HEARTS SET FREE by Jess  Lederman

HEARTS SET FREE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Lederman’s (co-editor: Good Words for the Young, 2016) decades-spanning Christian historical novel tells the story of a group of misfits who find their faith in Las Vegas.

Uukkarnit Noongwook is a Native American Athabaskan from Nenana, Alaska. In 1925, he sets out with his mother to find his father, a dog-sledder-turned-celebrity who absconded to the Lower 48 with a New York reporter. Their search brings them to Nevada, where a silver boom has drawn men from all over. Uukkarnit adopts the name “Luke” and encounters a group of kind Christians who teach him the ways of their faith. Meanwhile, David Gold is a boxer from the Lower East Side of Manhattan who attended the Moody Bible Institute before becoming the sparring partner of heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. He’s seeking an answer to the questions, “Can I love God, not as I want Him to be, but as He is; and what is His will—what does He want of me?” By 1930, David is in Reno, Nevada, where he meets a woman whose small, Las Vegas–based congregation needs a preacher. In 2011, Tim Faber and Joan Reed are the middle-aged producers of the hit documentary series Mysteries of Modern Science. Tim never had any faith, but the once-devout Joan pines for her lost religiosity. They’re making a special about Belgian Catholic priest Georges Lemaître, who was the first to theorize that the universe had once been atom-sized and continues to expand—although, as this book portrays it, he was written out of history by jealous, secular scientists. Joan even suspects that an attempt was made on his life. Now, the producers travel to Las Vegas to meet with Lemaître’s 99-year-old astrophysicist colleague, Luke Noongwook, to get the full story.

These separate stories of varied characters come together to form a tapestry of faith, yearning, and wonder at the majesty of the universe. Lederman’s prose is polished and often lyrical, particularly when he voices the characters of Luke and his mother: “Our gods are as harsh as the world around us, they offer no relief,” Luke’s mother says to David and her son. “Tatqim, moon god, lusts after his sister, Seqinek, the sun, and gives her endless chase; their story is an ugliness that mars the beauty of the night. And your god, where is he? Can he, too, be found among the stars?” Even in these moments, however, Lederman tips his hand to reveal the book’s strict Christian worldview, in which atheists are depicted as arrogant fools and other religions are portrayed as being rooted in fear. The book has the expected cameos of historical fiction—including the aforementioned Johnson and pilot Amelia Earhart—which fans of the genre will enjoy, even if they do strain credulity. The overall milieu is attractive throughout, and the novel is often entertaining. However, because it is, first and foremost, a story of rediscovering faith, the ultimate resolution of the main characters’ stories is never really in doubt.

A well-written but mostly predictable Christian novel.

Pub Date: March 12th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-9986030-1-8
Page count: 398pp
Publisher: Azure Star, LLC
Program: Kirkus Indie
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