SISTERCHICKS ON THE LOOSE, the first of Robin Jones Gunn's "Sisterchicks" books, showed what happens when a couple of middle-aged women are released from their daily lives and allowed some time to travel together. In that book, friends Sharon and Penny head to Finland in search of Penny's long-lost aunt. The antics that included jet lag, sauna and an impromptu hop to London had the ring of truth. Whether or not Jones Gunn really took this trip is immaterial; her characters and their adventures are genuine.
In her second Sisterchick title, SISTERCHICKS DO THE HULA, Jones Gunn again takes two women (this time, college friends Hope and Laurie), gives things a shake (a bit younger, these two hit 40 and decide to take a fabulous trip together), and then adds a twist or two (Hope learns she is unexpectedly pregnant, and Laurie begins to realize she's been hiding her photography skill under a bushel). The resulting "mocktail" is fun, fruity and full of spiritual moments. But does it have that jigger of honesty that characterized the first book?
The answer, alas, is no --- although Hope and Laurie's story does have its high points. Hope, with three rapidly growing sons and a reserved though affectionate husband, glows with the knowledge that her new baby is a much-longed-for girl, Emilee Rose, and ruminates on a modern translation of the Psalms during her solitary moments. Jones Gunn adds quite a bit of fascinating Hawaiian spiritual history, both ancient and modern, that makes the hula Hope and Laurie learn much more significant.
Laurie's personal challenge is to accept her talents and ambitions in the shadow of her extremely famous painter husband's worldly success. It's refreshing to see a Christian novelist acknowledge that women --- no matter where you stand on the Ephesians question --- can also seek worldly success and create art of lasting beauty. However, it might have been more interesting to see Hope struggle between her surprise pregnancy and artistic desire, and to see Laurie wonder if her husband's paintings that always include a tiny fairy cottage are a commercial sellout that she no longer wants to support.
Of course, expecting the Sisterchicks books to be complex and demanding is simply unfair --- they're meant to be the Christian equivalent of "Chick Lit," and as such are entitled to remain frothy frappes whipped together from bits of fashion, friendship and feeling. It's just that Jones Gunn's finer writing peeks through at certain points in the book, like colors of a Hawaiian sunset through a lei's lacy petals, leaving me convinced that she is capable of more. In fact, I became more and more intrigued by the character of an elderly Hawaiian whose deep Christian faith informs every aspect of her life, from leading a workshop on lei-making to taking a beach walk in the evening. I found myself wanting to leave Hope and Laurie in their beach chairs sipping their smoothies and follow the wise woman.
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on December 30, 2003