Sunday, May 29, 2011

Roadside Assistance

Seventeen-year-old Emily Curtis, a girl more comfortable in the garage working on a car than in the shopping mall texting her friends, is in for a rough ride. Roadside Assistance, written by Amy Clipston, starts with Emily and her father roaring down the street in a Chevrolet Suburban. It’s hauling what’s left of Emily’s life… which, after the loss of her mother to cancer, a home foreclosure, the selling of her beloved Camaro, and the bankruptcy of her father’s auto shop, is very little indeed. Now Emily and her father must rely on charity as they move in with her wealthy aunt, uncle, and near-perfect cousin, Whitney.

As the story unfolds, Emily deals with a number of conflicts. First, (and understandably) Emily is grieving over her mother, but her father won’t talk to her about the pain. She has no friends to help out either. Like everything else, they were left behind with the move.

Second, Emily feels somewhat intimidated by her glamorous, gorgeous, and very social cheerleader cousin Whitney, especially since they are in the same grade at school. Plus, not only does her aunt seem determined to force Emily to abandon her tomboy tendencies and dress up, she insists on giving Emily Whitney’s hand me down phone and car. Worse, both Whitney and her aunt drag her to church and push her to talk to the youth director. Emily views all these efforts at kindness as a personal affront.

Perhaps hardest of all, Emily is so angry over her mother’s death that she can’t pray. However, since her mother’s faith was genuine and strong, Emily also can’t quite fully turn her back on God either. Instead, she pours out her questions and anguish in letters to her mother. Here is a snippet from one of her heartfelt entries:
How can it be my fault that I’ve lost my faith in God, when I’ve been trying to reach out to him? I’ve tried to pray nearly every night, and I come up empty. Is it all my fault, Mom? You said God would be here to hold me and comfort me. So where is he? I open my heart and feel nothing…

Slowly, Emily begins to adjust. She makes a friend at her new school. She also discovers that her neighbor, a cute boy her age named Zander, not only shares her love of cars but also has a garage. When Zander gives her free access to his tools and invites her to work with him on his latest project, she finds a haven and a way to work through her grief. She even reluctantly starts attending church and youth group with Whitney.

Just as it seems Emily is finally back on the right track, a misunderstanding leads to an emotional fall out with Zander, her aunt, and her father. Although she finds a surprising ally in Whitney, Emily still feels completely lost. Near breaking point, she is finally able to open her heart and pray.

However, before she can right things with her father, he suffers a life-threatening accident at work. Zander rushes her to the hospital where she must wait to find out her father’s fate. It is almost more than Emily can bare thinking about the horrible things she said to her father and knowing she might lose him too. To her great relief, he lives.

Throughout the story, Clipston neatly ties together the idea of rebuilding a broken down car with rebuilding a broken down life. In addition, Clipston tackles doubt with realistic sincerity. Emily struggles with her faith. Her uncertainties and questions are typical of many teenagers, and yet she provides doubters with encouragement because she does not give up in pursuing God. And ultimately, she finds that He was with her all along.

What I Like: The story was well-crafted. I enjoyed reading it! As a character, Emily was especially well developed. Her continued efforts at prayer, at reading her Bible, and at seeking answers will serve as a great role model for teens facing their own faith journeys. I was also surprised by Whitney. When the story begins, the reader sees her as a Hollywood-version cheerleader—snobbish and shallow. By the end, we realize Whitney is actually bright and caring with a genuine (albeit not fully developed) faith.

What I Dislike:Even though Whitney gave me a pleasant surprise and turned out to be quite likable, I still had some issues with her as a character. She spent a lot of time texting, to the point of ignoring others. She was often so busy at school that she came to dinner late. And she was a little too friendly with her boyfriend for my taste. Overall, her faith had a “life in a bubble” type feel to it. Then again, that is actually realistic in today’s teen world. Maybe that’s why it bothers me.

Overall Rating: I'm torn between Excellent and Very Good, but the message is important enough for me to give it the benefit of the doubt. Excellent.

Age Appeal: None is listed by the publisher, but I think it would work for the teenage group. 13-18.

Publisher Info: Zondervan, 2011; ISBN:978-0-310-71981-6; Paperback, 224 PGS., $9.99
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Special Info: Visit this bestselling author's website.

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