Sarah Bessey’s Out of Sorts, Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar, or Still by Lauren Winner (which I’m reading now and may be the closest to what you’re expressing here).

  10. Jamie, you’ve really made me want to read this book. I love that you’re so creative and have found a different way to express your feelings about something. This book sounds like it really struck a chord with you.

    Your letter alone struck something in me too, as I can completely relate about losing a parent to cancer. My mum passed away a couple of years a go with lung cancer, she had been fighting throat cancer for a few years before it spread. It was a hard time, more so because I was living in London at the time, so as soon as she got the word it was terminal I flew home and spent the last three weeks with her. My gosh, that guilt of not being there was something hard to handle. Even harder to realise was that my younger brother had to try and be there for our mum by himself. I’ve mostly come to peace with it now, but that sort of event really leaves a mark on you, or should I say it takes a piece of you that you forever feel like you can’t replace.

    I really love how honest this letter is and that you’re able to share this with everyone. It’s getting to glimpse a part of your life. It sounds like that time in your life was something you really had to battle through, especially at the age you were in. I can only imagine what effect this had on you with your faith. I grew up as a catholic, but because my grandparents wanted us to, not because my parents were strict about it. So I never felt pressured to belong to a religion. As I grew older, and after my dad’s death when I was a teenager, I discovered I believed in spirituality more than anything else, and that really clicked with me.

    I really loved reading this! I am now going to pick this book up next xx

Trackbacks

  1. […] they Gave Us by Emery Lord << Her review isn’t just a typical review. She wrote an amazing letter to the author about how much the book moved her, and it was beautiful to read. I nearly shed a tear or two […]

  2. […] Names they Gave Us by Emery Lord – I’m not a big contemporary reader, but after reading Jamie’s review of this book I decided I HAVE to read this. It sounds so interesting and intense. Not the kind of […]