I have good news for readers who are Karen Kingsbury fans, and even better news for readers who are not: this is far and away the best novel I've read by this bestselling author of something like 30 books. It's a powerful story of forgiveness, reconciliation and grace, wrapped up in a genuine page-turner. And if you've never read Kingsbury before, this is the one to start with.
The promotional material from Zondervan, including the synopsis on the back cover, refers to the "perfect" life of airline captain Connor Evans and his wife, Michele, and their two daughters. Frankly, that word is an immediate turn-off for me; it implies shallow, stereotyped characters, an overdone scenario, and unimaginative writing. If I hadn't been assigned to read this book, I probably would have ignored it.
The Evanses may have a decent and privileged life, but it's not a perfect life, the kind populated with cardboard characters. These are real people who happen to have it pretty good until an airline crash in the Pacific shakes things up for them in Florida. That's when Connor discovers that an indiscretion years earlier resulted in more than a good time. He has a son, and he has a choice: forget about him and pretend the one-night stand with the boy's mother never happened, or come clean with his wife, meet his son, Max, for the first time, and make Max a part of their family, at least temporarily.
One of the elements that sets this book apart is the light hand the author uses throughout. She skillfully weaves in the faith message and allows the story to unfold naturally. It's not until late in the book that we learn the circumstances that led to Connor's unfaithfulness; it would have been so easy, and ultimately so unsatisfying to the reader, to place those scenes early on in the book in an effort to simply get them out of the way. Nothing about OCEANS APART feels "wrong"; even the Florida setting rings true, which isn't always the case in the hands of non-native writers.
The forgiveness theme in particular never feels forced or superficial. So much forgiveness is needed on so many levels, and Kingsbury lets the process that leads to forgiveness develop over time. Equally impressive is the way she handles the theme of "second chances," and not just with regard to the obvious second chance that Connor needs. All of this reflects a multilayered effort on the author's part, and one that she carries off well.
Readers who have found some of Kingsbury's plots to be implausible --- ONE TUESDAY MORNING and its sequel, BEYOND TUESDAY MORNING, come to mind --- should be pleasantly surprised with the achingly realistic story line in OCEANS APART. And the characters --- you just may find yourself loving Max and respecting each of the major characters, along with the decisions they end up making.
OCEANS APART won the ECPA Gold Medallion Award for fiction, which means it was selected as the best novel of 2004 by both retailers and a panel of independent judges. It's certainly the best, or among the best, from Kingsbury, and the accolades it has received should encourage her to maintain the higher standard she set for herself with this book.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on March 30, 2004