In Broken Placesby Michele Phoenix
Shelby’s life isn’t glamorous, but it is predictableand that’s the way she likes it. A survivor of her father’s violence, she has spent a lifetime creating a safe existence devoid of dependence. But her carefully managed world begins to break when, under staggering circumstances, she becomes a single mother to four-year-old Shayla. In
Shelby’s life isn’t glamorous, but it is predictableand that’s the way she likes it. A survivor of her father’s violence, she has spent a lifetime creating a safe existence devoid of dependence. But her carefully managed world begins to break when, under staggering circumstances, she becomes a single mother to four-year-old Shayla. In a drastic attempt to escape her childhood’s influence, Shelby moves to Germany, but she quickly discovers how intimately linked memory and healing areand how honestly she must scrutinize her past in order to aspire to a richer future. As she juggles a new job, a new culture, a new daughter, and the attention of an enterprising man, Shelby’s fresh start becomes a quest for the courage to be not only a survivor, but someone who prevails.
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in broken places
By Mich, #232;le Phoenix, Kathryn S. Olson
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2013Michèle Phoenix
All rights reserved.
"The only difference between a German and a primate is his ability to read the label on his beer can," Bonnie said.
I'd spent a lifetime wondering what purgatory might be like and I'd found it here, at thirty-five thousand feet, confined in this garishly upholstered space between a sleeping child and a ranting parrot of a woman. Her voice was loud—as sharp as the bones jutting out of her seventysomething body—and ill-fitting dentures did nothing to soften her staccato consonants and shrilling vowels.
"Of course, they can't help it," the occupant of 41-C continued, oblivious to the silence coming from 41-B. "It's cultural. Like wearing those lederhosen getups and dipping their fries in mayonnaise. I'd bet money their waistbands are as tight as their arteries." She punctuated her sentence with a derisive snort and reached for her drink.
I counted off the seconds as she sipped orange juice from her plastic cup, relishing the silence while pleading with the gods of conversational relief that the sleeping pills Bonnie had taken minutes ago would kick in before I died of murder by monologue. I had predicted, when she'd entertained Frankfurt-bound passengers in the departure hall with a ruckus about her overweight carryon luggage, that this diminutive woman would spell transatlantic discomfort for her seat companions. And fate had placed her next to me. My only consolation was in imagining how ugly the scene might have gotten if this Germanophobe had been seated near a native of the country to which we were flying.
Bonnie replaced her cup in the indentation on the tray in front of her and took a deep breath. I held mine, dreading the next chapter in Bonnie's Defamation of the German Culture, but it never came. With a weary "I think I'll rest my eyes for a few minutes," Bonnie let out a long, pesto-scented breath and deflated into silence.
My hand drifted over the head of soft blonde curls resting in my lap. The gesture had been foreign to me only months before, and it struck me, as I looped a curl around my finger and watched it unravel, that the concept of foreign was quickly becoming familiar. Shayla stirred and I pulled her airline blanket higher on her shoulders, amazed that she could sleep, contorted as she was around the seat belt the attendant had suggested we leave fastened. She coughed and opened one eye, squinting at the geometric pattern on the seat in front of hers, then craning her neck back to get a look at me. Apparently satisfied that I hadn't morphed into any of the "bad people" from her Disney cartoons, she closed her one eye and coiled back into sleep.
I considered it a compliment that the sight of me hadn't sent her into horrified hysterics. There were multiple reasons why it should have, the greatest of which was the physical ravages inflicted on me by six months of utter shock in which twelve weeks of disbelief had yielded to twelve more weeks of second-guessing, all culminating in the past seventy-two hours of rabid, nerve-numbing packing.
I was the poster child for post-traumatic stress disorder. My skin was dirty-eggshell pale, my hair had all the stylish flair of a brown Brillo pad, and my eyes, I was pretty sure, screamed a hazel shade of terror that churned with utter confusion. Post-traumatic Shelby was not a pretty picture. At all.
I looked out the window at cotton-candy clouds and the first pale hues of another day. There was a large foreign object—perhaps a boulder—lodged in my throat, and for months, nothing I attempted had succeeded in dislodging it. None of the crying or raging or peacemaking I'd done had put a dent in it. And I was pretty sure, as I gazed out at the day dawning on the horizon, that the rock was there to stay. At least for a while. I contemplated carving something pertinent like "Let me off this ride!" on it and making it a permanent feature of my emotional landscape. It would feel right at home among the bits of barbed wire, chunks of fortified wall, and steel-reinforced doors torn from their hinges that had washed up on the same shore during previous existential storms. They formed a panoply of failed self-protection I wasn't ready to dispose of quite yet. I figured broken barriers were better than none at all. At least they showed intent.
