A Light to Come Home By
Covenant Communications (American Fork, Utah), 1994. Trade paperback:
Suggested retail price: $8.95 (US)
The LDS Bookstore Browser: Shelly Johnson-Choong
Shelly Johnson-Choong currently has three LDS books for youngadults in publication: The Jewelry Box (Covenant, 1994), ALight to Come Home By (Covenant, 1995), and Lilies and Clover(Bookcraft, 1998). These are stories with answers and happyendings, but they aren't without their curve balls. Somethingthat has really impressed me about Shelly's books is that, whilethey all teach that happiness comes from living the Gospel, thepath there is not always easy to find.
Take The Jewelry Box, for example. Jessa, the main character,has just moved to another state and must make new friends in anew town. Now, the standard answer to this problem would be tostay close to the active LDS crowd and to avoid the inactivesand nonmembers, and especially to stay away from the kids whodrink and behave immorally. But for Jessa, it's not quite soeasy. Most of the active LDS kids who want her in their crowdare shallow and self-centered. Sure, they're active in church,but they don't seem to understand Christian charity andkindness.
Jessa is instead drawn to a young man named Micah, who is LDS butis also an alcoholic. He's also caring and concerned for thewelfare of others. Catlyn, the ringleader of the LDS crowd,cautions Jessa to stay away from Micah. And you'd think she'dbe right; after all, who should a person choose for theirfriends: active LDS kids or an alcoholic? Jessa is confused bythis, but after praying and pondering and talking to herparents, she decides to befriend him. Micah later uses the strength of this friendship to give him the strength to seek helpand overcome his addiction.
Another interesting twist to the story is the way Micah's motherhandles the situation. Micah's father left the family severalyears ago, but his mother is active in the Church and wantsMicah to do better. Unfortunately, she's still part of theproblem. She nags him, whines at him, and paints herself as avictim. She grasps for every bit of sympathy that she can getfrom others. In one fascinating scene, Micah decides on impulseto go to church . He slips in late and sits in the back. Thingsgo well for a few minutes, but it's Fast Sunday and before longhis mother goes up andbears her testimony. She cries and talksabout how difficult it is for her to deal with Micah. Here's hisreaction:
& & & & Micah writhed, feeling a wave of scarlet wash up to hishairline. He felt shamed and betrayed. How could his mothertalk of such personal things in front of this group? Sure, lotsof the things he did weren't right, but she had no businessbroadcasting them! And what about her? She'd hardly been apillar of strength to him and Jared. Her whimpering, waveringvoice filled every part of his head, leaving little room forthinking. He kept his eyes riveted on the floor, sure that Brother Hansen was glaring at him, eyes filled with accusation. He couldn't stand it anymore. Rising, Micah hurried out of thechapel, his eyes on the ground, his mother's voice following himthrough the foyer.
& & & & At home, Micah plunged his hand savagely into his bedside tabledrawer, reaching for the whiskey. (p. 65)
Again, Shelly Johnson-Choong shows that just being active in theChurch is not enough to make a person a Saint. How often doactive Latter-day Saints bear their testimonies and talk abouthow difficult their lives are? It's something that many peoplewould not give a second thought, but shown in this context wesee how devastating it can be.
A Light to Come Home By, which is a sequel to The JewelryBox, shows Micah serving a mission and Jessa attending RicksCollege. Micah's mission is in the southern United States, andone day his father walks back into his life there. His father,Monty, had deserted the family years ago (something that hadoriginally led Micah to drink) and is now dying of liver cancer. Micah understandably has bitter feelings toward his father, andat first does not want to have anything to do with him. Helearns to be more understanding of this man who he should haveevery right to hate. It's a touching story, and shows once morehow we should not judge people by what we see on the surface. Monty did some terrible things to his family, but he's still ahuman with feelings and motives, and he still has good to offer.
These books have good messages for young adult readers. Theyhave clear-cut resolutions and strong lessons, and they exploresome of the complexities of life's choices. That's a difficultmix to achieve. In chatting with Shelly through e-mail, I'veseen that she cares deeply about youth and the challenges thatthey face. Next time I'll look at her latest book, Lilies andClover, which shows once again her desire to teach that lifecan't always be seen in black and white. Sometimes there areshades of gray that aren't so simple to deal with.
--Katie Parker email@example.com ______ Katie Parker lives in Salt Lake City with her husband (who is a PhD student) and her son (who is almost four) and writes when they aren't keeping her off the computer.
© 1998 Katie Parker < firstname.lastname@example.org >