Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Plot and Storyline Quality (3.5 points)
Susie Finkbeiner’s latest novel has a great multi-dimensional storyline that uses many threads to create a uniquely beautiful tapestry. All Manner of Things portrays the main moral and social issues of the late 60’s and early 70’s in a realistic and non-patronizing way. Instead of using the jump-scare method of issue-based storytelling, Finkbeiner provides a realistic backdrop and a subtle, yet powerful central message. Annie Jacobson is is not your average American high school student. Others may assume that she lives a normal life because she goes to school, works at the local diner, and has late-night conversations with her best friend through their bedroom windows – but appearances can be deceiving. What makes Annie different is this; in the midst of a surface-over-substance culture, she has depth and a life purpose outside of her own interests. This is partly her nature, and partly because she has been forced to grow up without a father. One day while Annie and her older brother Mike are performing their usual tasks at the diner, he confesses that he has secretly enlisted in the U.S. Army because he knew the draft was coming anyway. Annie and her family are shocked, but manage to pull together as they always have to give him a good send-off. Shortly after Mike leaves, Annie’s paternal grandfather dies, which in turn causes Annie’s long-estranged father to show up in town for the funeral. As one event leads to another, the Jacobson family is torn between cautious hope and desparate faith. Will they be able to weather this attack on their lives and their hearts? To answer this question, read the book!:) Throughout the novel, Finkbeiner avoids giving too much information and uses the subtle placement of letters at poignant moments in the story to deepen the characters and the overall message. Additionally, her excellent portrayal of American family dynamics is rarely seen in Christian fiction. The only flaw to point out here is that a few of the minor characters in the story seem to fade away near the end. However, as people do move in and out of one’s life in a seemingly random fashion at times, Finkbeiner earns just shy of a perfect score for her dedication to plot and storyline development.
Character Development (4 points)
Likewise, Finkbeiner crafts excellent and realistic dialogue between her characters, and possesses the rare talent of crafting fictional people who leave the page to become reality…for just a moment. Annie’s first-person perspective on the story drives the plot, and her decisions reflect a perfect balance of strength and weakness, thus making her a perfect character. (spoiler) Frank’s (her father’s) realistic struggle with PTSD, and the long-lasting effects of the same on his life, are never seen in fiction. (spoiler) Additionally, Annie’s realization that Frank has maintained his relationship with God during their estrangement saves him from being a stereotype. Furthermore, the reactions of the rest of the Jacobson family to the issues at hand are realistically varied depending on personality, etc., and add even more depth to the story. In short, there is not enough good to say here. The Jacobsons are a family with a lot of emotional baggage who are doing their best to honor God, love one another, and share His love with others in the midst of it all. For all the reasons listed above (and even more), Finkbeiner earns a perfect score in character development.
Creativity & Originality (1.5 points)
Finally, Finkbeiner’s core message is this: In our lives we will experience periods of light and darkness, and although we assume God has left us in the darkness, it is on the other side of the same that we will realize He was there all along, working for our good. The author does not try to convince the reader that her worldview is correct, rather, she questions many societal norms of the past and speculates as to their impact on the present. In the end, she leaves the reader to make their own decision(s). This fact earns her the rarely awarded x-factor point in originality. Finkbeiner also earns a half point in creativity for her big-picture portrayal of the everyday and creative writing style that avoids many common errors in new ways. Additionally, we here at BOR feel that this novel would make an excellent Christian series based on the content in the same. Excellent job Ms. Finkbeiner! The Christian writing world needs more novels like yours.
Wish List Rating: 9 out of 10 points