Author’s Note: We received a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)
Sharon Garlough Brown’s latest novel is a raw look at the everyday life of those who struggle with mental health issues; however, the storyline needed more depth. Brown attempts to normalize depression and anxiety by showing how most people struggle with varying degrees of one or both at some point in their lives, but neglects to show the reasons why people struggle with depression, anxiety, and or panic attacks. Wren spends a big part of every day listening to the painful stories of abused women and children who come to find healing at the counseling house where she works. Lately it has been harder and harder for her to see the light amidst all the darkness in the world. When she begins struggling with activities of daily living, she checks herself into a psychiatric hospital with the goal of getting back on track; however, the medications they prescribe don’t help her deal with fellow patients or have good emotional responses. Wren begins to lose hope that she will ever lead a normal life again. When Wren is finally released from the hospital she arrives home to a personal crisis that sends her over the edge. Will she find her way out of the darkness and into God’s glorious light? To answer this question, read the book and decide for yourself.;) On the whole, the novel is an artistic depiction of depression and anxiety that struggles to tie up the fraying edges of the story. The biggest weakness in Shades of Light is the lack of basis for Wren’s condition. According to the professional counselor on our staff, people do not suddenly start having panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, and the inability to cope with basic tasks. This type of behavior is usually the result of some sort of trauma in an individual’s past; therefore, a series of flashbacks to a traumatic experience in Wren’s childhood was what was needed here. The implementation of this concept is the only way that her behavior would be believable. Additionally, there are some continuity errors in the form of a scattery beginning and abrupt ending. In comparison, the novel’s greatest strengths are it’s honest look at the flaws in American churches and the outside-the-box spiritual truths that are woven into the fiber of the novel. These strengths give the shaky storyline a huge boost, thus rounding out the rating to just above average. In summary, were it not for the plot and storyline errors, this novel would have been groundbreaking.
Character Development (2.5 points)
Likewise, Brown’s characters are arguably the strongest part of the novel. Although the storyline does not always give them much to work with, the depth, honesty, and intelligent thinking displayed by Wren, Kit, and Jamie (Wren’s mother) is refreshing. Wren is a true artist because she sees the dark and light parts of life in equal measure (many Christian authors try to craft artistic female leads, but end up with a flighty, ditsy character who searches for substance). Kit is a great example of someone who is letting God use her weakness and past struggles for his glory by helping others in similar states. Jamie is also a good character because her imperfections are equal to her strengths. Furthermore, Jamie’s husband is not the typical pastor character because he has an identity outside of his job. Finally, the minor characters, including Jamie’s other children, are good and have above average dialogue. (spoiler) The main weaknesses to point out here are the ever-changing Casey character whose codependent relationship with Wren is excused, and the fact that arcs of all the characters come to a hasty conclusion. This being said, Brown rounds out with an above average score in this section as well.
Creativity & Originality (1 point)
Finally, Brown earns a half point in creativity for her unique storyline and a half point in originality for her great dialogue and outside-the-box characters. We here at BOR think that this novel would make a great Christian drama series that focused on weaving together the storylines of Wren, Jamie, and Kit to show that everyone has their own struggles, but everyone can be used by God in amazing ways. The storyline would need some rewriting, and the characters a first-person perspective, but it can be done. We here at BOR hope that authors like these will recognize their potential to be great Christian screenwriters.
Wish List Rating: 6 out of 10 points