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June 18, 2016

Review: An Acre of Fools by Aden James

by Donna Huber

An Acre of Fools
Do you ever pick up a book from your to read pile and wonder what attracted you to it? I kind of felt that way with An Acre of Fools by Aden James.

From the back cover,
After battling a long illness, Peter Stewart's daughter, Austin, finds herself in a nightmarish addiction that thrust her and her family into a world they never imagined.
As she buries herself deeper and deeper into the narcotics culture of shameless selfishness and deeply personal manipulation, Peter's unwavering hope for her drives a wedge between him and the less forgiving family members.
But when Austin finally chooses to embrace all that the life of addiction offers, Peter is forced to choose between his faith and a family too broken to hope.
He chooses poorly.
I guess I was drawn to the dysfunctional family and personal struggle. However, when I first started reading An Acre of Fools, I felt like I was reading a different book.

It starts off with a youngish couple from Chicago purchasing a vacation home on the Okatie River in South Carolina. Yes, it was a bit run down, but Mimi saw potential. She saw her dream life unfolding before her.

Almost the entire novel revolves around the one week a year they live in the house along the river. And in the beginning it seemed pretty idyllic.
Beginnings have a way about them that are so innocent, so pure. Endings can be so tragic and so corrupted, Somewhere in between is the mystery of life, the crooked journey that captures hearts and souls along the way. pg. 33.
But dreams have a way of not turning out quite as imagined and possibly even turning into a nightmare. While Mimi saw two boys playing along the riverbanks in her dream, her first born was a girl. But life was still good.

Then came along another child and instead of two little boys, Mimi would have two little girls playing along the river. But soon after Austin was born, it was evident that life wouldn't be as smooth sailing as before. Not because having a second child in tow causes that much more work, but because something was wrong with Austin. Something every wrong. Something that would take years for them to figure out and even longer to treat.

With each chapter comes a new year in the life of the Stewarts along the banks of the Okatie. Sometimes a year or two would have passed sometimes several. The reader is definitely treated to snap shots of the family's life. And like most pictures, they try to show the best of times.

And while there is definitely something special about the place along the Okatie, real life begins to encroach. By the time Austin is a teenager, she is addicted to the Oxycotin that she was prescribed for her serious illness. Life for the Stewarts would never be idyllic, innocent or pure again.

I really enjoyed James's writing style. While the story is about a family dealing with drug addiction, it is also so much more than that. So much so that at times I didn't think the story was really about this family's situation, but more about the internal battle of good versus evil. Some of James's best writing was when Peter was struggling with his faith. For Peter so desired to be the love of Christ to the world, yet he recognized the evil, the hatred, he held deep within his heart. The dialogue that Peter had with himself and others spoke so richly of the human condition that this story could have been anyone's story.