* * *
SEVEN MONTHS EARLIER
"She's beautiful, Shelby."
I stared at the social worker's face and wondered what beautiful had to do with the present circumstances. There were other words that described my dilemma. Strange? Yes. Disconcerting? Yes. Completely and horrifically out of control? Absolutely. But beautiful? No—it was not an adjective that belonged in this particular conversation, no matter how accurate it might be.
"Dana," I began, shaking my head and raising my hands in utter dismay, "I can't ... I mean ... Seriously? You're being serious here?"
This was only the second time Dana and I had met, but given the circumstances, we'd abandoned the formalities and gone straight to first names. She was old enough to be my mother, and there had been a frantic moment during that first meeting when all I'd wanted to do was curl up in her well-padded lap and have her shush me into oblivion as my mom had done when I was a child, but the official nature of our encounter had kept my instincts in check and my pride intact. Besides, I was sure not even the competent and sympathetic Dana would have known what to do with a thirty-five-year-old woman trying to crawl onto her knees.
Weeks later, I didn't remember many of the details of our first meeting. Only the general gist of the conversation and the mystification that had plagued me every day since then. My dilemma had done for my prayer life what trans-fat-free fries had done for my fast-food consumption. I was cranking out prayers as fervently as I was shoveling in fries, and though my decision hadn't gotten any simpler to make, my ability to use a drive-through window without guilt had vastly improved. But I hadn't given up on my praying. Not yet. This impassable imbroglio had proven two important facts to me. Firstly, I was helpless. A lifetime of learning to be strong and independent had left me more debilitated than I'd ever felt before. And secondly, my praying had gotten rusty. The first few times I'd tried to utter something profound, I'd sounded like a glossary of antiquated King James clichés. I was pretty sure God laughed at my initial attempts, but I figured he could use the entertainment as much as I could use the practice.
"I need you to make a decision," Dana now said, reaching across the gray Formica tabletop to press warm fingers around my frozen disbelief. Her oversize gold rings sparkled in the morning sunlight, somehow incongruous with the muddiness in my mind. "The paperwork is drawn up, and we can get this procedure started just as soon as you give us the go-ahead."
The go-ahead. Such an innocuous term. But in this case, it carried life-altering ramifications I couldn't even fathom. I grasped the edge of the kitchen table and found comfort in its realness. It was solid and predictable, scarred by time and use, but it was there—measurable and palpable and familiar. It seemed at that moment that everything else in my life had catapulted off a cliff, exploded like a clay pigeon into thousands of jagged fragments, and fallen scattered and unrecognizable into the dark abyss below. Giving anyone or anything the " go-ahead" while the pieces of my life were still settling in the muck of incredulity seemed about as wise as diving into a piranha-infested lake with pork chops strapped to each limb.
"I know it's frightening," she said, tightening her grip on my hand, "and I know you have no point of reference for making this decision."
"It's just ..." I searched her eyes for answers. "How did this happen? I mean, a month ago my life was ... and now it's—"
"Kaboom," Dana said matter-of-factly.
"Exactly." I sighed and retrieved my hand to rub at my eyes and rake at my hair. Dana returned my gaze, unflinching, and I tried to absorb some of her calm as it wafted across the table toward me like the fragrance of cinnamon or freshly cut grass or White Shoulders on my mother's chenille robe.
"Will you at least come to meet her?"
"No." The word shot out like a reflex.
"I'll stay with you."
"We won't even tell her who you are."
"Shelby." Her expression was compassionate, but her eyes scolded my cowardice. "There's more at stake here than just you. I know it's overwhelming and I know you're still reeling, but think outside yourself for just a moment."
I laughed at that, mostly because that response seemed preferable to curling into a fetal position under my mom's old kitchen table and praying to God for the Rapture to come quickly. This was a choice of cataclysmic consequences, and I was known to get stumped by a Dunkin' Donuts display. How was I supposed to decide this so soon when glazed versus frosted could keep my brain in a knot for days?
"She needs a mom," Dana persisted.
"I'm not her mom."
"But you can learn. Even if you're not her real mom, someone's got to raise her."
