Living Right by Laila Ibrahim

Living Right

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In Ibrahim’s (Yellow Crocus, 2014, etc.) straightforward novel, an Evangelical Christian family encounters a challenge to their faith right in their own home.

Jenn Henderson, a wife and mother in the town of Dublin, California, is an ardent Evangelical Christian. She has recently felt galvanized to fight what she sees as secular attacks on the institution of marriage, consulting with her pastor about how she can help stop the spread of the legalization of gay marriage. She then finds her teenage son, Josh, a popular high school athlete, passed out in his bedroom, overdosed on sleeping pills. His attempted suicide shocks the whole family—Jenn; her husband, Steve; and their daughters. As Josh recovers in the hospital, Jenn turns to her religion, praying: “I surrender to You my past, present, and future….I offer You the life of my son, Josh.” As Josh begins to explain himself, a dark irony becomes clear: his distress arose from the fact that he has secretly struggled with his sexual orientation for years. Jenn is incredulous, and she and Steve encourage tormented Josh to enter “treatment” in order to get “cured” of being gay. Jenn sees this as nothing less than a battle for the salvation of his soul, and Ibrahim patiently and effectively fleshes out what could have been a trite melodrama. Of course, Josh’s “treatment” fails, and as he begins seeking out understanding rather than conversion (gay support groups, a gay-friendly therapist, even a gay-friendly new church), Jenn becomes increasingly desperate, afraid that she’s losing not just her son, but her whole family. Her strident, over-the-top personal faith is a bit overdone in the service of the plot (it’s amazing that it takes more than 150 pages for somebody in her family to actually call her crazy), but she’s written with a winningly human sympathy instead of being turned into a simplistic villain. Ibrahim keeps this family drama tightly readable, and she orchestrates a conclusion that’s both unexpected and genuinely heartwarming.

A heartfelt novel about gay rights and modern Christian faith.

Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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