I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2014-04-01
Genres: Dating & Sex, Family, Religious, Social Issues, Values & Virtues, Young Adult
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David confronts his desires and his demons in this novel about what it means to be left behind—literally, figuratively, and spiritually—from the author of the Shade trilogy.Everyone mourns differently. When his older brother was killed, David got angry. As in, fist-meets-someone-else’s-face furious. But his parents? They got religious. David’s still figuring out his relationship with a higher power, but there’s one thing he knows for sure: The closer he gets to Bailey, the better, brighter, happier, more he feels. Then his parents start cutting all their worldly ties in preparation for the Rush, the divine moment when the faithful will be whisked off to Heaven…and they want David to do the same. David’s torn. He likes living in the moment, and isn’t sure about giving up his best friend, varsity baseball, and Bailey—especially Bailey—in hope of salvation. But when he comes home late from prom, and late for the Rush, to find that his parents have vanished, David is in more trouble than he ever could have imagined…
I love it when authors do unexpected things. I love when authors break the bounds of what seems to be their typical genre and try something different. Friends, Jeri Smith-Ready departs from the paranormal genre with This Side Of Salvation and writes a winsome, contemporary novel. This is a book that masters the weaving of elements of family, faith, and first love. If you’re hesitant to try this book because you think it’s going to turn into a surprise paranormal book, don’t be. The entire book remains contemporary and actually manages to excel within the genre.
This Side Of Salvation is written using two alternating timelines. The first timeline involves the here and now, where David is at a party and then comes home with his drunk sister Mara to find that his parents have disappeared. The second timeline involves the past and showing us how we got to this point, where David’s family began to break and how they end up turning to this woman, Sophia Visser for hope and salvation because Visser preaches that the Rush, aka the Rapture, is coming and that those who are being Rushed must prepare for it. The two timelines are seamless, although I will admit that sometimes the chapter changes and shifts were jarring, in that there would be this big action scene or reveal in one timeline and then we would switch to the other and I would be like COME ON LET’S FIND OUT WHAT IS HAPPENING. In the end, it’s all for the best though.
David is the sort of character I could not help but love. He’s incredibly authentic. He is carrying trauma with him from his older brother John’s death which happened when he was a kid. I won’t say that David is troubled, per se, but he does lash out and gets into things like graffiti when he’s like 12. Of course, he turns his act around and gets really into church and actually enjoys being homeschooled. What I also like is David’s passion for baseball and for pitching. He’s really, really good at pitching and it just makes some of his sacrifices for his family much more poignant when you see what he gives up. Also, you would think the baseball bits would be boring, but they are not. I think that’s the mark of a great writer, when they take an element that seems like it will not appeal and instead make it the most riveting thing ever. Trust, David’s baseball skills are riveting. Beyond his skills, what really makes me gel with David as a character is the way he possesses himself. Not like exorcist possess, but the way he carries himself. He doesn’t care what other people think and while he does do some not so great things, at the end of the day, he just wants his family to be whole again. At heart, he is a good person.
Speaking of David, what This Side OF Salvation truly excels at is it’s depiction of David’s family relationships. We see a family that is broken by tragedy, however we also realize that maybe David’s family was not perfect to begin with. For example, David’s dad trades one vice for another. Before his family becomes fundamentalist, his dad is an alcoholic. Then, he gets addicted to the Bible and speaks only using Bible verses. I will say, as a reader, it drove me as nuts as it drove David. His mom is kind of passive, like, she goes along with the whole thing, but we see her backbone come out. She’s a very under the radar character and after reading the book and thinking about it, I have to admit that I do appreciate her character. Then there is David’s sister Mara. She’s headstrong and lashes out against the whole Rusher thing. She thinks that her parents are being ridiculous and does not think she should have to give up her life because her parents went off the deep end. I love that. I love that we see how Mara tries so hard to be the perfect child, to make up for her brother John’s death, but she’s testing her boundaries like a normal teenager and secretly rebelling. We get to see how David and Mara have this antagonist relationship but how, at the end of the day, they are a team. I think if you like books with family dynamic, you’ll enjoy this one.
As for the romance, note there is one in Smith-Ready’s latest book. David meets this girl, Bailey, in what’s called Math Cave and he instantly falls for her. Of course, the two do not immediately date. They do not immediately fall in love. It’s a slow, over time thing. Also, Bailey has more experience than David, if you know what I mean and that was a nice reversal from what I usually see. What I like is how different Bailey and David are. Bailey’s family is very earth crunchy. They believe strongly in science. Whereas David’s family is very religious and are not exactly science worshippers. Yet, the two challenge each other. They have an intellectual and physical attraction for each other. The way the romance is handled is kind of perfect, y’all.
Finally, you might be reading this and nervous about how religion is handled in This Side Of Salvation. I’ll note that I think Smith-Ready is very respectful of religion and of those who lack it. I don’t often see YA books where faith plays a main role. Yet, this is a book where David questions his faith, he questions God, and yet, we never feel any doubt that he believes. We also get Bailey who does not have faith. She’s not painted as someone who is a bad person at all. She’s also respectful of David’s beliefs which I appreciated. I loved that there was no agenda in this book. Instead, it’s really about a broken family and first love. The Rapture that did not happen is the catalyst, sure, but it’s not the ultimate heart of this story. So, if the religion bits make you reluctant for any reason, no matter what side of the spectrum you stand on, I am going to say give this book a shot, it’s brilliant and I loved everything about it.