It’s #Throwback Thursday. Today I’m bringing you my review of Perennials, by award-winning author Julie Cantrell. This review previously appeared at Australasian Christian Writers. Click here to check out the discussion.
Perennials: Inspirational Women’s Fiction for the Eat, Pray, Love Generation
I don’t usually read reviews before reading a book I’ve asked to review, because I don’t want to be influenced (in contrast, I do read reviews before buying a book. Call me weird, but I find it easier to ignore a book’s faults if I know them before I start reading page one).
Anyway, if the review I read was accurate, this book had a lot of faults. The chief fault appeared to be that it was from a Christian publisher, yet was not Christian fiction.
Okay, not sold. But I requested a review copy from NetGalley, because I wanted to find out for myself.
The writing was brilliant.
Julie Cantrell has a gift with words, with emotion. The plot was generally strong. I thought the plot device used to get Eva home to her family was contrived almost to the point of being unbelievable, but the writing was outstanding and the characterisation was solid enough that I was prepared to let a less-than-believable plot point pass.
Perennials is the story of a middle-aged professional woman who learns the hard way success isn’t defined by your salary or your job title (or your ability to life a Pinterest-worthy life), but by being true to yourself. She also learns that we can’t judge and resent others for their Pinterest-perfect lives, because we don’t know what they’re hiding.
These are powerful lessons.
Eva, the main character, wasn’t the most likeable person to begin with. She has a chip on her shoulder the size of a small planet, and even at forty-five years of age, it’s never occurred to her that her outlook on life and on her family (especially on her family) is anything but right. Being home again forces her to review and rethink some of her perceptions. The more I saw of her in her home town, the more I was able to sympathise and empathise with her situation.
Overall, I’d classify this as an inspirational women’s fiction version of Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh. Perennials definitely doesn’t fit in the narrow echo chamber of Christian fiction. If it was a romance, I’d say it was angling for a RITA nomination for Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements. It had plenty of spiritual elements—but most of them weren’t Christian:
Namaste. The light in me sees the light in you.
The ancestors have a lot to teach us.
Kachina Woman, Hera, Kuan Yin, Mary. Whoever she is, she is timeless and omnipotent, representing all things feminine and calming and wise.
Definitely not Christian—and that last quote is in direct contradiction to the Gospel of John, which makes clear that Jesus is the way. Not one of many. Yet there were also lines like this:
Love keeps no record of wrongs.
Jesus experienced the worst. Betrayed by someone he trusted, destroyed by the people he loved. Public shame, humiliation … but despite it all, he chose to love.
No, Perennials doesn’t fit into the shiny bucket that is CBA fiction.
If you’re looking for a typical Christian fiction novel, then I wouldn’t recommend Perennials. But if you’re looking for something that doesn’t fit the Christian norm—perhaps as a gift for a non-Christian friend who appreciates good writing and enjoys books such as Eat, Pray, Love—then Perennials may be a good option.
Perhaps Perennials does present Jesus as an option to be considered rather than as the answer. But in doing that, it may attract readers who wouldn’t ever pick up a ‘Christian’ novel. And if those readers are true to themselves, they will consider Jesus. And I believe we need more books written by Christians for a general market audience, books that address real-world problems and present Jesus as an option.
As Perennials does.
What do you think?
Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.
About Julie Cantrell
New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author, Julie Cantrell is known for writing inspirational novels that explore the hard truths women typically keep secret. While she delves into emotional issues, she does so with a compassionate and open heart, always bringing readers through to a hopeful path for peace, empathy, and healing.
A speech-language pathologist and literacy advocate, Julie was honored to receive the 2012 Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Fellowship. She also received the 2016 Mary Elizabeth Nelson Fellowship at Rivendell Writer’s Colony, which is awarded to a writer who encourages spiritual growth, healing, and care through his or her work.
Julie and her two children now live in Oxford, Mississippi where they spent six years operating Valley House Farm, a sustainable organic farmstead, before moving into a new adventure.