Beth Webb Hart, author of the Christy Award-nominated GRACE AT LOW TIDE, once again proves her talent as a writer in her sophomore effort, a coming-of-age novel featuring a poetic Gen-X activist debutante from South Carolina's Low Country. Yes, Hart does create fascinating characters.
Adelaide Piper, though, isn't the only interesting character in the book that bears her name. Her father is a wounded Vietnam veteran who falls for his brother's Bizway pyramid scheme with all the gusto of an Amway evangelist, while her mother holds her breath as she awaits the inevitable collapse of said pyramid --- and tries to keep her collapsing family together. The rest of the characters who populate Adelaide's world in the poverty-tainted industrial town of Williamstown --- her sisters, the forever-in-trouble Dizzy and sweet little Lou; her grandparents, Mae Mae and Papa Great, who runs the town's mill and keeps more than a few people under his thumb; the ever-loyal maid Juliabelle; second-cousin Randy, who's good for a mildly romantic fling; Jif, the good friend; and Shannon, the annoying Christian convert --- all are fully developed and well rounded in the hands of a skilled writer like Hart. And those are just the hometown folks.
Then we meet the students and occasional professor and administrator at Nathaniel Buxton College, a private liberal arts school in the mountains of Virginia where Adelaide is convinced she will find the intellectual and literary soulmates so lacking at home. Instead, her freshman year begins with a campus hazing tragedy that ruins the life of a friend from home and ends with a romantic date gone terribly wrong, with lots of partying and dysfunctional behavior --- in other words, typical college life --- in between. Adelaide's experience echoes the disillusionment of so many starry-eyed freshmen when they discover that academic life after high school doesn't always take place in the erudite or creative environment they envisioned.
Facing the very real possibility of losing her scholarship as her grades take a post-trauma tumble, Adelaide returns home for the summer. Though so many of her dreams have been shattered and the lives of those around her are falling apart --- and though she cannot see it yet --- this is when Adelaide's life as an adult begins in earnest. That's because her Jesus freak friend Shannon, who has turned surprisingly level-headed, cuts through the you-know-what that has blinded Adelaide to the truth and gives her the faintest glimmer of hope that she will survive the mess that her life has in so many ways become.
From this point on, Hart deftly steers Adelaide in the direction of the God she has never really known, through her multitude of questions about the Bible and faith, through the maze of bewildering Christianese Shannon's friends use, through the poetry she writes to try to make sense of it all --- and through the letters she writes to the long-dead C.S. Lewis as she works her way through his writings. Hart shows Adelaide's life growing toward a life of faith in a way that resonates with the reality of those people whose experience of God came about gradually rather than in one
blinding moment of conversion. Like so much else in the book and in real life, things are not wrapped up neatly with a perfectly tied bow. Even Adelaide's romantic relationships progress the way they often do in real life, which means Hart's treatment of those relationships defies the CBA stereotype of the spoiled, petulant woman vs. the insensitive, clueless man. Thank God for authors like Hart.
All in all, this is a fine second novel for Hart, whose work promises to continue to raise the quality of Christian fiction. I trust there is a sequel in the offing. I'd hate to think we've read all there is to know about a truly intriguing character like Adelaide.