In the Matter of Life and Death

Last Monday, I reviewed Jodi Picoult’s newest novel, A SPARK OF LIGHT, which is little more than a pro-choice treatise impugning the privileged white man (cis male) as well as those whack-a-doodle Christians who are nuttier than Austin Powers’ coffee.

I didn’t set out to follow up Picoult’s exercise in misery by reading another novel about inspiration-prideabortion. But then, perusing the shelves at the library, a title caught by eye.

But it wasn’t really the title that got me. More of a word, really.


Not a word you hear too often any more. In a world where the self is revered, atonement seems an outdated concept. But not so fast. Here’s a quick bite of history:

Originally penned when grunge and Bill Clinton ruled and political correctness was rather brand new and shiny, THE ATONEMENT CHILD takes place in a different, pre-9/11 America.

Back then, Seinfeld and the collective neuroses of the fab-four was making us all laugh–well before today’s hipsters had proclaimed the show insensitive, racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Native-American, anti-Pakistani, etc., etc. (Google it if you don’t believe me.)

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On the other hand, pro-choice had a stronghold on our collective consciousness, and it was hard to remember when women didn’t demand control over their bodies.51r+ldc6hpl._sy355_

Birth control had come out of the dark ages almost thirty years prior.

The Sexual Revolution was so yesterday.

But still, most rational, compassionate human beings would agree that women who become impregnated after a rape should never, never be forced to carry a child to term. Right?

And so, with that much control and choice at hand, the need for atonement began sitting in the back. Soon to be booted right out the door–just saying.

Title is linked to author’s website (although book is also available on Amazon.)

THE ATONEMENT CHILD by Francine Rivers, Tyndale Fiction, Carol Stream, Illinois, 1997 and 2011. 386 pages.

Meet Dynah Carey, a sheltered young woman attending a Christian college in Illinois–far from her home in Northern California. Pretty, sweet and trusting, Dynah quickly catches the eye of future pastor/Big Man on Campus, Ethan. the-atonement-child_300

Ethan’s got everybody eating out of his hand–professors, administrators, and fellow students–especially the single women.

Dynah is flattered that Ethan only has eyes for her. She proudly wears his engagement ring.

One night, Dynah is on her way back to campus after working her shift at a retirement home when she is attacked, dragged into the bushes, and raped.

From there, Dynah’s life changes forever.

She withdraws from most everybody. And especially her parents who know nothing of their daughter’s trauma.

Only Ethan’s roomate, Joe, seems to support Dynah.

Especially after she finds out she’s pregnant.

If Ethan had trouble dealing with the catastrophic event before, well, now he’s jerk-royalty. He can’t get over that his virginal fiancee has been defiled. Something’s been taken from him. Poor Ethan.

And now the clock is ticking. Especially after the Dean of the private college forces Dynah to leave school quietly. Permanently. (Ethan’s got some company in the jerk-royalty department.)

And that’s when she goes home to her parents, who unbeknownst to Dynah, have their own marital issues that threaten to tear them apart for good.

Throw in a way-cool grandmother who has her own pack of sins on her back and you’ve got a whole lot of characters in need of ATONEMENT.

But first some people are determined to convince Dynah that the only way forward is to have an abortion so she can reclaim her carefree life.

The problem is…Dynah isn’t so sure that’s what she wants.

Because as much as everyone wants to believe it so, there are no easy answers when a young woman experiences an unplanned pregnancy–even in extreme cases–i.e. pregnancy resulting from rape.

I couldn’t put this book down. I really cared about Dynah. And her mother. And her grandmother. I actually cried over Dynah as she went through her journey–because yes, this writer is just that good and the subject matter is just that compelling.

Another mark of a great novel? Despite extremely long chapters, I found myself lost and absorbed all the way through. I never caught myself wondering how much longer a chapter would go on. I didn’t want the chapter to end. And that’s high praise.

While Dynah is inherently naive, this is not a tome of goody-goods that will make readers gag on honeysuckle and promises. There is plenty of grit in the main, supporting characters, and Dynah, too, will show more grit than most of us ever do.

And unlike Jodi Picoult’s latest book on the same topic, Rivers presents the facts without a heavy hand. Without accusations and generalizations.

In ATONEMENT, we follow choice and life. We follow characters–yes, multiple, who face the crucible of unplanned pregnancy. We are left with a lot to think about.

And then, in a neat trick, Rivers points us back to the original atonement child. You know, the one whose birthday we just celebrated last month.

Wow. Mind blown.

Foxy Rating Scale: Five out of Five Foxes





Susan J. Anderson

Foxy Writer Chick

2 thoughts on “In the Matter of Life and Death

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