Pastor Clayton Loverage is facing significant challenges at his church, including a growing number of parishioners who want a more contemporary service and a manipulative church board member at the helm of a power struggle within the congregation.
But the greatest challenge for Loverage, a widower, is the one that lives under his roof: his youngest child, Ellen. His older children have left home to make their own lives, leaving him alone with a teenage daughter he cannot understand, cannot communicate with, and cannot mold into his idea of what a Christian girl should be. That's double or maybe triple trouble for this pastor and father, because he's also a nationally known parenting expert who disseminates his nuggets of wisdom about family life at conferences and seminars throughout the country.
Things heat up when Ellen --- who has been furtively breaking into her English teacher's house and reading for several hours each school-day afternoon --- begins spending time with a classmate named Osvaldo, whose brothers are known criminals. But Osvaldo is as unlike his brothers as Ellen is unlike her own siblings, and in their differentness they find that they are kindred spirits. Their relationship is innocent enough, but when Ellen's illegal entry into her teacher's house and Osvaldo's brothers' crime spree intersect, danger, guilt and a whole lot of explaining result. Oh, and a decades-old secret about the good Pastor Loverage comes to light.
Though its plot is compelling, THE MENDING STRING is primarily a character-driven story, and a beautiful one at that. It was selected as the best "first novel" at the 2005 Christy Awards, and with good reason. Unfortunately, the author, a retired chemist, passed away several weeks before the Christy finalists were announced and several months before his book was named the winner. I can only hope that his readers let him know what a remarkable achievement he had accomplished.
Ellen is a particularly well-drawn character, not the usual rebellious young woman who populates CBA novels. Don't let the back-cover copy fool you; there she is described as "headstrong," but she's a far and welcome cry from the cookie-clutter, petulant, annoying, "Can't we just get rid of her now?" female characters described as headstrong in many other Christian novels. No, Ellen is real. When you get to the part where she's about to be interrogated by the police, you'll see what I mean. (By this point in the story, though, you should already love this girl to pieces, if for no other reason than the earlier rock-fishing incident. That's right --- rock fishing.)
The mending that takes place in Ellen and Clayton's relationship is no sappy, fairy-tale, father-daughter reconciliation. As a chemist, Cliff Coon would be well aware of not just the volatile reactions caused by certain elements but also of the more subtle results of the combination of distinctively different chemicals. It's that subtlety in the Loverages' relationship that sets Coon apart as an author and THE MENDING STRING as a book.
Simply put, THE MENDING STRING is one of the loveliest books released in the Christian market in recent years. It's sad that we will never know what other stories may have been taking shape in Coon's mind and spirit at the time of his death. But we have this one, and it's a story meant to be savored long after it has been read.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on April 1, 2004