When I was first given a copy of 'Redeeming Love' and was told I MUST read it, the rebellious side of me tried not to (I wasn't a fan of Christian fiction). But I was soon gripped by the tale of undeserved love and grace that the re-telling of the story of Hosea and Gomer revealed. And the same has been true for every other Francine Rivers book I have devoured since.
I must say Francine has done it again. I am always totally blown away by the worlds that her huge novels create. Each one is based around a totally different era and situation and yet she expertly crafts a totally plausible and utterly believable backdrop for her characters. It is obvious why she is a bestselling author, as she knows her craft so well.
Francine often has at the heart of her books the eternal story of redemption and grace. This newest one reminded me a little of 'Redeeming Love', in that it focused on one girl's journey. She makes so many huge mistakes, but ultimately finds her way home again.
The book begins with Pastor Zeke discovering a little girl, just born, abandoned by the bridge into Haven. Taking her in for her first years, he eventually feels he must give her to another family from his church to raise. Devastated, Abra kicks back against the situation, feeling that it is just another instance of her being abandoned. You can sense the deep hurt on both sides, but also the integrity as the pastor tries to do what he feels is right.
Eventually Abra grows into a beautiful young woman, but when a fast-talking, fast-driving boy turns up in town that both she and her 'sister' fall for, it is she that turns her back on all she has known and runs away with him. Abra soon learns life's lessons the hard way as she is used and abused by the boy.
Ending up in Hollywood, Abra becomes a rising acting star – but only due to a controlling agent desperate to make a comeback.
There are so many things that spoke to me in this story. It is obviously about temptation, grace and unconditional love. However it is also about making mistakes and having to live with the consequences, feeling helpless, lost and alone, what it is like to have to let go and watch someone make decisions you know aren't good for them, learning to grow up and take responsibility, having to face those you've hurt (and those people face you). Even though the book was set in 1950s America, the themes are universal and timeless.
I felt drawn to the parts of the novel that I could relate back to situations and circumstances I'd come across in my own life, but it also ultimately urges you to reflect on your own salvation and the fact that we have a loving Father who beckons us with unconditional love – whatever we've done.
Francine has a way of drawing you into the world she has created and I found myself reading faster and faster – often missing little bits and having to go back because I was so eager to find out what was going to happen.
If I have one criticism (and I'm really having to scrape the barrel here as I think Francine is an incredible writer) it is that, because her books are often based on the wider Christian story of redemption, they can be a little predictable – as you know what is going to win out in the end. However, although the ending of this book tied up a lot of the story in ways I was expecting there was one part I hadn't seen coming at all. So that little 'shock' made the read even more pleasurable.
The Bridge to Haven is out now from Tyndale House Publishers. If you've never read any of Francine Rivers' books then go and discover them for yourself – you are in for a real treat. And to read my interview with Francine please click here.