At 25 years old, Joan Sanderson should be traveling the world, writing books, and meeting suave young men with generous ambitions. Instead, she’s living at home, managing a rent-to-own furniture store, and meeting men who are already taken or who’ve already cast her aside. There’s no question about it: Joan is stuck.
The rest of Virginia Smith’s novel, Stuck in the Middle, is pretty familiar. A young doctor moves in next door, Joan learns to be happy for those around her, and through it all, she finds a faith worth more than she ever could have imagined. Typical. Yet, the way in which Smith handles the story has elements that are quite refreshing for a Christian romance.
The first element is Joan’s starting situation. Since her father left, years ago, Joan’s family has been living with her grandmother. Throughout the book, Joan deals with the resulting issues: distrusting men, blaming her mother for what happened, and an inability to discuss her feelings with people. These issues aren’t solved by dramatic happenings, but instead, through several deliberate and uncomfortable conversations, Joan finds closure.
Smith does another great thing in limiting the personal ink-time given to the romantic interest, Ken. Unlike some novelists who insist on giving the man’s reactions to the heroine’s every movement, we only see Ken in a plot-developing case at the hospital, conversation with his sister, and a humorous, confused reaction to Joan’s more than awkward flirting techniques—compliments of her oh-so-helpful older sister. Ken also has time to demonstrate a developed faith, and the desire to marry someone with a similar faith.
This brings us to the third element. As in many Christian novels, our heroine starts with a rather non-existent relationship with God. Joan goes to Sunday school and the morning service. Given this starting point, we get the unique opportunity to see a character go beyond simply a realization of God’s love. Instead, we get to see Joan nervously suggest to her Sunday school class that they get involved in some kind of ministry—and then we get to see her plans take flight.
One unfortunate aspect of Stuck in the Middle is a disregard for the learning of Christian doctrine. When Ken visits Joan’s old-fashioned church, he isn’t impressed by the Sunday school teacher’s in-depth looks at Greek words and historical contexts; further, the teacher has a striking inability to answer any questions about the Bible. Ken later talks about how his pastor doesn’t even use notes to preach—he preaches from the heart. At a time when many Christians are hot on passion, but have limited knowledge to back it up, this is probably not the best message to be spreading. The rest of the book, however, makes it worth forgiving this one weakness.
Over all, Stuck in the Middle is a step forward for the Christian romance genre. Smith’s realistic characters and demonstration of active faith make her book worth checking out. -- Bethany DuVal, www.ChristianBookPreviews.com
Joan Sanderson's life is stuck. Her older sister, Allie, is starting a family and her younger sister, Tori, has a budding career. Meanwhile, Joan is living at home with Mom and looking after her aging grandmother. Not exactly a recipe for excitement. That is, until a hunky young doctor moves in next door. Suddenly Joan has a goal--to get a date. But it won't be easy. Pretty Tori flirts relentlessly with him and Joan is sure that she can't compete. But with a little help from God, Allie, and an enormous mutt with bad manners, maybe Joan can find her way out of this rut. Book 1 of the Sister-to-Sister series, Stuck in the Middle combines budding romance, spiritual searching, and a healthy dose of sibling rivalry.