"No." I shook my head as if the gesture would rid me of the excruciating decision. "I'm not mom material. He made sure of that."
"And yet it's you he wanted to take care of his daughter. No one else."
I laughed again, though the sound was completely devoid of humor. "He doesn't even know who I am."
"But he chose you."
"I can't do it."
"What other option do we have, Shelby?" Her voice was soft, but her words slammed a vise across my lungs that threatened my ability to breathe. "What other option does Shayla have?" She leaned across the table, her eyes seeking my averted gaze. "Take a deep breath, Shelby." She waited while I obeyed. After a few moments, she smiled and added, "If you don't let it back out, you're going to pass out."
I expelled the breath in a rush of frustration and helplessness and fear, tears stinging my eyes. "I feel like I don't really have a choice at all."
"Sure you do. Technically. But if you're feeling like there's only one right choice, I think that might be true." She fished a Kleenex out of her giant purse and handed it to me as if she'd done it a thousand times before, which she probably had. "I suggest you and I go for a little ride. We'll drop in and see her—just as casually as you'd like—and then maybe you'll be able to wrap your mind around all of this." She pushed her chair away from the table and rose.
"I'm not sure I can do this." I swallowed past the boulder in my throat and bit my bottom lip to steady it.
"I believe you. But you still need to."
"I'm scared, Dana. What if ...? What if ...?"
"You don't have to decide today. Maybe seeing her will help you, though."
"Help me what?"
"Help you to know."
"You won't tell her who I am?"
"It'll be our little secret."
"And you'll stay with me?"
Dana nodded and hung her purse over her shoulder. "You ready?"
"No." My laughter only almost masked my terror.
"You'll be fine," Dana assured me, coming around the table to squeeze my shoulder as I stood. "I'll be with you—and we'll take it nice and slow."
"I need to brush my hair."
"I was hoping you would."
"Don't insult me. I might change my mind."
"Then you're absolutely beautiful," Dana said sweetly.
"And you're a lousy liar."
"Hey, if it gets you to the car ..."
"I need a donut."
"There are three Dunkin' Donuts between here and Dream Acres."
"Good," I said bravely. "We'll stop at all three."
* * *
Bonnie's sleeping pill was still going strong when the captain informed us that we were beginning our descent. She'd slept through a breakfast sadly devoid of donuts, waking only enough to mutter, "Leave me alone," when a solicitous attendant had fastened her seat belt. The captain's announcement had done nothing to rouse her from her drug-induced nap.
"You okay?" I asked Shayla, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
She twisted away and gazed in rapt fascination out the window again. There were Shayla-size noseprints on the glass and fresh smears of strawberry jam and chocolate milk below them. How she'd managed to eat her entire breakfast without taking her eyes off the clouds was a mystery to me. It was the first time she had flown, and after her initial nervousness at takeoff, matched closely by my own, she had either slept or been enchanted by the skyscape for the remainder of the flight. It was nearing midnight in the time zone we had left behind, but a lengthy nap and her innate enthusiasm had Shayla virtually hopping with excitement.
An airline attendant collected our trays and commented on Shayla's riot of blonde curls.
"They're only cute until I need to brush them," I replied, trying to finger-comb them as I spoke. "Then they become the opening salvo of World War III."
The attendant smiled and stowed the trays. "Well, she's a beauty. And a great little traveler."
"Thanks," I answered, a little proud in spite of myself. That Shayla was beautiful had nothing to do with me, and yet ... she was mine. There were times when the thought sent me whirling into a jumble of panic and amazement. I hadn't wanted any of this—I'd resisted it with all the fury of my fears, if truth be told—but Shayla had woven herself into the fabric of my life with wide, forget-me-not eyes, timid smiles, and satin-soft hands that had tugged at my resolve as surely as they now tugged at my sleeve.
"Hey, hey, hey!" She brought me out of my reverie with her trademark threefold plea.
"What, what, what?" I answered, taking her small hand from my sleeve to kiss her fingers.
"Look!" Shayla snatched her hand back, swiveled in her seat, and came up on her knees to lean as far into the window as she could. Through a gap in the clouds, she could see the random, irregular shapes of German fields, the crisscross of roads where tiny headlights strained to pierce the morning gloom, and the clustered homes and barns of farming villages scattered here and there across the hills. "Look!" she said again in her cute-as-can-be little-girl accent, pointing this time. "Look at Djoh-many!"
