Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Book Review, A Friend Review: The Miracle Girls

I recently won this book on one of my favorite blogs, Anne & May.  I couldn't wait to devour it so that I could give them a glowing review.  I'm not exactly objective, because I love Anne & May.  By the end of this post, hopefully you'll know why.  And hopefully you'll know enough about their latest book to buy it for your nieces, little sisters, your daughters, and your friends. 

I learned of Anne and May back in 2005 when I saw a book listed in a magazine called Emily Ever After.  The title alone made me know I would love the book.  The premise had me hooked as well since it was about a small town girl trying to make it in New York City - with her faith intact.  Unfortunately, I got cancer and pregnancy shortly after, which really hampered my joy-reading.  Plus, my wish list for books to buy always exceeds my book-buying budget, and I let this one slip through the cracks.

Felicity found the Anne & May blog a couple years later (how did that happen, Lic?), and I was hooked forever.  

Their writing is a partnership, which fascinates me, and they say they wouldn't want to do it any other way.  You have to admire people who have learned to give and take so brilliantly.  Their writing is also deliciously witty.  Their blog makes me smile, relate, and feel I've made true friends.  The first few pages of their second book, Consider Lily, made me laugh to tears.   

Anne & May's first three books were chic lit while The Miracle Girls is Young Adult.  In The Miracle Girls and the three sequels to follow, they intend to explore the crazy difficulties of growing up.  The heroines are four teens trying to maintain important friendships while navigating high school and the sometimes tricky bridge between childhood and independence.  Through it all, each character searches out the relevance of their faith in an unbelieving world.

The Miracle Girls made me love Ana, Riley, Zoe, and Christine.  I was embarrassed when they were, traumatized by their Mondays, in love with their crushes, and so glad they had each other.  There were a few sanctuary moments in the book in which I felt I was there with them, remembering what it is I believe and how deeply it affects me.  The relationship between Ana and her parents grew beautifully throughout the book.  It was both realistic and miraculous.  

I love that Anne & May have taken on the dilemma of those terrible but wonderful years of high school.  I love that they have made it their mission to inspire girls and women, to relate to them, make them laugh, believe in their dreams, and help them apply their faith to this hazy, unpredictable life.  I love their Miracle Girls.  And I cannot wait for sophomore year.  


Molly said...

Aaaaack, I'm freaking out because I haven't received mine int he mail yet!!!

Still, gotta love Anne & May.

Den said...

I'll take your recommendation under advisement, but I'll admit the book is not likely to rocket to the top of my list. While we share great love for the fall, I fear my ability to appreciate works in this genre are somewhat limited.

I do have a question prompted by your description of the book and I recognize that it might sound like a loaded question. Given that recognition, I want to say that it certainly is not a loaded question but a curious one. One I have little opinion on and would simply be interested in your perspective. I hope you would always take my questions this way, but some topics are likely to sound loaded, so I give this extended disclaimer. It is more prompted by your description than aimed at your description.

You said: "Through it all, each character searches out the relevance of their faith in an unbelieving world." I recognize that the form of the statement is somewhat standard and may even be how the authors/publishers describe the story. I also recognize that moving to a big city can certainly give one a sense of sudden isolation and a world that you just don't recognize. For instance, not recognizing the way that belief manifests itself in a new context. What I find curious is that one can read stories of characters searching out the relevance of their unbelief in a believing world. Do you think that there is something in trying to make sense out of our belief and values that leads us to see the world as unbelieving or believing relative to our own belief or unbelief? Do we need to define the world as opposed to our own set of beliefs to find our uniqueness reaffirmed? Is it a feature of our loneliness/isolation that while remedied by friends is never quite surmountable? What does it mean to make sense of your faith in a world of believers, given the varieties of belief?

