Wednesday, August 26, 2015

When Mockingbirds Sing by Billy Coffey

When Mockingbirds Sing
Billy Coffey
Thomas Nelson Publishers

Official Backpage Synopsis

What marks the boundary between a miracle of God and the imagination of a child?

Nine-year-old Leah’s invisible friend seems harmless enough until he aids her in upsetting the tranquility of her new town, a place where her parents desperately hoped she’d finally be able to make friends and fit in. Hidden within a picture she paints for a failed toymaker are numbers that win the toymaker millions. Suddenly, townspeople are divided between those who see Leah as a prophet and those who are afraid of the danger she represents. Caught in the middle is Leah’s agnostic father, who clashes with a powerful town pastor over Leah’s prophecies and what to do about them.

When the imaginary friend’s predictions take an ominous turn and Leah announces that a grave danger looms, doubts arise over the truthfulness of her claims. As a violent storm emerges on the day of the annual carnival, Leah’s family and the town of Mattingly must make a final choice to cling to all they know or embrace the things she believes in that cannot be seen.

My Take in 3 Parts

The Theme
A little girl is somehow miraculously chosen to give Mattingly a message. Either from God or from some other being, but a definite message, and the town divides on how that message should be received, or even if it should be received.

What really stood out to me while reading this book is that nothing is as it seems in the small town of Mattingly. No one is as they seem. Almost the entire town goes to church and yet that same set of churchgoers turn their backs on an elderly man with an ailing wife when his success goes down the drain. Who does that? I found When Mockingbirds Sing to be an apt description of a society that pretends everything is fine, that everyone loves each other, when in reality there is a ton of backbiting and hatred going on. In other words, this book speaks the truth about the church, in ways many Christians do not eve want to admit. No, I'm not judging, not being harsh, just being honest about what I've seen during my years as a Christian, both in others and in myself. It's not a pretty picture. And this book really strips away the facade of Christianity to reveal the face beneath. We're not perfect, we're ugly and sinful creatures, and yet there is still salvation. The worst thing we can do, as believers, is put forth a false front of perfection and piety when we know, in our heart of hearts, that we coveted our best friend's new car, that we lusted after a sister's husband, or that we slipped down the street to buy a lotto ticket when our church is deadset against gambling.

I don't like pretending that all is well when I know it darn well isn't. And I'd rather have the truth out in the open than have people tiptoe around it as if the truth is an ugly thing to be ignored instead of released. When we confess truth, we conquer sin. It's as simple as that.

The Characters
On Shifting Sand by Allison Pittman was the last book I read that left me in a conundrum over how I felt about the characters. I usually either love characters or hate them, so this in-between is an unusual place for me. I didn't quite know what to make of Leah. In fact, sometimes I downright disliked her because she had no sense of societal timing over where and when to say something. Allie, Leah's friend, and Mabel, Barney's wife, I liked throughout the entirety of the book. Apart from them, I never liked someone all the time or disliked them all the time. Reggie the pastor, Barney the toymaker, Jake the sheriff, Allie's parents, Leah's parents, all of them had moments of like and dislike. It made them like real people. Because I don't always like the people I like or dislike the people I dislike, if that makes any sense at all. Very few people are bad all of the time or vice versa. So I felt authenticity in Coffey's character design, in their simplicity of emotion, yet complexity of action and mindset. These people felt real to me, and I appreciate that realism.

The Writing
Now, the writing is flawless. Billy Coffey writes his stories with a unique colloquialism that matches the society he's using. I don't usually read books where accents are written into the dialogue, but it works for Coffey's style. Even Leah with her stutter worked, although I think it did make When Mockingbirds Sing a little bit of a slow read for me because her sentences slowed me down. Still, that's a very minute point in an otherwise excellently penned prose.

Final Thoughts

I'm a little conflicted over this book. While I did like it, there were times when I almost wasn't certain what the author was trying to convey with his story. Maybe it's really just a story and individual people get out of it different things. That wouldn't surprise me if it were so. It's refreshing to read Coffey's work because he sees things differently. This isn't a love story or a genuine drama, but simply a story, almost a folktale. And it's told from the perspective of two little girls, very unusual lead characters in adult fiction. You've gotta love that.

Yes, this book really is unusual in that it deals with the supernatural in a strange way. You don't know whether Leah is lying or telling the truth until the very end, and that's one of the primary reasons I kept reading because I had to know. That alone means Coffey's style works. He never felt preachy, just forthright, letting the reader judge for themselves what he meant in the actions or words of any one individual character.

I will also say that it's nice having another male author joining the Christian fiction genre, because male authors really are few and far between. So while I'm not wholly in love with this book, I think it is one I will remember for quite a long time. And I'm definitely going to read more of Coffey's work. He's almost like the Ray Bradbury of Christian fiction, and for me, that is a very high compliment.

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