I really found this passage between Peter and his eldest daughter Gracie to be quite poignant.
They paddled in silence enjoying the scenery for a while, until Gracie asked her father, "Dad what do you believe?"
"Believe? About what?"
"About life. About God. About what's happened to our family."
"That's a very deep question for such a lazy day. Fo you really want to go there?"
"I do. With Austin out of our lives, I've been able to relax a bit, but now I miss our family, our whole family. The way we used to be. When we were young, I don't understand why God tore us apart."
"Do you want the complex Peter answer, or the quick and easy Dad answer?"
"We have time. I'd really like to know."
"Okay, then. For starters, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. Through His grace we are saved. Not because of what we do, but because of what He did."
"Igot that. I know that. But that all sounds very churchy. Why are you so on-fire for Him given how hard our life has been?"
Peter thought for a moment. "Some people think that life is the easy stuff and the hard stuff gets in the way. The hatd stuff is part of life, it's part of the journey. The Bible says that we're going to have difficulties. But we should be of good cheer anyway."
"Why? why should we be cheerful with all we have to put up with, knowing what Austin's entire life has meant to both her and to us?"
"Let's look at it this way. I can sit in my chair at home and read about loving unconditionally, even loving my enemies. And I can gree with that from the comfort of my cozy room. But then put me with someone who is a pain to be around, or someone who is actually trying to hurt me and I'm probably not going to respond in a loving way. So, then I ask you, do I agree with the Word of God, or not?"
"Probably not."
"Exactly, You don't know what you believe in until you're given the opportunity to act upon it. So difficulties are actually oppportuniities to show you what you really believe, not just what you say you believe. It's God's way of helping you see things about yourself that you could never know when life is moving along easily.
"I believe in Jesus and His Word, in part, because, in the face of horrible persecution, He forgave those who were hurting HIm. He chose not to look at the persecution. He chose to look at how His actions would impact a man like me. So for Him, the difficulty was an opportunity to demonstrate love.
"A belief is nothing until you claim it through your own experience, until you hold firm to it through suffering. I can observe someone else's suffering and contemplate how I'd respond in the same sistuation. But until I actually suffer, I don't really know who I am.
"So both the good and bad are life, and how we responss determines what that life will be like in our experience of it. Two people can go  through the exact some trouble and have two very different views of life and two very different life experience. I choose to respond as Jesus both commanded me, and as He did Himself."
"What about a man like Jack? Do you forgive him?"
The question slugged Peter in the guy. It stopped him cold. Gracie could see how it visibily upset her father. pg 179-181
The conversation continues a bit about all sin being the same to God and how the Bible tells Peter that he must love Jack, though Peter sees him as the enemy.
"But, Dad, he almost killed you daughter. And now there are other men just like him who are also killing your daughter. How can you love people like that?"
"And now come the harder answer, my real answer to your question." Peter hung his head and hesitated to go on. But then he picked up his head and spoke with a viciousness that Gracie had never, ever seen in her father.
"I want to kill them all." pg. 181-182

I usually lean towards fluff reads in the summer, but I like to read at least one book that has some meat to it. And as you can see from the above passage, An Acre of Fools definitely gives the reader a lot to think about.

Peter's faith plays an important role in his life and the plot of the story, but I wouldn't necessarily consider it to be Christian fiction. I think anyone who holds strong beliefs grounded in peace and love will be able to identify with the struggle Peter faces.

Besides faith, another overarching theme in this book is why bad things happen to good people. In the passage I quoted, we get a glimpse of Peter's answer, but in the novel we also get answers from a few of the other characters.

I struggled with a few things in the story. Mostly timeline issues. I kept losing track of the kids' ages and I wasn't really sure when the book was set. There are clues, but I found them frustrating more than help.I eventually had to sit down and work out the timeline for myself. Did you know the first living donor liver transplant was done on November 27, 1989? Austin had one when she was about 5, with Peter being the donor, when it was still experimental.

The biggest timeline problem for me though came when Austin went to college. Now, she was a very sick child in the early years; she nearly died when she was about 8 (I think). Yet, she graduates high school when is is 17. That's not too unusual, but she doesn't turn 18 until February-ish. That would have meant she entered first grade when she was 5 and I'm pretty sure all school's require children to be 6 by Sept. 1 to enter 1st grade. Plus this would have been when she was most ill. Would she really have kept up with her school work? I know the story line wouldn't have worked quite as well, but things like that irk me.

Even with this issue, the story kept me up past my bedtime more than once as it was very addictive once you got into the story. The whole story is not gloomy or filled with philosphocial discussion. There are quite a few fun family moments that will endear you to this family and make you wish you had a house on the river to go to with your family.

By Townofbluffton (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
If you are looking for a book that will make you reflect on your own beliefs and life choices, then I highly recommend An Acre of Fools. 

Buy An Acre of Fools at Amazon

Donna Huber, founder & publisher. Donna is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour. She reads most genres, but her favorite books are psychological thrillers and stories that highlight the survival of the human spirit against unbelievable circumstances.

Book info:
available formats: audio, ebook and print (338 pages)
published: May 2016 by Elevate Fiction
ISBN13: 9781943425365
genres: literary fiction, family life
source: publisher

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