She reached behind her without taking her eyes from the window, grabbed a fistful of my shirt, and pulled me closer. "You see?"
Two thoughts simultaneously struck me. The first was that her seat belt couldn't be fastened tightly enough if she was able to kneel in it. The second was that there was no turning back now. That bank of light approaching like a luminescent storm front was not merely a pretty sight to get excited about as we descended toward Frankfurt. It was a reality so stark and final that it tore a gaping hole in the armor of my bravado. Germany was no longer a distant destination or a temporary lapse in sanity. As streetlights blinked off far below and the outline of a modern city emerged out of the early-morning gray, Germany became as real as the seat belt cutting me in half as I leaned toward the window and gazed at the beginning of my future.
There was a small town called Kandern nestled somewhere in those hills. And in that town was the American school for missionaries' kids where I was going to teach. The apartment where Shayla and I would live. The new life I would build—we would build together. I swallowed around the boulder and took a calming breath. There was nothing predictable about what waited for us in Kandern, and though I'd done as much Internet research as I could in recent days, I knew I was still sorely unprepared.
"Her seat belt should be tighter." The attendant's hand on my shoulder was a welcome distraction.
"Yes. Of course." I smiled, trying to tighten Shayla's seat belt while she strained away from me. "Shay? You've got to sit down, honey. We need to get your belt tighter."
"Look!" she said again, this time mesmerized by the outline of mountains in the distance.
"Can you sit down, Shayla?"
"No," she declared, ignoring my futile attempts to peacefully get her to sit. I hadn't had much experience with four-year-olds, but my time with Shayla had taught me that their attention span was not only limited—it was also selective. "Look! Look!"
I didn't take the time to follow her pointing finger. Grasping her arm and turning her toward me, I marveled at her ability to swivel her body without removing her nose from the streaked surface of the airplane's window. "Shayla, sit down!" I tugged a little harder and her nose came unglued from the double-paned glass.
"But I want to look!" She pushed the seat belt lower on her hips so she could rise toward the window again.
"Not right now."
"I want to see!"
"We're going to be landing soon and then you can look and look and look, but you've got to keep your seat belt tight until we're on the ground."
"Because," I answered firmly. Six months of parenthood had rid me of my original distaste for the pat answer. As much as I'd despised it when my parents had used it on me, I realized now that the only reasonable response to some questions was simply "Because." Why did she have to go to bed? Because. Why couldn't she have another piece of cake? Because. Why did the other kids get to stay at home while she had to go to Djoh-many? Because. Why did I want to be a missionary and not a normal person anymore? Because. "Because" was my new best friend. It was not, however, Shayla's. I fastened her seat belt as tightly as possible, unfazed by the squirming bundle of "I don't want to" fighting the process, then I pointed out the window with relief and said, "See, Shay? You can still see the mountains." And there they were, right outside the window. By any other standards, they were merely large hills. But having lived in the plains of Illinois all our combined lives, they might as well have been the Swiss Alps to Shayla and me.
Excerpted from in broken places by *NULL* Mich. Copyright © 2013 by MichÃ le Phoenix. Excerpted by permission of TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Plot: This was a very redemptive story that, while predictable at times, was highly enjoyable. There were, really, several plots at play in this story, making the overall story line very enticing. Characters: The character development in this story was excellent. The flashbacks allow you to get a first hand look into Shelby's childhood and understand her from her perspective. Even in the present, you watch Shelby's world transform right up to the very last words. Themes: I would have to say that the biggest themes in this story are trust and overcoming the past. Shelby had to overcome what the past made her and move on with her life. In doing so, she had to learn to trust in others as well as herself. Emotion: During the flashbacks, there is a lot of emotion. You can feel the fear and the apprehension of Shelby and Trey as they endure their father's wrath. Because of the emotion in the flashbacks, you can better understand the emotions that Shelby feels in the present. Overall: I really liked this book. There was a lot going on, but not too much to overstimulate you. The way that you have to piece some of the story together, makes it more interesting to read too. You are left wanting to find out what you can about Shayla. ---I received this book for free from the publisher for this review.---
Thirty-five-year-old Shelby Davis’s life is thrown for a loop when her father dies and leaves his young daughter in her care. The thing is, he’d abandoned her and her brother when they were children after years of physically and emotionally abusing them and their mother. She’s battled the effects of his cruelty for so long, and doesn’t know if she has what it takes to become a mother to four-year-old Shayla. Shelby takes her sister, now daughter, along with her to Germany as she starts life anew teaching English at a missionary school. It is there that she meets fellow instructor, Scott, who pursues a relationship with her—another thing she doesn’t feel ready for. Fear has ruled her life, but will the people who’ve entered her world change her heart? In Broken Places is a touching, emotional read that opens your heart and understanding to those who live their lives in fear. I loved this book. Its narration is personable and the characters are real and memorable. Recommended for anyone who has a heart and loves redemptive stories. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a Review Copy free from the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The options I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255
Set in lovely, quaint Kandern, in the Black Forest of Germany, where Shelby takes her foster-daughter to start a new life, we get a picture of children growing up in unique circumstances. Shelby takes a job as a teacher in an American school. The students speak numerous languages and have lived a third-culture life very different from kids who’ve grown up in the United States, as did Shelby. The author takes us through Shelby’s life as if it were the weaving of a tapestry seen from both sides of the loom. Will the tangled knots of her past cause it all to unravel, or will Shelby learn to trust God to continue weaving her life with the people she loves until she’s left with a thing of beauty? Beautifully written, deeply emotional, Michele Phoenix gets to the heart of her characters and takes us along, spellbound, into their revelation and growth.
