Sunday, October 11, 2009

Absolutely Worthy

Absolutely Worthy is the fourth book in the five-book Laurel Shadrach series by Stephanie Perry Moore. Even though it comes in the middle of a series, this is a fine stand alone book. The text begins with a quick recap of the previous plot history before diving into the next chapter of Laurel's life: her first semester at college.

Laurel, the daughter of a pastor and a talented gymnast, has big plans for college. Of course, she wants to do well in all her classes and she wants to share her faith with others, but she also wants to win a coveted spot on the Gym Dawgs gymnastic team and make it into her mother's sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta.

Laurel's roommate is also a Christian (and the main character of the author's Payton Skky series), but their suitemates are not. Even before the first class begins, drama ensues. Jewels, one of their suitemates, constantly berates her own roommate, Anna, because she's overweight. She also dislikes Payton because she's black. Laurel tries to be the peacekeeper, but the task becomes increasingly difficult as she and Jewels pledge for the same sorority. When Jewels discovers that Payton's ex-boyfriend is now the star football player, she tries to date him, in spite of her prejudices. Then when Laurel wins sorority class president, Jewels is furious and tries to get back at her by dating Branson, Laurel's high school boyfriend.

Laurel broke up with Branson in high school because he didn't respect her wishes to remain sexually pure. But now that they're both in the same college, she wonders if he's changed. A lot has happened between then and now, including an HIV scare for Branson. He claims to be different now. Perhaps they have a future together after all.

While juggling issues with Branson, Jewels and the sorority, the gymnastics team and classes, Laurel struggles with her worth. Why isn't she good enough for Branson? Will she ever be good enough for the Gym Dawgs? Why aren't her grades higher? She and Payton try to find a church to attend. They take turns being the encourager and almost always have each other's backs. Meanwhile, Laurel meets some mystery guy and the two become informal study partners in the library. He is also a Christian who becomes a tremendous encouragement for Laurel.

Tragedy strikes when a girl from their dorm goes missing. A couple days later she's found murdered. Then racial tensions rise when the Alpha Gamma Deltas decide to do a Gone With the Wind theme for Halloween. Payton finds this very offensive, but Laurel doesn't understand why. Then everything comes to a head when Anna tries to commit suicide.

Eventually Laurel learns to find her worth in Christ instead of in herself or what others think of her. But it's a journey, one she begins just before winter break. That's when she returns home to discover her grandfather had a stroke, one friend from high school might drop out of college because of HIV and another faces an unexpected pregnancy. Meanwhile, Branson says he wants her back. Her father summarizes everything at the Christmas Eve service: "We can be happy in spite of the despair all around us because the Lord is with us through the turmoil ... we know our heavenly Father is in control of every phase of our lives. Happiness isn't found in our circumstances. True joy is in God."

What I Like: Self image is a big issue with girls. This book hits the base of that issue again and again, always pointing the main character and the readers back to God. Only by focusing on Him can we find peace. While I worry that this book might cover too much, I like that it covers topics highly relevant to teens: premarital sex, underage drinking, peer pressure, self-discipline, racial tensions, even suicide.

At one point, Laurel leads a friend to Christ. I greatly appreciate this scene because it offers teen readers a clear and concise guide for leading their friends to Christ. It's simple, straight-forward and Biblically spot-on.

What I Dislike: The flow is erratic, and the dialog a little too Christianese at times. I would not recommend it to unbelievers. The book covers so much, and sometimes jumps from one dramatic storyline to another without a smooth transition.

Also, I never felt truly connected to any of the characters. I wanted to know what happened, but held no affection for any of them. As a reader, I felt like a spectator rather than someone truly drawn into the story. It's unfortunate, because I don't know how much readers will internalize if they feel unattached to the characters.

Finally, several plotlines were incomplete, details abandoned. For example, Payton and Laurel never settled their dispute over race and Laurel's choice of costume. Anna was upset that no one visited her in the hospital, but everyone seemed to ignore that and move onto something else. Laurel mentioned her brother's gambling problem several times, but no one did anything about it. I realize some of this may be handled in Book 5, but the unfinished stories distracted and annoyed me.

Overall Rating: Very good. Even with my frustrations over the writing, this book covers several relevant topics for teens and college students. I recommend it.

Age Appeal: The publisher says "teen," and Amazon says 9-12. I suggest 15 and up.

Publisher Info: Moody Publishers, 2003; ISBN: 080244038X; Paperback; $6.99

Buy it Now at for $5.99!

OR Buy it at for $6.99.

Special Info: Parents should note that this book contains under-age drinking, premarital sex (resulting in HIV and unwanted pregnancy), murder and suicide. None of these topics are glorified in any way. Laurel does partake in drinking and suffers consequences. Sex is not described in the book, but is discussed by the characters. The murder is a very minor subplot and simply serves the purpose of warning against unsafe dating. The suicide attempt is described, but not explicitly.

Also, a doctrinal note: At one point in the book, Laurel prays for the soul of someone she knows is deceased. The mention is extremely brief. While this may align with some religious teachings, it also contradicts the doctrines of several denominations.

Follow this link to purchase Purity Reigns, the first book in this series. You may also purchase the first four books of the series together through The set of four sells for $22.96.

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