Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review: Faith

Summary: It is the spring of 2002 and a perfect storm has hit Boston. Across the city's archdiocese, trusted priests have been accused of the worst possible betrayal of the souls in their care. In Faith, Jennifer Haigh explores the fallout for one devout family, the McGanns. 

Estranged for years from her difficult and demanding relatives, Sheila McGann has remained close to her older brother Art, the popular, dynamic pastor of a large suburban parish. When Art finds himself at the center of the maelstrom, Sheila returns to Boston, ready to fight for him and his reputation. What she discovers is more complicated than she imagined. Her strict, lace-curtain-Irish mother is living in a state of angry denial. Sheila's younger brother Mike, to her horror, has already convicted his brother in his heart. But most disturbing of all is Art himself, who persistently dodges Sheila's questions and refuses to defend himself. 

As the scandal forces long-buried secrets to surface, Faith explores the corrosive consequences of one family's history of silence—and the resilience its members ultimately find in forgiveness. Throughout, Haigh demonstrates how the truth can shatter our deepest beliefs—and restore them. A gripping, suspenseful tale of one woman's quest for the truth, Faith is a haunting meditation on loyalty and family, doubt and belief. Elegantly crafted, sharply observed, this is Jennifer Haigh's most ambitious novel to date. -- Harper

I have tried to write my review for the novel FAITH by Jennifer Haigh a number of times, and so far, I haven't had much luck. The problem is that I absolutely loved this novel! I mean that I was seriously blown away by this book. My ideas and feelings about FAITH are so huge that I can't even put into words how much (and why) I think this novel is so incredible. When I try to write, I feel as if I'm gushing or that my words aren't doing justice to the power of this story. I should probably just stop right here with these five words: YOU HAVE TO READ FAITH!

But since I committed to writing a review for TLC Book Tours, I feel obligated to try to express my thoughts in a somewhat articulate way. Since there are so many things that I loved about this novel, I'm just going to mention a few of the highlights. Bottom line: I think it's best for each reader to explore this novel on their own. I am confident that every person who picks up this book will be affected by it in some way, and I think parts of this story will resonate differently with each individual reader.

FAITH tells the story of the McGann family after the eldest son Art, a popular Catholic priest, is accused of molesting a young boy. The story is told in the words of Sheila, Art's younger sister, who has extreme faith in her brother's innocence, while at the same time, has lost much of her faith in organized religion. Sheila tells not only Art's story, but the story of the entire McGann family including her brother Mike's. She captures the family's past, including their many secrets, as well as the current state of affairs of each individual in the family. Sheila's story is told "after the fact," but the reader doesn't learn the complete fallout of the events (as well as all of the surprises) until the end of the novel.

There are truly so many things I'd love to say about this book; however, I have a feeling that this review is going to be long enough as it is if I just mention some of my highlights! First and foremost, I loved Ms. Haigh's writing style, but that didn't surprise me because I am always impressed with her books. (FAITH is her fourth novel and all four are excellent in my opinion. In fact, FAITH has assured me that Ms. Haigh is one of my very favorite authors!) Ms. Haigh definitely knows how to tell a fascinating story, but it was the character development in FAITH that really made it memorable to me. I felt as if I truly got to understand not just the narrator Sheila, but also her brothers Art and Mike. All three of these characters were extremely complex and deeply affected by their childhoods; however, I especially loved how she conveyed their inner turmoil. She also managed to show how each character was affected by (and changed as a result of) their experiences.

In addition to the character development, I loved how Ms. Haigh told this story. It's obvious that I enjoyed the story itself a great deal, but the unraveling of the story kept me riveted to this novel. I honestly couldn't put it down! Sheila was telling the reader about her brother Art's story (and in the process, the entire family's story), and I was desperate to learn whether Art was innocent or guilty (or maybe both...) In addition, because there were so many flashbacks, I enjoyed how the secrets of the family kept coming to light. There were times when I felt as if I could see what was coming, and then there were other times that I was honestly quite surprised!

Despite all of the wonderful things I could say about the story and the characters, I honestly think that what I enjoyed most about FAITH was how it made me feel. I can't stop thinking or talking about this novel -- and that says a lot. As a practicing Catholic, I have to wonder if the story "hit home" with me a little bit more than it might with other readers because it does delve into the sex scandal, how the church handled it, as well as the sacrifices that priests are expected to make for the benefit of the church. However, I honestly think that so many of the themes of the novel are universal, and many readers will be powerfully affected by them. The book looks at family dynamics... really complex family dynamics, but it also explores many personal themes including obligation, sacrifice, self-awareness, and the big one -- faith (and I don't mean just in a religious way.)

As far as I'm concerned, FAITH is one of those books that begs to be discussed. In fact, I want to pick this novel the next time it's my month to host book club. As soon as I finished FAITH, I was dying to talk about it with a friend or two. (Sadly, my husband didn't share in my enthusiasm -- he wanted to know if these people were "real." When I said no, I think he zoned out.) FAITH brought so many things to light for me and really generated a lot of thought in my mind -- and that's exactly why I loved this book so much! There is an excellent reading guide available which delves into many of the same questions that I want to address. Some of the themes that I'm dying to explore further include commitment, honesty, trust, family dynamics, religion, denial, relationships, love, doubt, scandal, secrets, forgiveness, sacrifice, and of course, the many different meanings of the word "faith." (I just listed some of the most powerful themes to me. There are quite a few other topics you might choose to discuss.)

Trust me -- FAITH is a must-read novel! I rarely give books ratings, but this one warrants 5 stars!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing a review copy of this novel. You can see the entire tour schedule for FAITH here.


Sandy Nawrot said...

Wow, your enthusiasm is infectious! This is SUCH a touchy subject in the Catholic community today. In our church, our music director was recently accused of molesting a child THIRTY YEARS AGO! Rocked our world, in a very disturbing way. So it isn't even just the priests. It certainly gives me pause when my son announced he wanted to be an alter server...

bermudaonion said...

Wow, I knew you loved this book, but not how much! Your review blew me away! I hope I have a chance to read it soon.

Angie said...

I knew I wanyed to read this book when I first saw it. Now I absolutely can't wait! Unfortunately, I'm second on the list for it at the library :(

Florinda said...

I have to say that I wasn't a fan of the narrative style, but that didn't stop me from being completely caught up in this one! I agree - there's a lot of meat for discussion here, and Faith is going to be a serious contender for my "Books of the Year" list.

Great review! Mine posts tomorrow.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This does sound like a fantastic book club selection!

iwriteinbooks said...

Oooo, a five star, eh? This really does look interesting.

Beth F said...

Wow indeed. Your enthusiasm is contagious. Any book that had that much impact on you is a book I need to pick up.

heathertlc said...

It's so hard to write a review when you have such passionate feelings about a book, isn't it?!

Thanks so much for being on this tour Julie. I loved your review and will be featuring it on TLC's Facebook page.

Amy said...

I loved you review and post, Julie, I also reviewed Faith for TLC Books. It blew me away. It's my first time reading a book my Jennifer Haigh but I'm going to make sure I read her other books. You are so right that you don't need to be catholic or familiar with catholicism to enjoy Faith. It's about people, family, relationships, loyalty, love and so much more. I found it difficult to put down when reading it and since, I have encouraged many people to get a copy and read it as soon as they can!