Written with raw emotion. This is definitely not your typical warm and fuzzy kind of book but it is very good nonetheless. The author writes about a very difficult topic and how abuse not only affects the person at the moment but how it scars them. Michele Phoenix does an excellent job in writing this story and about the struggles associated with abuse. This is certainly not a topic we want to hear about but it's one we need to learn from. Unfortunately, abuse is more common than some people realize. Thanks to the author, Michele Phoenix, for writing such a good book. I give this novel 4.5 stars
I know others have mentioned in their reviews that the subject matter for this book was hard to give it five stars. I felt that way too. But this was so well written. The abused people were such a mess and yet so real that I loved Shelby and Treys quirkiness and wit, when everything else in their lives was a mess. They stuck together and got through it. And as much of a pain in the rear that Shayla was, I loved her too.
I have quickly become a huge fan of Michele Phoenix! "In Broken Places" is one of the best works of fiction I've read in a while; a story that grips you in the first chapter and doesn't let you go until the last page, and even then you're so emotionally invested in the characters that you don't want to say goodbye. "In Broken Places" is written almost like a diary, a first-person narrative by the main character Shelby Davis, who intersperses her present day story with flashbacks to a dramatic life changing time period 6 months prior and then also to her childhood. The reader quickly discovers that Shelby is a broken, although still successful and functioning, woman who bears deep scars from an abusive childhood. These scars continue to cripple and hinder her as an adult, and the way she was raised prompts a panic attack when she suddenly becomes a mother to an orphaned relation. However she, and the reader also, starts to understand how the thing she fears most is what God must use to bring her complete healing in Him. This book is a very emotional read, from the absolutely gut-wrenching and tear-inducing flashbacks of Shelby's childhood, to the relatable feelings of anger, guilt and overwhelmingness. However, there are also moments of great humor and smile-inducing dialogue. They say "write what you know" and Michele Phoenix has done it yet again, as she brings great knowledge from her own life, whether in her descriptions of Germany and the school she actually taught at for years, or sadly, in her own personal understanding of abuse. Nevertheless, its quite evident that God has brought Michele through her own experiences and then granted her an incredible gift of storytelling so that she's able to bless others through her writing. So, I have to say, I was moved not just by the story of "In Broken Places" itself, but in the greater story of Michele Phoenix; to God be the glory!
I enjoyed the way the author brought you into an abused little girl's mind. And her rescue is God Almighty in all His goodness and grace. I would recommend this book to those that want to understand the pain this world suffers from so you can better minister to the hurting.
A Story of Healing It took me a little while to get into the story but when I did it proved to be a beautiful love story between Shelby and her half sister Shayla. The half sister she didn't even know she had until after her father passed away and put in his will that he wanted Shelby to raise Shayla. The story switches back and forth between Shelby's past with her brother Trey while they endure their father's violence and the present when Shelby moves to Germany with Shayla to get a fresh start.
Shelby and her brother Trey survived an abusive childhood, and now Shelby is the guardian of a 4 year old daughter. She moves to Germany for a fresh start and her past continues to haunt her. New relationships make her remember her past and deal with the hurt. I thought the story was good. It alternated between the present and the past, showing what happened to Shelby in childhood and how she dealt with it as an adult. The German setting was interesting as well.
