Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Like Moonlight at Low Tide by Nicole Quigley

You know we’re friends when I’m willing to (cautiously) break my self-imposed reading rules for you. One of these rules, and the one I most stick to, is no Christian fiction, and for pity’s sake no Christian YA fiction. I am a Christian but that doesn’t mean I will lower my literary standards for Christian authors, and it also doesn’t mean I enjoy being beaten over the head with a (generally poor) Gospel sermon every time I pick up my book to relax. I have had never yet read a well-written Christian fiction novel, let alone the double-whammy of a Christian YA novel.

Well, I’ve made a new friend the last few months, and I broke my rule, and I’m very happy I did so. Like Moonlight at Low Tide is everything I didn’t think Christian YA fiction could ever be, and everything I think it should be.

When high school junior Melissa Keiser returns to her hometown of Anna Maria Island, Florida, she has one goal: hide from the bullies who had convinced her she was the ugliest girl in school. But when she is caught sneaking into a neighbor's pool at night, everything changes. Something is different now that Melissa is sixteen, and the guys and popular girls who once made her life miserable have taken notice. When Melissa gets the chance to escape life in a house ruled by her mom's latest boyfriend, she must choose where her loyalties lie between a long-time crush, a new friend, and her surfer brother who makes it impossible to forget her roots. Just as Melissa seems to achieve everything she ever wanted, she loses a loved one to suicide. Melissa must not only grieve for her loss, she must find the truth about the three boys who loved her and discover that joy sometimes comes from the most unexpected place of all.

On the surface it sounds like a fairly run-of-the-mill YA novel. But as I started reading it, I was pleasantly surprised. Missy is fighting to keep her head above water in the one place she’d hoped never to return to. But nothing is what she’d expected. She is forced to confront elements of her past that she’d rather forget about, and deal with a painful present. Add to that the three boys in her life that all love her different ways – her popular long-time crush, the new friend that gives her a haven away from her home, and her brother, desperately pursuing his dream to one day escape. She calls them “the boy who loved me, the one who couldn’t, and the one who didn’t know how.” It’s part of the mystery of this story as you try to figure out which boy falls into which category.

My primary problems with Christian YA are threefold. They tend to be poorly written and overly preachy, as I said above. But also, they seem to have the exact opposite problem secular YA has – they’re too squeaky-clean and overly sanitized. Now I know that may seem like an odd complaint, but it’s not the fact that they’re “clean” that I take issue with. It’s the unrealistically, perfect Christian girl trope…the oh-so-saccharine, evangelical Mary Sue. I have no interest in having a fantastically ideal inhuman Christian thrown in my face. It’s not helpful for me, and only serves to aggravate me with useless comparisons, or disgust at such an outlandish character. Christianity is not neat and tidy. It’s a messy, difficult, painful journey – there’s a reason it’s compared to warfare in the Bible. And no Christian novels seem to effectively capture this for me.

But in Like Moonlight, it’s not about portraying a perfect Christian. It’s about showing how faith heals broken people. Missy’s life is broken, her family is broken, and she is broken. There’s nowhere for her to turn, and the harder she tries to find an answer, the more she realizes how lost she really is. She’s no perfect Mary Sue. She’s a perfectly human human.

This is not a squeaky-clean book (thank heavens), but neither is it full of profligacy and foul language. Quigley does not go out of her way to show sin and ugliness in full-color detail, nor does she dwell on it unduly. She simply shows that it is there, and how it affects people. Again, that’s how life is. We are surrounded by sin and ugliness, and while we may not want to dwell on that, we cannot close our eyes to it. Quigley balances things well. Overall, this is a generally well-written novel. The setting lives and breathes and the characters are fairly well-developed. I look forward to reading it again.

Four stars out of five, and I highly recommend this book to all Christian young adults, and any Christian fiction skeptics, who are willing to give it a try.

What about you? Have you read this one? What did you think of it?