What’s the biggest, most consequential, bad decision you’ve made? How did the process of facing its consequences change you? A wonderful new young adult novel, For Eden’s Sake, takes us inside the lives of one young man and one young woman who must figure out what they’re going to do in the wake of an enormous mistake that neither of them even saw coming. It’s a well-written, well-paced story with compelling characters who I grew to care very much about.
It’s also an amazingly quick read; once I got a couple of chapters into the story, I found it very difficult to stop. I started it one afternoon, while taking a break for lunch. That evening, I picked it up again with the intention of reading just a little more while I built up time on the DVR for a television program. Within minutes, I’d forgotten the TV program entirely. I didn’t put the book down again until I finished it.
The story alternates between two first-person narrators, which helps provide a more complete perspective on the depths of their dilemma. The young man, Isaac, is a recent college graduate who’s working at his first professional job and learning to make his way in the world. He’s a solid, well-formed Catholic kid from a loving, middle-class family; he grew up in the country, on a ranch, not far from the city where he’s now working. The young woman, Rebecca, is a college student and has had a very different life; her mother died when she was quite young, a tragedy her father dealt with by immersing himself in work and amassing a small fortune. Rebecca experiences him as distant, cold, and always on the verge of completely cutting her out of his life.
The key bad decision, which serves as the premise for the rest of the story, is a one-night stand between the two central characters; it takes place immediately before the novel itself begins, and we learn of it through flashbacks (with no graphic details). The two had never even met previously, and probably wouldn’t have crossed paths had both not happened to be in the same restaurant. The act was completely out of character for both; alcohol was involved, and both had been caught off guard by how quickly it impaired their judgment.
But decisions are decisions, and still have consequences. Rebecca discovers that she is pregnant, and is certain of only one thing: she wants not to be. She tracks down Isaac, delivers the news, and demands that he help her make the whole thing go away. And he’s certain of only one thing: he must find a different solution.
I won’t give away any of the subsequent plot, other than to reiterate what I said earlier about this being an engrossing story, with compelling characters who I grew to care about very much.
Although the story is about a young man’s deepening relationship with a young woman, this isn’t really a romance novel. I’m tempted to call it an “anti-romance,” because so much of the story is backward from how a traditional novel in that genre would be structured, but that isn’t the best label. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story, but I think it can best be described as a “love story.” Through the mistakes they’ve made, and the crazy situation they have found themselves thrust into, they learn to sacrifice their own wants for the needs of another, and to grow into the more generous persons they need to be.
It’s also tempting to say the story is a “cautionary tale” that teens ought to read as a warning about the consequences of promiscuity. It certainly is a cautionary tale, but one with an ultimately more important message than simply “see how bad your life will be if you do something you’re not supposed to do.” It’s more a tale of discovering what one is capable of doing to address the consequences of an ill-considered life decision that may have hit a person so fast, and that may have been made with so little reflection, that he or she hadn’t even seen it coming. Yes, the story tells Christian teens, Do all you can not to fall, but if you should happen to do so despite your best efforts … dig deep. You’re capable of more than you might think. You can rearrange your life. God can write straight with crooked lines. And, I would add, don’t let your shame keep you from confiding in your parents, and letting them help you as well.
I’d like to conclude with a final thought that I took from the story. I’m not a gambler, and can’t remember the last time I set foot in a casino, but on occasion I enjoy watching the World Series of Poker on television. What always strikes me is the speed with which a pro can look at a newly-dealt hand and immediately decide if it’s worth playing. If not, all the cards go in the discard pile, and he’s out until the next round. That’s no doubt a smart strategy for a professional gambler, who must maximize the value the hands he chooses to play. But what a contrast it is to real life, where some of our greatest growth — and most meaningful experiences — can flow from the struggles to play out a fistful of “cards” that we’re inclined to simply run away from, because they don’t seem to add up to very much. At least not on first inspection. But so many times, that perception can change once we shift those cards around a bit and look at them in a different light. A new strategy can emerge. Perhaps we need to let go of a plan or a desire that we’d held dear. Maybe we need to pick up a new skill, take on a second job, humble ourselves to ask another person for help, or stretch ourselves in some other way.
Regardless, it’s that process of being creative and “finding a way” — rather than immediately tossing everything into the discard pile and walking away — that can bring so much meaning and true satisfaction in life. This piece of wisdom can be difficult for a parent to sit down and explain to a teen who is on the cusp of adulthood. Rather than trying to “explain,” For Eden’s Sake brings this wisdom to life through the actions of relate-able and compelling characters, allowing the reader to experience it along with them.
That, for me, is fiction at its best.