Skillful, Touching, Sweet, Romantic. This story is beautifully written. The very emotional flashbacks skillfully draw you in, to care about Shelby and her brother, Trey, and root for their healing. I am very impressed with the quality of the writing, and the sensitive way the subject of abuse is handled. The author, Michele Phoenix, is effective at building the story and inspiring understanding of the characters. I am infatuated with Scott! I’d like to see his “expressive brown eyes” and hear his sensitive love speeches, she wrote him so well. The little girl is so endearing! She reminds me of all the precious four-year-olds I have known. The author managed a happy ending, even for such a difficult subject. This book is well worth reading.
At the beginning of the book, the author quotes Ernest Hemingway about being "strong in the broken places" and that was a perfect summary of this story. This is about Shelby Davis' journey as a woman suffering from the lingering effects of her father's abuse. Even though her father left the family while she was a teenager, he continues to inform her life and her decisions. Ironically, it is through his act of placing a 4 year old in Shelby's care that starts her on the road to healing. There are flashbacks of the abuse inflicted on Shelby and her brother, Trey (as well as their coping skills to survive) interspersed with Shelby's present situations. I thought the author did such a realistic job of portraying, not only the abuse, but how children react---anger, ambivalence (hate/love the abuser), low self-esteem, fear, and guilt. The author really has a way with words, creating imagery that illuminates what's on the page. I was surprised at Shelby's wit---at times sarcastic, self-deprecating but funny--she banters well with her brother and her romantic interest, Scott (except for the occasional Scarlett O'Hara imitations). On a religious note, the author does include the topic of why God allows suffering, using C.S. Lewis (Shelby is directing a school play about C.S. Lewis and his love) but I think I would have liked to see how God was woven into Shelby's daily life. That's just my opinion and it didn't deter from this book. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone.
This book is everything you would want in a book. The characters are interesting, deep, and real. The emotional pain jumps off the pages and is sometimes difficult to read, but it is countered by hope for the future of the characters and the love that is present throughout the book. I loved reading about the supportive, loving relationship between the siblings Shelby and Trey and the way they encourage each other to pursue happiness despite their painful childhood. I also really liked the ending of the book. So many stories wrap up with a happy ending which is not always realistic, but the author wraps up this one with the hope of a happy ending, but doesn't spell it out for the reader. I can already tell I will by mulling this story over for the rest of the day and will definitely read it again!
This book really touched my heart. Shelby is a single woman in her mid-thirties from a broken home with an abusive father who has finally created a stable, if far from perfect, life for herself. Then one day, she receives news that she has been named the sole guardian of four-year-old Shayla. For a working woman with no intentions of marriage or children, the sudden responsibility is staggering. When coupled with a move to a new job in Germany, the drama required to drive this plot abounds. However, supporting it is one of the better unlikely love stories I've read in a while–the one between an unlikely mother and daughter, each lost, and each struggling to find a home. This was a funny, down to earth, full of the great moments that come with child-rearing and tinged with some of the bittersweet, and even painful, moments of when childhood goes wrong. Shelby's desire to prevent her own history repeating in Shayla's life is a common factor of every parent who decides they will be different from their own parents. And the discovery that even when things go completely wrong there is forgiveness between parents and children is the life of every Christian. Highly recommended. Especially for fans of parenting memoirs.
First, I love the cover. You just know that little girl has to be adorable. I so enjoyed Michéle Phoenix's writing voice. Within the first page I knew I would like this author simply by her writing style. She has a way with her words that is a style I could never write and a way only she could. This is the type of book I like to read. The main character, Shelby, has some brokenness from her past that she comes face-to-face with and she can't run away and ignore it, she must deal with it. My heart breaks for her as I read about the abuse she suffered as a child, probably because a lot of the verbal abuse hit way too close to home for me. I remember the tension, the waiting to see if you would say something wrong that would set off a torrent of verbal bashing. There is also a dash of romance, which I always enjoy as well. The book is written differently. You start off in the present and then you go back about seven months when Shelby gets the child, Shayla. Then at times you go even further back into Shelby's childhood. Although this breaks every rule new writers are told never to do, it totally works with this book and Michéle weaves it together beautifully. If you like a deeper read that deals with the brokenness in the human spirit and the futile ways we try to protect ourselves, you will want to read this book. A copy of this book was given to me by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.
