There's a reason the Christian publishing industry sat up and took notice when Sharon Ewell Foster's first book released several years ago: She's good, very good, and with AIN'T NO MOUNTAIN she proves that she has staying power. The sequel to AIN'T NO RIVER is every bit as entertaining and insightful as its predecessor, which ended up on the Essence bestseller list --- not a bad showing at all for a book released by a Christian publisher.
Like all of Foster's books, one of the main strengths is the characterization. You'll be reading along, completely caught up in the story, and all of a sudden you'll think of someone who acts just like this character or sounds just like that character. And most likely, you'll chuckle, because Foster has a knack for injecting humor into her characterizations with such finesse and subtlety that it often sneaks up on you and catches you off guard.
The central characters in this book are Mary, a chaste, somewhat meek woman who undergoes a radical makeover at the insistence of friends who are determined to find her a man; Moor, an African prince (the setting for all this is Baltimore, by the way) whose American "fathers" --- elderly friends --- are equally determined to find him a wife; and Puddin, whose marriage is threatened by a secret that nearly tears her apart. Each is a fully developed, believable character. And Foster takes as much care with the peripheral characters --- friends, coworkers and family ---as she does in developing the main characters.
Each chapter focuses on a different character, alternating among the three central characters. This type of structure doesn't always work, but once again Foster shows her strength as a writer by doing it right. Actually, if Foster has a weakness, it's not evident in the final product. Maybe she struggles with certain elements of writing, but if she does, she gets it worked out before the book is published --- which certainly isn't the case with all writers. She's also one of the strongest dialogue writers among Christian novelists. Can you tell I really enjoy reading her books?
AIN'T NO MOUNTAIN tackles a fair number of issues, like sex outside of marriage and pornography --- and dating, a seemingly innocuous subject that is all but innocuous in Foster's hands. Any woman who has ever seriously dated --- and I mean dated --- will cringe at the memories evoked by Mary's dates with Floyd and Reggie, two guys whose counterparts live in every city, every town, every neighborhood across the country. Thanks to Floyd, I may never eat ribs again, which brings up another point: It's a good idea to read this book on a full stomach, because food --- especially fried chicken --- plays a significant role. It's not just there as a tantalizing temptation; it's actually central to one of the subplots.
As to the Christian content, Foster can get downright preachy, but somehow she gets by with it --- probably because of the skill with which she integrates that content into the story line. It never comes across as tagged on just to make the book appealing to Christian readers, but instead is carefully woven into the relevant scenes.
If you're new to Foster, there's no need to read any of her previous books first to enjoy this one. Fans of AIN'T NO RIVER will recognize several familiar characters in AIN'T NO MOUNTAIN, but this is not the kind of sequel that requires reading the books in order. No matter how you read them, Foster's books are always a delight.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on May 1, 2004