I'll be the first to say, I couldn't be objective about this book if I tried. Dr. G and I knew Braden and his family when we were at BYU in the mid-90s. We had his two oldest kids in our nursery class at church. This was when we wanted our own babies and couldn't have them, and D and S were kind of our special favorites. We committed all their funny little sayings to memory, and I can still picture their earnest and funny little toddler and preschool faces. I understand from Braden's family blog that as big teenagers they don't particularly like to be blogged about, so I won't relate their amusing pasts, I guess.
Anyway, when we first knew Braden, he was sick. Dr. G was one of the home teachers who helped bring the sacrament to him each week when he was bedridden. We participated with church members, friends and family in the massive fast that helped turn his illness around. A couple of very special times I have shared what I know of his story in lessons about fasting or miracles at church and felt the Spirit witness what an absolute miracle it is that he went on, after that debilitating battle, to complete a graduate degree, excel in a career he loves, and serve as a bishop (similar in some ways to a pastor or priest in other faiths).
So when Braden writes about pain and sadness, I know he's not imagining. When he writes about healing and miracles, it comes from a real place.
But I've read fiction by other dear friends before, friends whose experiences I know something of and with whom I sympathize. I don't always like their work, even when I like them a lot.
Braden's book, I liked. His writing doesn't call attention to itself, a quality I love. Instead of being show-offish, it's a vehicle for story. The characters felt natural and honest. Every one of them, I thought, seemed to have a little bit of the author's heart in him or her. (And maybe a little bit of me, too.) The experiences were forthrightly told, nothing hidden, nothing shied away from. There's humor that appeals to someone like me who was brought up to be a little bit of a snob when it comes to the arts, and there's sincerity that reminds me it's much more important to be a disciple of Christ.
The story brings together the members of a diverse congregation who have a range of spiritual problems: Depression, pride, illness, addiction, even just feeling like an outsider. The book presents all its characters unvarnished and yet all lovable. And the balm for every wound - in this book as in life - is the Atonement of Christ.
Wholeheartedly recommended. Thanks for your work, Braden.