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Posts Tagged ‘Secrets of the Porch

Secrets of the Porch by Sue Ann Sellon caused a lot of discussion this week between my husband and me. The plot and characters of this Christian romance are unevenly developed but otherwise the writing is acceptable. Until about two-thirds through, the novel did its job of entertaining me. In the last third, however, came a revelation that changed my feelings towards this particular young adult novel.

Sixteen-year-old Sophie is caught robbing a gas station with her boyfriend Gabe, but avoids juvenile detention when a judge sentences her instead to spend a year on a farm with her grandmother whom she has never met. This synopsis caught my attention, as I have a soft spot for troubled youth, and even tried my own hand at writing stories about them. The first chapter started out well enough too, showing Sophie as this tough teen who threw around words like freak, pig, and ass. Hardened by the death of her mother, life on the streets, and an abusive boyfriend, Sophie even shows contempt to the judge and puts up a fight against the guards who escort her in and out of the courtroom. Unfortunately, despite her background of mentoring pregnant teens, Sellon is unable to maintain a consistent depiction of Sophie as a troubled teen. At times, such as when Sophie throws eggs at a rooster for mischief, she seems too innocent and too young. Speaking of which, I realize that sixteen-year-olds are almost adults, and therefore will talk more like them than children. At the same time, the narrator too often sounds less like a teen who is trying to figure out her chaotic life, and more often like a mature author who is imparting wisdom she has gained with age.

Still, in the first two-thirds, there’s a certain beauty about Secrets of the Porch. Unrealistic as her Sophie’s rapid transformation might be, I enjoyed reading about her falling for nature, the farm, and her grandmother. Oh, and for the family dog. Sellon successfully convinces me of how unloved and abandoned Sophie has felt since the loss of her mom, and so I’m rooting for her to find happiness and family again. Despite its uneven quality, Secrets of the Porch has all the makings of a feel-good story, and that initially made for an entertaining read.

Then came the revelation by Sophie’s grandmother of her past life. You’ll notice that I’ve referred to Secrets of the Porch as a Christian romance. More than a small portion of the book refers to God, his grace, his forgiveness, his love, and to church. Thus, it surprised—no, shocked me—to read a certain revelation. Earlier in the story, Sophie had shared her own troubled past, which involved theft and other delinquent acts. However, Sophie also comes to feel remorse for those, and so they didn’t bother me. In contrast, her grandmother behaves in a way that goes against Biblical beliefs, and yet never once does any of the “good” characters condemn her actions. In fact, she seems to have remained respected and revered in the community, and that did bother me.

When I shared my aghast feelings with my husband, we ended up having a long talk about what readers will and will not accept from authors. Consider, would you feel okay with a novel in which the main character vandalized for fun, and never suffered any consequences? Would you feel okay with a novel in which the main character tortured others, and no one ever acted as if this were wrong? In other words, is it acceptable for authors to portray a main character as going against our belief systems, because after all they’re just telling a story? Or do authors have an obligation to ultimately have the lead character change or suffer because of immoral actions?

I wish I could recommend Secrets of the Porch. The author touches on a topic for which I have a soft spot. She also beautifully portrays the Midwest, the region where I now live. The writing isn’t bad. Sadly though, the novel fails for me on two levels. First, it is marketed as a young adult novel, but contains sexually mature content. Second, and this is what disturbs me most, Secrets of the Porch condones a lifestyle that goes against Christian values while in every other way portraying itself as a Christian novel. For these reasons, I can’t in good conscience recommend Secrets of the Porch.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

SueAnnSellonBorn in Nebraska City, Nebraska, nationally recognized as the birthplace of Arbor Day, Sue Ann Sellon grew up writing poetry and short stories lying beneath the large oak trees near the Arbor Lodge Mansion. She recalls these memories as some of the best of her childhood. Nebraska City and many other locations referenced in Secrets of the Porch are from Sellon’s own memories of being raised along the Missouri River and the surrounding farming communities.

As a teen with challenges herself, Sellon could relate whole-heartedly to her main character, who is hardened by life but softened by love. Sellon also drew on her experience of many years of mentoring young teens through school programs to write Sophie’s story. In an interview with Feathered Quill, she expresses her hope that “Secrets of the Porch” can give young teens a glimpse of how easily we can be disillusioned. “It is not until we are healthy and spiritually minded that we can find just what God has intended for us.”

Married to her husband and best friend, Dr. Paul Sellon, together they share a love and interest in their historical home and a taste for cooking. Creative by nature, she also loves painting, decorating, and restoring vintage furniture. On her website, Sellon refers to herself as an expert in the arena of estate auctions and garage sales. However, she remains loyal to her first love of writing.

Sellon didn’t get started with writing until later her life. She tells Feathered Quill that she always had a gift for writing. However, it wasn’t until later in life that she pursued it, due to a conversation with her son Jonathon who informed her that he’d be quitting college after semester end to join the Navy. She was disappointed at first, but he wanted to follow his dream and asked her why she wasn’t following mine. At that moment, she started to write. Check back tomorrow to read my review of Secrets of the Porch. Save the date: January 28!

ALLISON: Do you prefer farm or town or city?

SUE ANN: I enjoy all of them but, because of such special memories of the farm, it would definitely be my preference.

SUE ANN: Arbor Day is a significant part of Nebraska City’s history.  I always loved the parades when I was very young.  As I got older, my love for nature changed and I realized that Arbor Day wasn’t just a parade, it was so much more.  I now appreciate the significance of Arbor Day and the true sense of the celebration.  My husband and I purchased a historical home in Nebraska City.  The home was built in 1880 by Robert Payne.  Mr. Payne was a partner with J. Sterling Morton on many business endeavors and on December 19, 1888, Mr. Payne’s daughter, Boatie, married Mr. Morton’s son, Carl, in our home in front of the fireplace.  When our home was built, Mr. Payne planted five oak trees and named the home “Five Oaks” (three of these massive historic trees remain in our back yard).  I still live in this home today and never miss an Arbor Day celebration!

ALLISON: What is a negative experience from your teens that has shaped you?

SUE ANN: My teen years were difficult.  Becoming pregnant at an early age was a quick way to jump start adulthood.  It was a different time and people were quick to judge.  I currently work for an organization that supports young women who are homeless and pregnant.  I am compassionate to their situation and I know that judgement is not mine.

ALLISON: What is a secret you once kept but now have shared?

SUE ANN: I kept a secret of abuse for many years.

ALLISON: You have a taste for cooking and used to own a restaurant. What was your worse food disaster?

SUE ANN: No food disasters.  Can you believe it?  But true.

ALLISON: You refer to yourself as an expert in garage sales. What has been your best garage sale find?

SUE ANN: I love garage sales and estate auctions!   I found a baby crib that I had lost many years prior.  It was the greatest find ever!

ALLISON: What have been the challenges involved with started with a writing career late in life?

SUE ANN: I have a lot of novels in my head and the biggest challenge I face now is finding the time to write all of them…lol!

ALLISON: If you couldn’t write, what would you do instead?

SUE ANN: Writing is my freedom.  It is an incredible escape.  I will never quit writing.  As I mentioned, I work for an organization in Omaha that supports women in crisis but, after my work day is done, I reflect on the day and find that this is when I do my best writing.

ALLISON: When you meet a fan, how do you feel? What greeting do you give?

SUE ANN: I am humbled and grateful when someone loves what I do and is moved by my writing.  I am always thankful in my greeting.

ALLISON: What’s next?

SUE ANN: I am currently working on a third novel titled, Blue Skies, Wheat Fields and God, and a screenplay titled, “It’s Over at 50!”

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