Palmer’s (Hiking Toward Heaven, 2010) novel considers one man’s attempts to guide the life of a troubled youngster with the help of an unexpected friend.
Ethan is a good-looking teenager with a knack for sports. Raised by his single mother, Angelina, Ethan forms a friendship with his Ph.D.–holding neighbor, Dr. Palmer, or “Popper,” as many call him. Though a more or less well-adjusted kid, Ethan’s attitude toward life takes a downturn when he contracts herpes from a cheerleader named Rachel. Popper, ever the Christian optimist—“God will intervene in Ethan’s life I am sure”—does his best to explain to the young man that his life is not over. Ethan’s attitude continues a downward slide, however, as he experiments with drugs, eventually succumbing to the realization that he must enter rehab. It is during this realization that Ethan is introduced to a man named Jackson, who informs Ethan that his “moral compass is pointing in the wrong direction.” Will the concerted efforts of people like Popper and Jackson be enough to turn around a troubled life? What will happen when Jackson reveals himself to be more than merely a helpful stranger? The nature-filled story makes use of scenery for periods of reflection about weighty matters. Notions of God and morality are never forced on Ethan; rather, they are discussed in open and meaningful ways: “I could imagine the gears grinding in Ethan’s mind as he digested this,” Popper says as Ethan thinks about forgiveness. Dialogue can be mechanical at times, as when Ethan explains meeting a crystal meth user in rehab: “He told us that meth, whose common street name is ice or glass, induces a rush of confidence, well-being, energy, and happiness.” Likewise, a later portion discussing the imminent second coming of Christ—citing Russell Crowe’s Noah as evidence—may feel flimsy, though readers already on board will need no further explanation.
A story of modern Christian guidance that will interest readers unopposed to heavenly intervention.