In Broken Places follows a young women, Shelby, as memories and fear of her troubled childhood come back to trouble her present. Shelby has to decide whether “ashes” can be made beautiful in her own life, or whether to flee from all the things that trigger her trauma. In a moment of courage, Shelby decides to move across the world with her new four year-old daughter in order to start life afresh. She takes a teaching position at a missionary school, Black Forest Academy, in the southern Black Forest of Germany. Here she comes face to face with the ways her past can strengthen her… or forever maim her from enjoying everything good in her life. This is a story of overcoming deep and painful struggle. The weighty plot elements are driven by loveable, relatable characters. A number of the characters brought the faces of people I know to mind… the everyday people in my life. This made me realize just how “normal” these characters are… and how their quirks, flaws, strengths… are all part of our general life stories. Or of those we know. The style of writing is artistic, with a flow that keeps it “real” but also intelligent. The voices are distinct, each with their own bit of humor, which helps to lighten a difficult topic. I love Shelby’s brother, Trey. I’ve always wanted a Trey in my life. Always. Trey is a sidelines hero and, though Michèle didn’t originally plan him as part of the story, he convinced her of his place, and rightly so. The energy that keeps the book moving forward is simply that of a wounded, traumatized person trying to understand life. When twists and turns threaten to rock the carefully controlled stability, fear of re-opened wounds, or propagating and repeating history, and of losing control, take front and center stage. Because you love the characters and care about their journey, you keep reading. Isn’t that why anyone ever keeps reading? Because you care? Well, when you read In Broken Places, you will care a lot about Shelby, Shayla, Trey, Scott, and a handful of others. Even if you have no connections to Kandern, Germany, or even teaching-as-a-missionary life… this is a great book. If you are someone who has fears, obstacles, a past you don’t want to repeat… this book is for you. You’ll relate deeply with Shelby’s process. You’ll cheer for her… and as I found, in essence, your cheers will be as much for your own journey as hers.
My review in two sentences? While reading this book, first you cry and then you cheer. And along the way you learn about Love. "I'm not mom material. He made sure of that." These are Shelby's words. About her father. And his child. Her sister. Shayla is four years old. Shelby is thirty-five. And Shelby is about to adopt Shayla. Her father's will requested that she become guardian of his child. Thus begins the story of Shelby who is a woman who has convinced herself she is unlovable, and the people who want to show her otherwise. Shelby cannot stay in her father's territory and raise his daughter, so she travels to Germany to begin a new life. She will teach at a Christian school for missionary's kids and raise this adorable child. Bev and Gus, a kind and friendly couple, take her right into their home and hearts, making her and her half-sister their daughters. Shelby meets the creative and complex young students she is going to teach. Shelby is amazed at the depth she finds in the students as she directs the play Shadowlands, about the life of C. S. Lewis. And at the school, she also meets the health/gym teacher, Scott. Gus introduces them. Like this:"Scott, meet your future wife." And Shelby prays for an immediate Rapture. However, no matter how many protective walls she builds or keep-your-distance barbs she shoots at him, Scott continues to walk her home each night and ask her questions. "What's your position on predestination?" "I was predestined to eat cheesecake, and you were predestined to harass cheesecake eaters." Scott refuses to be pushed away, coming back again and again, and Shelby knows something about him resonates with her heart. She just doesn't know how to say "Yes" to his love. As I read In Broken Places, I wanted to cry for Shelby, and Trey, her brother, as the story of their abused childhood is told through flash-backs. Then I wanted to cheer as Shelby chose Shayla, and as Scott chose Shelby. And along the way as you read, you learn about Love. Thank you Michele Phoenix for writing this book, for showing the great power human love has to point us to God's never failing Love. Thank you Tyndale House for sending me In Broken Places to review.
