Strong Christian faith rescues friends and family from an onslaught of personal tragedies.
College senior Derek Jones, a young African-American man, seems to have everything going for him: a loving family, a gold-hearted girlfriend, athleticism and academic talent. Yet when he returns home for spring break, he puts a gun to his head and shows that his life was not what it seemed. Winding back several months, Derek’s problems begin when he abuses an ADHD medication to stay up late studying. His girlfriend, Serena, although once sexually active with Derek, has now chosen chastity before marriage, and frustration mounts between the two young lovers. Jasmine, an abused young woman who’s risen to campus fame by starting a high-end prostitution ring, zeroes in on Derek. She finally gets him to give in to sex when, at a lavish party, Derek gets drunk for the first time. Life at home is no better: Derek’s beloved sister Kenya is in need of $1,000 for unknown reasons, and his father’s adultery continues in their Christian home without anyone saying a word. When Derek ventures off campus in search of stronger drugs for his growing addiction, he gets attacked. In a moment of weakness while caring for him, Serena pushes her chastity vow aside and sleeps with Derek, resulting in pregnancy. Jasmine reveals more bad news, and it’s this troubled scene that Derek escapes when he takes his own life. His mother, Ruth, leans hard on her religious faith to restore her family and weather the final tragedy that Kenya brings upon them. Complex characters are often simplified in this melodramatic novel: Serena rises from her depression after a single conversation with Ruth; Ruth forgives her husband’s years of philandering after one good slap. There’s an after-school–special quality to the story as well; after getting drunk for the first time, Derek wonders aloud, “Why do people even drink liquor in the first place if it makes you feel this bad?” The story feels inauthentic at times, especially as the consequences—unwanted pregnancy, HIV, an attempted rape—rain down without pause. Yet the ultimate messages of faith and forgiveness ring clear, providing the novel its most uplifting, thoughtful scenes.
Readers of faith may revel in these characters, their mistakes and their triumphs, but others might be turned off by the heavy-handed plot.