Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Review: "Can I Get An Amen" by Sarah Healy

Sidenote: This cover is pretty awesome.
With blurbs like "A fabulous debut!" from Emily Giffin, "An absolute treat!" from Janet Evanovich, "Touching, funny, and full of heart" from Lisa Scottoline, I was stoked when I received a review copy of Sarah Healy's debut novel, Can I Get An Amen? (June 5, 2012) from the good people at NAL. A story about a woman whose life is crumbling before her very eyes--infertility, divorce, being laid off, and more--and how she picks up the pieces and finds the strength to go on? Yes, please! Not a very original concept, I'll admit, but I'm a sucker for empowering fiction like that.

I must also admit though, I was a little worried when I cracked the spine and read the acknowledgments, as I always do. Being in the publishing industry, I noticed one name in particular--a relative of the author's who I know is a high-powered editor at a major publishing house. And who just so happens to edit authors like Janet Evanovich, Emily Giffin, and some other of Healy's blurbers. Seeing that--and knowing sometimes how this business works in that regard--I was instantly disappointed. What I'd been hoping would be a fabulous read suddenly became shifty in my mind's eye and I questioned the accuracy of the quotes when regarding the actual book. But as I read--and enjoyed--the novel, I thought to myself, "What a wonderful coincidence," and left it at that.

Anyway, jumping back to my little analysis here, not only am I slightly masochistic in the sense that I love reading about people whose lives are just as messy or more so than my own, my personal crisis of faith (mainly that I don't know what mine is or if I even have one) drew me to the novel easily. I'd hoped that perhaps it might help me figure out my own beliefs in some subtle sort of way. Books have a tendency to have that power with me. I found, however, that Healy's novel is much less about religion and faith than one might think. At least it was for me. There is, of course, a strong thread about Christianity in Ellen's mother's devoutness and essentially obsession with being "born again" and religion itself is frequent discussed/enacted through the concept of church, but Ellen's own faith and belief system were almost entirely disregarded. Yes, she recognizes that no one ever asked her what she actually believes--she's just always been the religion she grew up with, like so many people. But recognizing that fact and exploring your actual feelings on the matter are two entirely different things. I would've liked to see her open up more in that sense, to make some stride in trying to address her own crisis of faith.

I admit, though, I related to Ellen in a number of ways and Healy's writing is funny and quick-paced, the exception being the first few chapters, which read much like a memoir instead of a novel. I had a difficult time engaging with the story at first as a result, but I'm glad I powered through. Though predictable in almost every single plot point (granted, I am pretty darn good at guessing what's going to happen next in a novel), I still enjoyed the read greatly. It was by no means the highest quality book I've ever read, but it was interesting and touches upon a number of different themes that a reader can understand.

Despite its lacking in the aforementioned areas, I found the most impressive aspect of Can I Get An Amen? to be the characters. At times smelling of caricatures, the people within the pages were well-rounded and complex, even in their simplicity. They were charming, really. I could see them in my mind, interacting and yelling and laughing and all of the things. They were very real to me, which is one of the hardest things to do--to make your characters jump off the page so much that the reader actually cares about them. A+ there, Sarah Healy!

The Last Word: An engaging and entertaining beach read. Just don't expect your mind to be blown.

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