Review: Believe by Sarah Aronson

believe aronsonTitle: Believe

Author: Sarah Aronson

Series: N/A

Genre: Contemporary YA

Summary (from Goodreads)

Janine Friedman is famous. She’s the miraculous ‘soul survivor’ of a suicide bombing in a Jerusalem synagogue ten years ago. The bombing killed both her parents and changed not only her life, but also that of Dave Armstrong, the tourist who dug her out of the rubble and ‘found God’ as a result. Most people can remember where they were when it happened – the image of that little girl with her bleeding, ruined hands being dragged into the light.

Ten years on, Janine just wants to forget the past, though the nightmares persist. Sure, she avoids cameras and journalists like the plague, and her hands will never be quite right, but she’s one leg of a ‘tripod’ of friends – Miriam and Abe are always there for her – and the most she’s worrying about is whether she should settle for boyfriend Dan or still go after gorgeous Tyler.

Janine always knew the tenth anniversary would be tough. But then Abe is nearly killed in a road accident and ‘miraculously’ survives. Another boy gets out of his wheelchair and starts to walk… And the common denominator is Janine, with her supposedly healing powers.

With Dave Armstrong back in town, Janine finds herself at the centre of a media storm. Forced to look more deeply into the past, she must finally seek the truth about her parents, her hands, and the terrible day that shaped her life. What does she really believe about all three – and about herself?

Review

There’s a lot going on in this book in terms of themes and ideas. Faith, God, belief, forgiveness, fame, the media… it’s heavy stuff.

And ‘heavy’ is a somewhat apt word to describe the book with.

Big important themes are usually hard work. They challenge you to think and change your assumptions and experience things from outside of your comfortable view point. This is a really valuable thing in writing and reading, and I don’t mean to in any way suggest that the fact that this book tackles such themes makes it bad.

It isn’t bad at all. But it’s not…. Well, it was harder work than it was enjoyable.

You can probably see I’m struggling to articulate my thoughts on this one. On the one hand, I really liked how it explored big ideas, kept throwing curveballs, examining things like faith and belief from many different perspectives, and despite Janine’s strong opinions on a lot of subjects it never felt preachy or leaning in one particular direction. It’s a credit to the writing, in fact, that with Janine’s point of view it managed to remain so neutral, allowing the reader to make up their own mind.

But on the other hand, it was hard going. Janine is a desperately unlikeable character. I felt for her struggle with her unwanted fame, but she was so bitter a lot of the time, mean and inconsiderate to her friends. I really liked the moment where she became inspired and elevated, only to have her teacher shoot her down and tell her she was rushing, that her ideas weren’t quite good enough yet – it felt realistic. But the problem was, by that point I disliked Janine so much that I couldn’t really feel for her when that blow was delivered.

Aronson almost almost got Janine right. She needed to be bitter, and she needed to have her moments of downfall. There was a lot in her characterisation that felt accurate. But there needed to be something to redeem her, and there just wasn’t. To Aronson’s credit, she didn’t give Janine an easy way out at the end, leaving plenty of things open for the reader to interpret as they will. And this elevates my opinion of the book again, because a saccharine happy ending would have made me angry. But this definitely didn’t have one, so once again I’m thinking better of it.

Overall, this was a frustrating read. It walked the line between brilliant and terrible with such perfect accuracy that this is an achievement all of its own. I really wanted to love it, but have been left with a feeling of slight disappointment, warring with the sense that there were plenty of things I did genuinely like about it.

Difficult. I guess you’ll have to read and make up your own minds.

Rating: 3/5

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