Fortunately, sometimes being a reviewer forces me to a novel. I like novels. I just don’t read them as often as I used to.
Imagine yourself a newly-minted pastor, sent out to lead your first church. I’ve actually been there, done that, and it’s not hard to imagine. It’s the point where the rubber meets the road, and you realize just how much you have left to learn. Adam Thomas’ new novel Letters from Ruby looks into just that situation. Calvin Harper is new to the ministry, new to rural life, and newly being arrested for attempting to break into the church, because he has no key!
This start kicks off a novel told as a series of flashbacks about young Rev. Harper’s first charge in the ministry. These flashbacks are interspersed with personal letters written to the reverend after he has been reassigned to a different ministry. As a general fiction read, it was great fun, and a novel that I am not troubled to leave laying around my home for even my pre-teen daughter to glance through. It may not quite be exciting enough for her tastes, but it is certainly acceptable reading for her.
I found the characters to be fully believable within Thomas’ Letters from Ruby. This may be because I have also pastored that first church in a rural setting, though I lacked a Ruby to get me through much of it. Others may not have been able to put faces with names as I could, but I assure you that I had both faces and different names for each and every character of Letters from Ruby.
Plot-wise, Letters from Ruby does not move very quickly. This may drive a few readers to put the book down and come back later, but it presents a fairly good picture of pastoral life: Rev. Harper has a few days like I have had: wall-to-wall for 48 hours, then rather sleepy for weeks!
As a novel, Letters from Ruby works well, though it is not a nail-biter or heart-pumper. For some, the typical life stages shown in the book may bring tears, but for others they only reflect what we experience on a daily basis. I liked this as a novel.
I liked Letters from Ruby even better as a pastoral brain-pusher. Many times, I see pastors (and I have myself) run splat into the wall of reality in their opening years of ministry. However, a few real-life lessons are helpful to remind us of how success should truly be measured in ministry. While Thomas does not explicitly cite how he learned these lessons, it is clear to me that he has some experience in these moments.
I also liked the reminder of the value of personal letters. If I found a fault here, it would be that Letters from Ruby is written by an Episcopalian about Episcopalians, and this Baptist isn’t quite sure what the traditions and habits of The Episcopal Church actually are! So, while some readers will know immediately what schedules and services Rev. Harper is keeping, it was a shade lost on me. That only detracts from my nerd-nature in reading the book for information, but brings no harm on reading for enjoyment.
If this has intrigued you, or if you just want to see for yourself, I would encourage you click on this link: The First Chapter of Letters from Ruby and read the first chapter. I think you’ll be hooked.
Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for the review. However, no demand was made for a favorable review.