I picked up this book and couldn't stop reading! Then after I finished it the first time, I turned back to the first page and started again. Michele Pheonix speaks with heartbreaking vulnerability about child abuse and the toll it takes on someone throughout their entire life. We grow to know Shelby, the main character, both through her current culture shock and through flashbacks of her childhood. Survivors of childhood abuse should read these portions with caution, however, as they could be mildly triggering. As Shelby's whole life is disrupted by an unexpected turn of events, she is forced to look at herself in a new way. Taking on new roles and a new culture, Shelby's struggle is one that anyone can relate to, even if they haven't experienced the same extreme changes. I grew to care for Shelby as I read this book. After every one of Shelby's flashbacks to her childhood, all I wanted was to wrap my arms around her and give her a hug. This book will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
As I finished the last couple of pages of “In Broken Places,” I wanted to cry. Not tears of sorrow, tears of joy! The book is a brilliant gift that brings its readers an understanding of how the Lord is in the heart of all His people. He meets us in our “woundedness, our brokenness, our daughterness, our betrayedness and our uncertain hopefulness.” Michele Phoenix has an astonishing gift that truly is from the Lord! She speaks of being a Survivor, and it is evident in her characters. She brings them to life, and holds nothing back as the characters evolve in the story line. Shelby and brother Trey grow up in an abusive home. Their father is a tyrant, yet their mother allows his behavior to continue until one day he takes it just too far. She throws him out and begins to mend the broken family. Only Shelby and Trey do not trust anymore, having developed their own coping skills, none of which is healthy! Scarred and broken Shelby and Trey begin to figure life out as adults. In addition, just when Shelby feels she has reached some semblance of balance, wham…she receives the shock of her life. Her father has pasted and she is declared sole legal guardian of her father’s youngest child. Her past wounds from abuse fracture and expose her fragile “inner child” hence she struggles with the likelihood that she may not be a good mother figure. Trey finds peace after a heartbreaking event, by means of trying to commit suicide. His recovery finds him longing to live the life he feels he finally deserves, hence opens a small French café. Trey and Shelby bond even further as the story unfolds and begin to rely on one another like never before! Shelby has decided to choose a path that includes her half-sister, Shayla, moves to Germany to teach English at Black Forest Academy thus setting into motion a quest. She must learn to not only be a caring guardian, but also conquer the hurdles of a new country. Can Shelby’s “inner child” be mended on this new quest? Will she discover that she is deserving of a life full of hopes and dreams? You will have to read this wonderful story to find out!! Thank you Michele for allowing me to review your masterpiece... so I could write an honest review, this book was given to me by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Rev. Lorrie J. Sims
What an amazing read! Michele Phoenix writes a fantastic story of courage, love, forgiveness and faith. She speaks of life events in a very candid way and the reader is inspired to look at their own issues of forgiveness, healing, mercy and grace. “In Broken Places” is hard to put down … but why even bother? Curl up in your favorite chair and take an amazing journey through life viewed from a different perspective!
“What’s your favorite book?… You probably loaned it out. You probably wish you were the person who hadn’t read it yet so you could experience it all over again.” This is a quote from a movie, but it perfectly captures how I feel about ‘In Broken Places’! I want to loan it out to everyone I know, but I also wish I hadn’t read it yet so that I could be the one experiencing it all over again. After finishing my advanced copy of “In Broken Places” by Michele Phoenix I simply sat and held the book in my hands for a long time. Part of me was willing it to go on, because I just didn’t want to part with the characters yet. Another part of me just felt at rest and encouraged. Filled up. I waited for the right words to come to write this review, but I don't think they will come so I will do my best! Phoenix was able to effortlessly (it seems) deal with very deep issues of abuse and pain, bringing about a story of redemption and acceptance!! Wow! It is a healing balm for anyone whose past hurts, fears or failures seek to define them. The message of hope and love is so true and believable primarily because of the way she wove the stories of these very real, raw and lovable characters together! It's really a masterpiece of a puzzle and the pieces fit perfectly into something that touches deep parts of the soul. The story focuses on the main character Shelby. Shelby is haunted by a childhood riddled with emotional and physical abuse inflicted upon her, and her brother, by their father. After being estranged from her father for much of her life she is thrown back into the turmoil of his grip through memory when she becomes the guardian of a 4 year old girl, Shayla. Shayla and Shelby begin their new life together by moving across the Ocean to a small town in Germany. There, they meet some lovable characters who support these two as they adjust to the turbulence that life has thrown at them. Phoenix’s book goes back and forth between past and present. The present stress of Shelby’s life has brought up the ghost of her past that she has been running from and she must now face it head on. The abuse inflicted on her by her father has shaped her present relationships, trust, and courage. She must overcome (or be defeated by) the fears that haunt her from the past, so that she can accept the love that so many in her life wish to give to her. I firmly believe that anyone reading this book can identify with the fear of being overcome by something from our past. It’s part of the human condition. This book is a salve: to soothe or heal, to ease the distress or agitation that each of us carries because of our past. Phoenix’s book is imbedded with a message of hope- find it for yourself!