I’ve technically never read any Karen Kingsbury books — my opinions here are based on listening to audio books — but I think I’m officially a Karen Kingsbury critic.
To be sure, I should probably read another series than just the one I listened to, but I just don’t think I could stomach it if it turned out to be anything like the four-book Bailey Flanigan Leaving, Learning, Longing, Loving series.
I should’ve known something was awry when anyone who knew I was listening to them gushed about how much they loved her books. One woman even told me she wished she could part of one of the families about which Kingsbury tells her stories. She knows they’re not real right??
And that, ultimately, was the problem. The characters were too “not real.” I’ve never met anyone in real life like the characters in these books, or if I did I didn’t like them because they were too “perfect,” which, by the way, is a word used ad nauseum in the books to which I listened.
One major hang up for me was kind of a nit-picky thing but it occurred enough to annoy me to no end, and that was the constant use of character’s first and last names. Why? Who does that, either in books or real life. “Bailey Flanigan” was constantly swooning over super-dreamy “Brandon Paul” and missing her first love/antagonist “Cody Coleman.”
After listening to the first book, I was kinda “eh,” but was interested enough in the story to give the other books a listen. Until book four. I just couldn’t stomach any more, so I read the spoilers and that was that.
The story in a nut shell: a girl is in love with a boy who broke up with her, for reasons she didn’t know but that he thought were for her own good, and what happens next as they both begin to date other people yet with no closure of their previous relationship or feelings. The person who loaned me the CDs thought I could relate to the plot, given my own relationship roller coaster of the last few years. And I kinda could, but I got the feeling that Kingsbury either has never been through the experience she’s writing about OR she’s writing fantasy.
When I read the spoilers on Good Reads I wasn’t the only one critical of the blissful perfection in the books. I mean, yes, there were bad things that happened to the characters in the books but even the bad things and the character’s reactions to them were too “perfect.” As I told one friend, it wasn’t messy enough to be believable. Life is messy and sometimes stays or ends messy. Not everything gets tied in a nice, neat bow with no hurt feelings. In fact, I’ve never had the tragedies of life not have some lingering hurt or unresolved feelings. Am I the only one?
My concern is that books like this are the Christian equivalent of a Harlequin romance. Just like those books portray fantasy in the sexual realm, the book series I listened to promoted a fantasy in the spiritual realm, that if you just pray to God and trust God He’ll tie everything up in a nice neat bow and that’s just not true, it’s not Biblical and not the case in anyone’s life in Scripture.
Every one of the Biblical heroes we look up to had a life of trials and mess and no traditional “happy endings.” Even God’s chosen ones — prophets, kings, and his own son — suffered loss of family, status, health and life. That’s not a nice neat bow. I think we do people a disservice if we let them expect that prayer and trust lead to bliss. Prayer and trust lead to things like strength to take on life’s less-than-blissful moments.
I feel a little bad that I didn’t love Karen Kingsbury like apparently everyone else on the planet. I wonder too if it’s unfair to judge based on one series alone. Perhaps we’ll cross paths again. For now, I’m moving on … to messier pastures.