2 out of 4 stars
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The world is a scary place, and even the most kind, goodhearted, wonderful people can have the most terrible things happen to them. Thus is the case in The Girl at the River: Blindsided by Darkness and Deception by Tangerlene Francis. This short book (70 pages according to Amazon) is essentially a parable over six chapters told via the fictional life of Shelby Clark, an ordinary girl who faces terrible things in her life.
The book begins with Shelby and her family facing issues with money. She is one of six children and her father didn't earn enough money for everything they needed, so Matthew, the eldest sibling, turned to selling drugs. He contributed to the family without telling them how he was earning the money, and it isn't long until he ends up murdered. This causes Shelby, the only one who did know about his illicit drug dealing, to feel guilty and attempt to commit suicide.
The story then jumps 8 years ahead, where Shelby is now in college. Unfortunately, she ends up making some frenemies that she calls the SB girls. The initials aren't ever truly defined, but two chapters later Tangerlene uses the phrase "identify your SBs (stumbling blocks)", so I'm assuming this was an undefined hint at what was to come. Sadly, these girls cause some absolutely terrible things to happen to Shelby, including drugging her and having her raped. Luckily this rape is very quickly glossed over and takes only a single paragraph to explain it all.
Unfortunately, this fast forward pace is maintained throughout the entire book. Amazon says the book is 70 pages long, but the entire thing fits in less than 130 screens in my iBooks app on my phone and there were numerous blank pages or pages that sum up chapters. There are six chapters total and there are several time jumps. Each chapter ends with a reflection that sums up the important lesson of the chapter and presents the reader with a few questions to make it more personal. For example, in the chapter that ends with Shelby's brother Matthew murdered and her suicide attempt, she asks you what your "river" is and whether you're currently at peace.
Using the river as a metaphor is something that occurs throughout the book. For Shelby this is a literal river, but it's also presumably used as a metaphor for everyone else. From what I'm aware of, asking someone what their river is would be akin to asking what your park bench is (for those who like to relax on a park bench), or what your happy space is. In another chapter, where Shelby loses herself to try to fit in with and befriend the SB girls, Tangerlene refers to the turning away from herself and God as "the desert", which is a "dry place" compared to Shelby's river. The two combined make for a rather elegant, simple metaphor.
The other major focus of the book is Christianity. The Clark family is very religious, and throughout all of the chapters Shelby's problems are comparative to her relationship with God. When things are going wrong, it's because Shelby stopped going to the river and reflecting there, letting her relationship with God slip away. On the other hand, when Shelby was trying to get through rough times and get better, she was coming back to God. There were also a few Bible verses mentioned in the book, and as a Christian myself I feel that Tangerlene did a wonderful job weaving Christianity into the book.
Tangerlene ends up covering a few major lessons here in The Girl at the River, but the delivery method ranges from confusing to absurd without any of the characters having any personality. The book also moves so fast that I never felt drawn into the story being told at all. I'm sure there are people who will relate to some of the stories here, but the majority of folks (myself included) can't really relate much to having a drug dealer brother who is murdered or being raped by multiple men while passed out from a drug given to us by women who claim to be friends, and then waking up next to one and being beaten by one so badly that we end up in a coma shortly after, let alone the rest of the twists. However, I can see why Tangerlene went with such wild events for Shelby to face - not only do they show just how terrible things can be when we stray too far from the path, Shelby making it through such horrific events also gives us hope that surely we can get through whatever obstacles we face too.
This was a really quick, light read despite the heavy themes due to everything moving at a whirlwind pace. I only found a couple errors and neither messed with my experience whatsoever. I could see teenagers perhaps getting the most out of it, but it would have to be teenagers who are Christian and aren't triggered by reading a book that involves rape. The caveat would be that this is basically a set of parables within one woman's fictional life, it doesn't really work as just a piece of fiction. I'd rate the book 1.5 stars if I could, but since I can't my rating of The Girl at the River is 2 out of 4 stars.
The girl At The River
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