Monday, July 13, 2009

Splitting Harriet by Tamera Leigh


Thanks to a very nice person at WaterBrook who read a rant that I needed some light summer reading to counter my re-read of the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, I recently received a well-timed collection of Tamera Leigh.

I had always wanted to read Splitting Harriet and I was glad I did.

Harriet is the reason people coined cliche phrases such as "Preacher's kids---they're always the worst." Harriet has undergone a cookie-cutter phase of rebellion which included drinking;smoking;motorcycles and tattoos.

Very repentant, Harriet now works as the head of Women's Ministry at her beloved First Grace Church while saving to buy the cafe she works at part-time.

Feeling herself doomed to repeat past mistakes and on a strict diet of penitence, Harriet removed any temptation of her old life. Her addictions are now Jelly Bellys and weekly indulgences of her favourite tv show; her companions are eons older than she; and she is safely housed in a trailer park boasting elder members of the church her father pastored at and a sprinkling of pink flamingos.

Harriet is the last of her family to attend First Grace. Her father has retired, her brother moved on and Harriet tries to maintain the legacy she had once scoffed at by keeping tradition in the church. The plot and the "split" the title imposes reflect the rift dividing the old congregation that Harriet and her father knew and the new, modernism seeping in under new leadership.

Here, Harriet meets church consultant, Maddox McCray and the reformed bad girl's goodie-two-shoes lifestyle threatens to allow some passion and rebellion.

As a minister's kid, I identified with the fish bowl life that led Harri from the church. Though I never rebelled, the same hurt and betrayal she experiences are the same that led me to so fervently cling to Martin Luther's idea that a church is an extension and not the heart of faith.

I also really enjoyed Maddox; the Jelly Belly obsession; and some tamely funny moments ( most revolving around Harri's confusing crush over fellow parishoner Stephano).

Leigh's weakest link is the cookie-cutter rebellion I mentioned earlier. It seems as if Harri just happens to have all the usual symptoms suffered under the Christian umbrella of "sin and no good": tattoos, smoking, drinking, motorcycles. This rebellion seemed more than dated and more than a little cliche.

Leigh also lost me in her attempt to capture not only Harri's rebellious moments but those of the teenage PK Harri tries to help and a few rowdy teenagers who threaten a church picnic.

Here, Leigh inserts vernacular containing: "yeah, man" and "cool!" and I felt that we had stepped into "Cross and the Switchblade" territory --if not two decades ago.

Leigh dates herself very easily and it detaches the reader from the intense experience Harri seems to be struggling with and overcoming.

As Leigh is not the first Christian author to be out of tune with the secular world ( it makes sense, does it not, for Christ followers who live purely to be distanced from the less-holy sects of society?), I chalked it up as typical for Christian fiction.

I enjoyed Splitting Harriet and it is definitely one of the best Christian chicklit novels I have read.

Happy Reading

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