It’s July 2003, and 27-year-old, caffeine-driven Jonna Lightfoot McLaughlin has been promoted to be the “Number One” (and only) “Religion Reporter” for “Denver’s number two daily newspaper,” the Dispatch. She’s hoping to find human interest stories more inspiring than the annual regional convention of Southern Baptists. But when people phone her desk, well, she’s never quite sure where a story lead will take her.
In the first chapters we’re introduced to several potential stories: a Methodist church potluck; a Catholic charity for underprivileged children; a disturbed man who claims to be God; a fire at a Zen Buddhist cultural center; and a disgruntled parishioner who claims there’s deep trouble --- sounds like criminal activity --- at Into the Fields Fellowship, a church that caters largely to immigrants. That’s a lot of ground to cover, or uncover, in the course of about two weeks. As you might imagine, the plot moves quickly, with Jonna delving into the various Denver contexts, though she “passes” on the invitation to the potluck.
At first, A MILE FROM SUNDAY (set in the “mile high city,” get it?) feels like a romance, there being two potential suitors: a blind date set up by Jonna’s older brother Matt, and a handsome blond lawyer she’s interviewing to get her feel-good story about the Catholic charity. But, ultimately, Jonna’s critical questions come down to “who am I?” and “what’s my next career move?” rather than on “who’s my man?” As Jonna tracks down the various stories, the narrative takes on characteristics of a page-turning mystery. Where is this going? How will it turn out?
Eventually, the police get involved in several of Jonna’s potential stories, and toward the finale, as storylines climax, a reader might have a hard time believing that Jonna can so quickly walk away from the fray. But then this is fiction, and a trilogy, at that, so you might expect that by the end Jonna is unscathed and ready for a new adventure.
Author Jo Kadlecek, who teaches writing at Gordon College, has drawn a lead character who can’t quite quit smoking, though she assures God she will do so. She’s forever sipping coffee and can’t control her hair or her weight. She’s no glamour girl, and that itself is part of the story, as she draws closer to understanding herself and her place in the kingdom of God.
An appendix of sorts (called “etc.”) includes a 10-question discussion guide; a paragraph-long description of each of 12 “sacred sites to visit next time you’re in the mile high city” (the buildings or named communities aren’t discussed in the novel itself, which seems to stick to fictional sites); an “amateur reporter instruction kit,” which asks readers “what religious sites or groups in your community…catch your attention?” and gives a few pointers for interviewing, researching and writing a freelance news story; and, finally, a teaser first chapter of the second book in the trilogy, A QUARTER AFTER TUESDAY, in which Jonna has settled into a new job as a religion reporter for a New Orleans newspaper.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on November 13, 2011