Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A review of Plenty Good Room by Cheri Edwards

Plenty Good Room
By Cheri Paris Edwards
Warner Books
ISBN 0-446-57647-6
US$23.95 CAN$32.95
Published 2005
321 pages

Rating: Good

Plenty Good Room by Cheri Paris Edwards is a new novel from an emerging genre: African-American Christian fiction. It also falls into what the Japanese call a "business novel" because it is about the working place. The difference between this and a typical business novel, however, is that the main character, an African-American woman, is not ruthlessly trying to be rich. Her problem is that she feels a lot and is too involved with her charges.

The main characters are Tamara Britton, who (unlike the stereotypical black female characters one sees in the media) is often unable to challenge those who bully her --and she is not jumping into bed with anyone. Tamara is also looking for information on an old acquaintance, and she is attracted to Isaiah Perry but unable to bring herself to really get to know him. Because she’s such a wuss, Tamara -- a worker in the Children’s Protective Agency -- gets stuck taking care of Sienna Larson, a runaway teenage girl with an attitude. Sienna changes Tamara’s life, in the end...and surprises pop up in the end.

Traditionally, Christian fiction books have dealt with issues such as supernatural spiritual warfare, home-spun country stories, frontier stories, and romance. Temptations against the status quo appears and are conquered and the status quo --a good American normal life– returns. Very rarely did African-Americans pop up in Christian fiction, except as props to show the white writer’s opinion on racial or societal problems. African-American fiction, on the other hand, always dealt with relationships, slavery, the mean urban streets Christian writers While many African-American writers were Christians, these different genres were literally worlds apart. For white Christian writers, the culmination of the heroine’s journey was a return to the goodness of the normal world, to Eden, in short. For the African-American or minority Christian writer, Eden has not been achieved. The farm on the frontier was a long-off dream, and even if such a farm was attained, the white Christian would probably be trying to steal it from him.

For better or worse, Plenty Good Room is typical of many African-American books: it often feels like a sociological tome. In this case, the story centers on little runaway Sienna Larson. Actually, Sienna is not the only runaway in the books. Other people turn up missing. Reflecting certain aspects of African-American life, people are always disappearing, running away, or in limbo separated from good or bad or unknowing relatives. But this is a Christian book and even if people are missing, they are not missing to God who works out all things for good. Life, then, is a mystery, often a sweet mystery in which a believer suddenly sees the loving working of the kingdom of God.

The book is firmly rooted in both the black middle class and the poorer class. It deals with contemporary issues and is insightful and faith-filled without being sentimental. The characters are true-to-life and the book is more of a novel about work and family than it is about love. The Christianity is apparent without being too preachy. Recommended.
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