Source: Advanced Reading Copy from the publisher.
Book Description (my take):
After leaving yet another church due to an embarrassing scene caused by Audrey, her schizophrenic mother, Zenovia and Audrey join a new church group called the Brethren of the Sacrifice. The Brethren may have an odd church service, but they warmly welcome the newcomers, befriend them, and make them feel cared for.
Seventeen-year-old Zenovia has concerns about some of the teachings of the Brethren, but she pushes them aside due to her desire to stay near a Brethren boy she has a crush on. Her mother, Audrey, has no concerns. She's found the man she knows she's going to marry due to a vision she had years ago. But after Audrey marries, her husband convinces her to stop taking her medication in faith that God will heal her if she does.
As Audrey loses control again, Zenovia becomes angry and pushes the limits of Brethren rules in rebellion. Can Zenovia find soul-satisfying redemption for her sin within the Brethren or will their method of gaining salvation force her to leave everything she loves behind?
In the Midst of It All is Christian general fiction with a good dose of romance. The novel was a quick read, and the pacing was very good. However, the world-building lacked consistent depth. The scenes involving the Brethren meetings were clearly detailed, but the details surrounding the rest of Zenovia's life and the "outside" lives of the other characters were usually vague to nonexistent.
The characters were realistic and likable. I sometimes felt like they didn't have a lot of depth, though, as usually only surface motivations were explained. I did care about what happened to Zenovia and sped through the heavy foreboding of the first two-thirds of the novel to discover what happened next.
I rather wish the novel had started with a scene showing Audrey "going mental" in their last church prior to the Brethren so I could have felt why Zenovia stayed with the Brethren and emotionally sympathized with it instead of just understood it. It worked as written; I didn't feel the urge to "shake some sense" into Zenovia. But I think I would have been more deeply engaged by the Brethren scenes that way rather than just hurrying through them.
Audrey and Zenovia had visions. Audrey thought they were from God, Zenovia wasn't certain, and the issue was never clearly resolved. Religious beliefs were a main focus of the novel, though mainly the obey-the-rules beliefs of the cult rather than the teachings of traditional Christianity. The author assumed the reader was familiar with what the Bible really teaches on the topics covered as she generally didn't clarify the differences between that and what the cult taught. I don't think most non-Christians would find the novel preachy, but I suspect they might be confused by parts of it.
There was a very minor amount of explicit bad language. There was premarital sex, but it wasn't graphic. Overall, I'd recommend this novel to Christians as good, fairly clean reading.
If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.
Excerpt from Chapter One
Zenovia heard knocks on the door.
They were not the soft knocks of the children in the apartment next door. There were two of them--a boy and a girl. Always dirty, with unwashed faces and mismatched socks, if any. Their mama was on crack, like so many of the mothers in King Kennedy, one of Cleveland's most notorious housing projects.
The two children visited Zenovia and Audrey every morning looking for breakfast. But it was ten a.m. and they were probably plopped in front of their television, watching the Saturday morning cartoons.
Zenovia waited for the knock again. This time it came with a voice. "Hello? Is anyone home? We'd like to share the Gospel with you today."
Zenovia laughed. She had been thinking that the person behind the door was a drug boy running from the police or a crackhead hustling some stolen property. But it was a lady, and she wanted to share the Gospel. No harm there.
Still, she didn't answer the door.
Audrey rushed from the bedroom of the one-bedroom apartment. She was wearing a ratty yet colorful housecoat. Wild red hair framed her face like a flame, perfectly complementing her freckles and green eyes.
"Why don't you get the door?" she asked.
She didn't wait for a response, but went to the door herself. She swung it open wide and smiled at the two ladies who stood before her.
"Good morning!" Audrey sang.
"Well, good morning to you too!" said the lady.
Audrey asked, "Did I hear y'all say, y'all was talking about the Gospel this morning?"
"Yes, you did. The Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
"Well, come on in and keep talking! Zenovia, something told me we were going to have good news today."
Zenovia felt a smile tickle the sides of her lips. That something was a vision. Audry had been having them since she was a little girl, and Zenovia had started having them when she'd turned twelve. They were haphazard messages, sometimes future, sometimes past. Usually there wasn't enough information contained in the visions to do anything useful. Most times, Zenovia was annoyed by the visions; treated them like unannounced visitors. Just like the two Bible ladies.
[Note: Yes, Zenovia has dark skin like on the book cover.]
Read more from chapter one.