Of course, these are not questions to which you'll be able to rattle off definitive answers. My hope is that I have at least expressed the questions clearly enough to enable you to respond in some way or other. I'm prompted to recall the experiences of young people I have known who struggled to understand the relevance of their faith in the context of a strongly believing community that they were raised in. It seems that we struggle to make sense of our lives within the several frames that we live in, so that the characters might try to figure out what it means in several of the communities that they live in.

Anne Dayton said...

Aww, shucks. Thanks for the great review. I"m so glad you liked it!

Den, I'll let Serenity answer you more thoroughly, but I think if you read Emily Ever After it will be perfectly clear what she meant. It was based on our experiences of moving to New York to work in publishing, and I think her description is apt.

Den said...


I thought as much, it was more the questions it prompted in my mind about how this works out in our lives than about the particulars of the book. I can imagine fairly well the kind of experience described. It's the phenomenon of having that kind of experience and, in particular, the way that it seems to happen to everyone (though adjusted for particulars) that I find striking. I also think you're right, in one sense, to describe New York as an unbelieving world. At least in comparison to my experiences in small town America where even unbelievers are believers.

May Vanderbilt said...

Serenity, I wish I could hug you right now. What a wonderful, wonderful review!!! Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to read our book and review it.

We have loved getting to know you and Felicity, and your mom, and the whole kit and caboodle!

I can't wait till your guest blog! Also every time I see your son I freak out. He's too adorable for words.

serenity said...

Well darn it, Den, I'm completely confused. First of all, the sentence you refer to was not about the small town girl moving to the big city. It was about the four teens in The Miracle Girls. That whole paragraph was about that book. Was that not clear? (I've changed "in this book" now to "in The Miracle Girls" to try and straighten that out.)

Now, I wonder if you could rephrase your question, because I can't figure out what you are actually asking me. I deeply appreciate that you help me not to be trite with my faith and to truly examine what I mean by things. So please don't misread "I don't get it" to "I don't want to answer." I simply don't understand your question.

Here's what I meant by "their faith in an unbelieving world". My faith says that Jesus is God and that Jesus is the only way to God. I know you don't see life in any way relevant to those terms, but I know that you understand what I mean when I say it. If I therefore believe that Jesus is the truth, then can't you understand how I so brazenly call someone an unbeliever when they don't believe it? The girls in this teen series, and the women in Anne & May's previous books actually, tend to find themselves the minority when it comes to the fact that they are Christians. Therefore, for my description of them, I call them believers and "their world" unbelieving.

That was a brilliant statement about small town America and one I have always felt as well - that even the unbelievers are believers. Anne & May in real life, I think, have a different experience than that in which they are often identified by their belief, i.e., "the Christian friend" whereas where you and I come from that label is more often assumed than not.

That should clarify my statement, but again, you'll have to tell me what you are trying to get me to consider here. Is it that everyone believes in something and therefore it is unfair of me to call someone an unbeliever when they don't believe exactly what I do?

Or is it the isolation thing? Are you simply pointing out the interesting human experience that we tend to isolate ourselves in order to establish our own identity? If so, I certainly agree with that. I think we all like to recognize at least some way in which we stand out. It's the first step in feeling that we matter at all, and I think we all want to matter.

If I haven't even come close, please try me again. I really want to address your questions correctly.

Den said...

I fear it is my own fault. I read the post, then wrote my question from my memory of it. I had not meant to accuse you of ignoring other forms of belief. I may have been lumping belief in some religious doctrine all together and opposing that to those who don't. I see where that doesn't get to what you were talking about. I sincerely did not mean anything I said as a corrective to the way you were picturing the world.

