Monday, November 22, 2010

Chris Fabry's Almost Heaven ~ Reviewed

By Chris Fabry
Published by Tyndale
311 Pages

Back Cover: Billy Allman is a hillbilly genius. People in Dogwood, West Virginia, say he was born with a second helping of brains and a gift for playing the mandolin, but was cut short on social skills. Though he’d gladly give you the shirt off his back, they were right. Billy longs to use his life as an ode to God, a lyrical, beautiful bluegrass song played with a finely tuned heart. So with spare parts from a lifetime of collecting, he builds a radio station in his own home. People in town laugh. But Billy carries a brutal secret that keeps him from significance and purpose.


I’d read and loved, June Bug by Chris Fabry. So, I anxiously awaited my review copy of Almost Heaven. Chris Fabry is a deep thinker that can explain things so simply, it touches the core of your being. He reveals things about tough times and pain that can only come from experience and how he connected with our heavenly Father during those times.

Chris says this about Almost Heaven, “Good stories come from real people and real life…This story was inspired by the life of James William “Billy” Allman, who died in 2009...there are only shadows from Billy’s life in this novel...I hope to have captured a little of his heart in the story as well.”

Billy and his family face title wave type waters as the dam breaks and starts wiping out homes and people in its path right at the start of this book. Billy describes the house spinning like the house in the Wizard of Oz. I imagined many of the Katrina victims went through something similar after the hurricane hit and the levy broke.

This book is written in two points of view. That of Billy, and his guardian angel named Malachi (which means messenger). I loved the angel aspect of the narrative; it brought a whole different dimension and energy to the story. It kind of reminded me of the angel in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, where the guardian angel is getting his assignment and learns about George Bailey’s life. Malachi learns about Billy Allman’s life as a boy and when he’s grown up. The angelic battle scenes weren’t as intense as those of Frank Peretti, but they are very intriguing and simple, yet very powerful. Malachi says this, “Time hinders the human condition, but it does not touch me…we feel the onslaught of time only as it is experienced by those in charge. To us it is only a discipline. Time holds no sway, has no bearing on our resolve to achieve our assigned duties.”

I loved that this author showed how God uses ordinary broken people to carry out his plan here on earth. He doesn’t need us, but chooses to use the most unlikely people - like those that society had given up on. Billy was one of those misfits. No matter what storm hit Billy and tried to destroy him, he chose to praise God with his entire being! Music was very special to Billy. He said, “Music has a way of filling in the missing places. It is a gift from God above, who didn’t have to provide it, but he did anyway and I half think he decided life just wouldn’t be as good without it…(he prayed) May God help you sing whatever song he has put on your heart to sing.”

This novel even brought in characters from Chris’s other books, like my favorite, June Bug. She plays a minor part in this book, but I was thrilled to read more about her in this story.

Chris pens a compelling, emotionally charged drama that gives the reader glimpse of hope in the darkness and will make them think outside the box we call the “normal” Christian life. He also defines the triumphant life a little differently too, “Success is not seen in the circumstances or in the pain or the good feelings. Success is sometimes just loving somebody with a love that doesn’t come back the way you want it to.”

Despite Billy’s sorrows and challenges, he remains steady on a single course. Through the struggles and triumphs, Billy Allman chose to pursue God and walk in what God said about him. I loved what Billy said to Callie about her struggles and later applied it to himself, “…what happened to you doesn’t define who you are…what happened does not have to follow you…you don’t have to live in its shadow.”

I loved that and the fact that Jesus tells us the truth will set us free. Walking in what God says about us and not what the enemy is trying to make us believe, puts a skip in your walk and music in your heart. Thanks Chris, for a novel that is compelling, thought provoking and gives the reader hope in what seemed like hopeless situations. Thanks also for your reminder, “you don’t need your circumstances to change in order to praise God. In fact, the best place to live the Christian life and participate with God in the plan for you is right were you are!” I appreciate these words and so many more that encouraged my soul, gave me hope and touched my heart deeply.

Reviewed by: Nora St.Laurent

The Book Club Network

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