THE YADA YADA PRAYER GROUP GETS CAUGHT, Neta Jackson's fifth colorful installment in a series that began with THE YADA YADA PRAYER GROUP, enjoyably continues the story of an ethnically diverse group of families trying to follow Christ and forge cross-cultural relationships in the city of Chicago.
Jodi and Denny Baxter and their teens, Josh and Amanda, are again the main characters around which the action revolves. The couple is coming up on midlife, with all its attendant angst and issues. Denny has an opportunity for a new job that would ease the family finances --- just as Jodi is wondering whether or not her own job will be terminated. But Denny isn't sure the promotion is one he wants. The Baxters face some tough decisions.
With the kids getting older and Josh soon to be off on his own, Jodi and Denny also concentrate on strengthening their marriage relationship. But the parenting challenges aren't over. Amanda's first serious boyfriend is Hispanic and the son of Yada Yada sister Delores Enriques. The Baxters are open-minded about his race --- or are they? Ditto for Josh, who is bent on eschewing college to do ministry work in the inner city and is head-over-heels in love with Edesa Reyes, an older Honduran woman and another Yada Yada sister. Plenty of challenges abound for the Baxters in working through issues of age, race and vocation.
But it's not just about Jodi and Denny. Jackson has a virtual rainbow of characters that in the hands of a less talented novelist would make the reader's head spin. But she does a good job keeping the threads of their stories from getting too tangled. Becky Wallace is still under house arrest and keeps things lively in Baxter's upstairs apartment, as does her little boy Andy and the social worker, Leslie "Stu" Stuart. Chanda George's lottery winnings and naïve belief in any "You're a Winner"-type promotion make for some lighter moments in the novel. Florida Hickman's teen son Chris is a budding artist, but his penchant for rebellion and graffiti foreshadow trouble.
Mark Smith still recuperates at home with his wife Nony, healing from injuries incurred in the shooting incident from THE YADA YADA PRAYER GROUP GETS TOUGH. Without the help of Hoshi Takahashi, one of his former history students at the university and a member of the Yada Yada prayer group, they'd be in deeper despair than they already are. It's a tribute to Jackson that she doesn't feel compelled to offer a quick, happy ending to that particular episode.
The big news in THE YADA YADA PRAYER GROUP GETS CAUGHT is that Ruth and Ben Garfield are expecting --- and Ruth is almost 50! Ben is terrified for many reasons, some of which we don't entirely discover until well into the novel. Stu mourns her abortion once again in light of the Garfields' baby news, while Adele Skuggs struggles to care for an aging parent and run a business. And rock-solid principal Avis Johnson Douglass's daughter is having marriage problems, which introduces a relatively new topic to the series -- abuse.
Meanwhile, the Uptown Community congregation and New Morning congregation have a big decision to make. Can the racial reconciliation they've put into practice from the previous novel be enough to bring the two churches together permanently?
While this new installment lacks some of the drama of its predecessor, it still includes a few surprises that Yada Yada fans will not want to miss.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on August 1, 2006