Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Existence of Pity by Jeannie Zokan


Title: The Existence of Pity
Author: Jeannie Zokan
Publishing Company: Red Adept Publishing, LLC
Number of Pages: 250
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What Goodreads has to say:

Growing up in a lush valley in the Andes mountains, sixteen-year-old Josie Wales is mostly isolated from the turbulence brewing in 1976 Colombia. As the daughter of missionaries, Josie feels torn between their beliefs and the need to choose for herself. She soon begins to hide things from her parents, like her new boyfriend, her trips into the city, and her explorations into different religions. 

Josie eventually discovers her parents’ secrets are far more insidious. When she attempts to unravel the web of lies surrounding her family, each thread stretches to its breaking point. Josie tries to save her family, but what happens if they don’t want to be saved?

The Existence of Pity is a story of flawed characters told with heart and depth against the beautiful backdrop of Colombia.



What I have to say:

First off, I just learned that the author wrote this book for NaNoWriMo, and would like to offer my congratulations, as that's a feat many people (myself included) have attempted but failed to achieve.

The Existence of Pity is a sweet, rich story that's full of heart. Sweet in the way it explores a young girl's first encounters with romance, her changing dynamic with her family, and her passion and zest for life. Rich in the way it describes Colombian culture and missionary life. Full of heart because it features a heroine who is almost nothing but heart. 

Sixteen-year-old Josie, the story's protagonist, is instantly likeable and easy to empathize with. As she explores love, faith, and friendship, Josie takes the reader with her everywhere she goes and in everything she feels. By equal turns, this book captivated, delighted, and enraged me as I trailed Josie in her adventures.

I enjoyed learning about Colombian culture and missionary life in the 70's, as that's not something I've read much about before now. I especially loved the descriptions of the beautiful Colombian city of Cali, and Josie's tangible love for the place she calls home. I also loved the honesty and quirkiness of Josie's romances. One of my favorite details is Josie's aversion to Tom's goofy hat from Machu Picchu. Consider this quote which I "underlined" in my Kindle copy of The Existence of Pity:
"How did anyone ever fall in love? There were so many things that could mess it up, like dumb hats and awkward moments."
I love it. It's so cute and so blatantly honest. After reading YA books like Twilight (which I'm not dissing, by the way) and The Hunger Games, we might think that young love is all about tall, dark, and handsome men who are incredibly suave and never do or say anything awkward. So thanks to Jeannie Zokan for keeping it real.

I also enjoyed the variety of characters in this book. From down-to-earth Colombians like Blanca, to Josie's fun-loving Aunt Rosie, fellow missionary kids, her exasperating brother, and her flawed but sometimes loveable parents. OK, maybe I loved Josie's parents a little less than I did the other characters. But still, there were moments in the book when I found her interactions with her parents, especially with her dad, really sweet. Let's just say, though, that if the book hadn't ended the way it did, I probably would have thrown it against a wall (which would have been bad, because I was reading it on my Kindle). I'm relieved Josie achieved some freedom at the end of the novel, even if it was in a bittersweet way.

While this book delves deeply into faith, different religious traditions, and missionary life, it doesn't try to convert the reader. In fact, it doesn't even present any one religion as "the best" or "the worst." Instead, it's a thoughtful, compassionate exploration of faith and of the idea that certain people are drawn to certain religions for certain reasons. So if you're hesitant to read the book because you think a story about missionary life might get preachy, don't be. You don't have to worry about that here.

What you will gain from this book, however, is a deeper understanding of and appreciation for different cultures, religious traditions, and personalities. You may also gain a deeper sympathy for people who make fatal mistakes, or for people who chafe against tradition. I'm not saying you won't be totally infuriated with Josie's brother by the end of the book, because the kid is kind of a little jerk, but you can be infuriated by someone and still retain a measure of empathy for them. And that's maybe the greatest thing about this book.

So I'll end with my favorite personal trope - quoting C. S. Lewis:

"The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others... In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.” 

In The Existence of Pity, Josie is constantly reading, whether it's The Hobbit or Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Is this because she's "a seeker" (as Aunt Rosie calls her)? Or is it because she feels so alone? Probably it's both (and maybe also that she just really enjoys reading).

Anyone who's a seeker like Josie, or who reads mainly "to know they're not alone" will enjoy The Existence of Pity. And in reading Josie's story, we do indeed discover that we're not alone - and neither is sixteen-year-old Josie Wales.

Rating:





Until tomorrow.

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