Perhaps I can be clearer. In New York, for instance, there are surely thousands if not more Christians, even if we narrow that to be Christians of an evangelical bent. So, I think the sheer numbers tell a different story than our perceptions. So, for example, we often hear things about bringing our country back to Christ, yet most of our fellow citizens consider themselves Christians. Given this, I think the sense of isolation common to a statement like 'making sense of their faith in an unbelieving world' is surprising. On the other hand, I recognize that it can feel this way. I think that is what I wonder about. When a person who belongs to the faith that claims the largest number of adherents in the country feels themselves isolated, that seems odd. Not hard to understand but strange that we should somehow miss connections with so many who claim similar sets of belief and value. I gave the example of the unbeliever because I think it is striking that people can find themselves in the reverse situation of being an isolated unbeliever in a world of belief. This makes me think that it is less the belief or unbelief of the world as much as it is our sense of belonging or our connections with other people that help us feel at home in this world.

Again, I'm sorry I mixed things up, I made my first comment rather unconnected to the rest of my comment post. I don't read much chick lit. Not on principle but just on inclination. In addition to this, I spend a lot of time wondering about how people experience the world especially how their faith comes into play as part of that experience. I should have made a clearer distinction.

I think in addition, I was mislead by your use of unbeliever. I was not thinking of it in that context but rather as people who believe in a religion, or in some supernatural story of their own. I did not, however, intend to correct your use though I see where a comment I made: "Do we need to define the world as opposed to our own set of beliefs to find our uniqueness reaffirmed?" certainly sounds like that was what I was doing. In the sense I was thinking of, I find that we are often compelled (need) to do things that we are unaware that we are doing. This kind of need may well be beyond what we can consciously remedy and is not necessarily bad, just the way we are.

So, its more the isolation thing. I had become accustomed to a particular use of "unbeliever" and did not adjust to the one you were employing. Once I insert "in Christ alone" that helps me understand. My apologies for that. Hopefully, now, I am clearer. I should probably have spent more time on the original. I knew it was dangerously ambiguous.

As far as addressing my questions "correctly" is concerned, you have done that. Your response was honest and sincere, and I hope I never ask for more than that. I don't know what I else I could ask.

Den said...

One more thing. I apologize for intruding my comments into your celebration of your friends and their book. I do think that the book sounds interesting, I just did not want to say that I was going to go buy it immediately or wait by my mailbox like Molly. I should have made that clearer. I meant to be inquisitive in a way that was provoked by the book. Darn my impatience and verbosity without clarity.

I too feel fortunate "to know you and Felicity, and your mom, and the whole kit and caboodle!" and hope that I've not made myself a nuisance. Oh bother!

serenity said...

Den, you are nothing like a nuisance, and I'm always glad when you comment here. I'm really glad you came back and clarified, because I understand you perfectly now. My comment was strange in light of what you have pointed out. I'll have to think more about why I have this perception and if it's remotely valid. Maybe other commenters will have thoughts on it.

Felicity said...

I learned about Anne and May through Radiant magazine. I read a review of The Book of Jane and went right out to buy it! I KNEW that little dog must have had a real-life counter-part and now I've seen Buster yodel...this is the pleasure of the Internet!!

Good review, Seren. As soon as this blasted semester is over, I'm reading this book!

Kathy said...

Hi Den. :) I don't have anything to add to your thought provoking discussion except it did worry me a little since I think most of my conversations are rather folksy. (Your blog on Sarah Palin) But, I figure you are willing to overlook that in someone who isn't running for VP and whose main claim to fame is serving you taco salad on Sunday afternoons. I wish we could have been sitting around a fireplace somewhere having this conversation. Anyway, I told Seren she should steal your line about even the unbelievers being believers.It would add great depth in the novel she is writing. I think that is one of the things that hinders the true gospel of Jesus Christ in our neck of the woods. But that is a whole other conversation. And, finally, although it has been a long time since I fit the Miracle Girls genre, I read fourteen chapters of Felicity's book last night after I tucked her children in bed and waited for her to fly home. I'm hooked.

andrea t said...

Thanks for the recommendation Serenity. I requested a few of Anne & May's books from the library. Unfortunately there's a waiting list for Miracle Girls, but the others are available. I needed to find some new books to read. Especially with hibernation season fast approaching :)