book review: Beyond the Shadow of the Brownstone

Brownstone coverTitle: Beyond the Shadow of the Brownstone

Author: Valerie Lawrence

Publisher: Carpenter’s Son Publishing

Complimentary Copy Provided by: Buoyancy Press

Rating: B+

Book Description:

Following a family as they transition from the “Old World” culture to their newly adopted Country, Beyond the Shadow of the Brownstone” pulses with life and death, sorrow and joy. We hold on for dear life traversing through the wild turbulence of trials, tragedies and triumphs. Knowing that Children are the spiritual and corporal legacy, the family is fractured when abortion becomes a very real issue. The psychological impact presents thought provoking ideas that challenge the reader.

The reader emerges through the storm weathered and worn, but with the realization that life is precious, fleeting and fragile. The knowledge that a life full of joy, hope and peace is possible, only after forgiveness. Valerie Lawrence reminds us that those living in depths of despair, or struggling with family problems, can find solace by offering them the wisdom that a broken, bitter and battered heart can be transformed into a heart filled with unconditional acceptance and unending love.

Review:

I have to say I’m a bit conflicted about the Brownstone. This book socks you in the gut early on and doesn’t let you recover. While I found it riveting, compelling, and challenging, it ultimately left me feeling disappointed. (Though I do believe Beyond the Shadow of the Brownstone would make for a dynamic book club selection.)

I have to admit I could not put this book down. The author certainly accomplished what she set out to do: engage readers in a challenging topic. By the very nature of the conflict around abortion, every chapter elicits an emotional response. I found myself analyzing each character’s choices and behavior, social accomplishments and personal triggers, family dynamics along with generational captivities and legacy. The phrase “the sins of the father (and mother) pass to the children” certainly manifest in the Miller lineage. Generations of secrecy and cover-ups produce enough dysfunction in the family to rival any modern reality show. While the primary conflict centers on abortion, many minor themes are woven through as well: infidelity, greed, the dissolving of communication, the erosion of family values, placing career above commitment to family. At times the nuances felt forced and ‘preachy’ rather than organic evolutions, but enough conflict is present to keep the mind engaged long after the book has been “set on the nightstand until later.”

With large, sweeping brushstrokes, the reader is introduced to 4 generations of the Miller family in the first 40 pages of the novel. While I expected more of an ensemble “cast”, Grace Miller emerges very quickly as the central character. All others become secondary, therefore Grace is the only fully developed character in the novel. I felt this presented a missed opportunity to truly build upon what could have been some pretty rich characters, which I feel would have allowed for more honest engagement of the rationale behind some of the choices made by various characters.

It’s very clear the author’s conviction falls heavily in the pro-life camp, which is fine. However I found the preachyness of the staunchly pro-life stance limiting to the potential for what could have been a dynamic conversation on abortion. Since Grace’s perspective and history is the only viewpoint explored in depth, I found the author’s unwillingness to open the conversation belittling to Sara’s character (Sara is the woman choosing to terminate a pregnancy). By default, the author projects a hypercritical view of any woman who has chosen to have an abortion.

And this is where my disappointment comes in. As much as I felt challenged and moved by the conflict between Grace and Sara this book left me feeling hopeless and incredibly sad.

The following excerpt from the back cover lead me to believe a thread of hope would be present in the novel:

“The reader emerges through the storm weathered and worn, but with the realization that life is precious, fleeting and fragile. The knowledge that a life full of joy, hope and peace is possible, only after forgiveness … the wisdom that a broken, bitter and battered heart can be transformed into a heart filled with unconditional acceptance and unending love.”

I saw very little interaction, reconciling or resolution that lead either Sara or Grace to a place of finding forgiveness, transformation or unconditional acceptance. Therefore neither character experienced the comfort of receiving God’s hope, love, joy or peace. And that broke my heart, more so for the many women who will read this novel who have experienced the trauma and emotional scarring from an abortion who will walk away from this read feeling judged and demeaned. Through Grace’s plight to save her unborn grandson, the reader is dragged through the wringer … and left there. No resolution between Grace and Sara materialized. No path to forgiveness was reached. I feel this sorely missed an opportunity to convey the most timely, empowering, and healing message possible to any woman who has experienced the hardship and trauma of having an abortion: hope, healing, peace is found in the grace and love and forgiveness of Jesus, who longs to cover your guilt and sorrow with forgiveness. The emotional weight of a choice made days, weeks, months or years ago is one God longs to relieve and replace with the filling of his gentleness and unending love.

If you’ve had an abortion, may the following resources guide you to a place of emotional, psychological and spiritual recovery that is rooted and affirmed in God’s love and tender care for you:

brownstone - valerie lawrenceAuthor Bio: Valerie M. Lawrence.. (1945-2013). “Beyond the Shadow of the Brownstone” a brilliant work by this most accomplished author. A troubled childhood directed her to seek comfort in the one area that only she could control, that of Education. Graduating Magna Cum Laude from Duquesne University with a degree in science she continued her studies as the University of Pittsburgh receiving her PhD in Psychology. Coupled with her religious training and certifications in related programs along with her vast research and clinical studies she became a specialist in individual, family and marriage conflicts. “If you can’t control the wind, adjust the sails.” Those words were the compass that helped her navigate the seas of life. Drawing on personal discipline, moral integrity and educational and religious values along with the desire to assist those with personal demons she found the perfect canvas for Beyond the Shadow of the Brownstone.”

(I received a complimentary copy of this book from Buoyancy Public Relations in exchange for an honest review.)

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