Karen Kingsbury wrote an exciting finish to the Bailey Flanagan series with many happy ever after endings. The prayer for her future husband turning out to be for Brandon surprised me. I picked up more of her books - they are so full of scripture praying and good family relationship building lessons. Send a message to Karen please - "Keep writing!"
This book was so far removed from some of Kingsbury's older books that I really began to wonder if she actually wrote it. I was stunned at the number of opportunities for "life-changing fiction" were skipped over so that more detail could be given to trite issues and wedding details. For example:
1. Brandon and his parents haven't talked in years and years. Yet, all that was given to the reconciliation between them was one simple paragraph. His parents simply drove up his driveway and got out of the car and all was well. Can you imagine how many readers could have benefited from a more detailed explanation of the process of forgiveness and how Brandon got to that point with his parents. Instead we read this book thinking that nothing ever has to be discussed with estranged loved ones and that we should just act as if the situation never happened. I realize that once Brandon became a Christian he never had another struggle, outside of his distance from Bailey, but this just leads Christians to believe that reconciliation should happen this way, while it isn't a realistic or a healthy view of forgiveness at all.
2. After so many novels about these characters, I feel like I really know them and their character. But the Jim Flanigan that I have come to know would have never so readily given his blessing for a marriage that his daughter was so obviously conflicted about. Just weeks before, Bailey ended her relationship with Brandon, yet when Brandon comes in to ask for Jim's blessing in marriage, he gives it right away. This seemed so forced to me... like Karen just needed this to happen to get to the conclusion that she wanted, regardless of how out of character it was. I feel like, at best, Jim Flanigan would have talked Brandon into waiting the time it took to get everything straightened out between he and Bailey before jumping into marriage. Even though Jim Flanigan's marriage is easy and perfect, I think he is a wise enough man to know that when you are having problems in a relationship, marriage doesn't solve those problems. Yet, once again, instead of the "life-changing fiction" that Karen Kingsbury would have used at one time to show the importance of a right relationship before jumping into a marriage, now she writes in favor of parallelism to her own life, regardless of how ill these two fit together.
3. The first 3rd of the book goes into great detail about how Brandon is fine with the paparazzi, he has grown up with it and it doesn't bother him at all. He even gets to the point of frustration with Bailey because she lets it affect her so much. However, in one or two paragraphs all of a sudden Brandon hates the paparazzi and can't live like that any longer. He sees exactly why Bailey has been so upset about it and is willing to give it all up right then and there. I'm sorry, Karen, but we can't get there that fast, and to expect us to makes the entire story unbelievable and difficult to relate to. People don't change their minds about an issue that big that quickly. I would have much rather had less wedding detail and more time spent given to this change of heart that Brandon experienced instead of it all happening at once.
Not only was the writing different from past novels, but I barely got a glimpse of the character that Bailey once was. Her character has changed so much through these novels that she isn't even recognizable in the Bailey Flanigan series. The character that I first got to know in the Baxter series books was selfless and loving to others and put ministry above pretty much everything else. When we met Bailey in high school, she had friends that she prayed with and prayed for and sought to minister to them where they were in life. The Bailey Flanigan that this character became was self-absobed and consumed with her relationship and didn't spend her time ministering to anyone. I think the parts of this book that were most indicative of who Bailey had become were those that showed how Bailey didn't have any friends her own age. The only person that she had to be her maid of honor was Andi Ellison, who may have have been a good friend of hers 4 or 5 years before this novel takes place, but at this point they have little more than a "talk on the phone" relationship. And after spending an entire year in New York, outside of the Kellers, who are senior adults, Bailey barely has1 friend. And the saddest part is that anytime Bailey thinks back to her time in New York, we hear about skype dates, visits to the Empire State building after hours and a private prom on the Kellers roof. Not one time during this entire novel does Bailey think or speak about the 1 friend that she made in New York who died. That is reflective of a very shallow person. I also find it sad that guests of Bailey's wedding shower, and members of her bridal party for that matter, consisted of Andi Ellison and the Baxter sisters, who are all 35-45 years old at this point. When Bailey has issues in her life, she talks about it with Katy Matthews or Ashley Blake, who are both around 35+ years old. She doesn't have a single friend her age who she spends personal time with, outside of Brandon Paul. Ministering to others comes best through building relationships with others, and Bailey no longer takes the time to do this. However, in this "life-changing fiction" we seem to hear more details than we want to about the white silk bows that run down the end of the pews and how Bailey pins a few strands of her hair up for the wedding but leaves the rest down. And in the end, as rings true with her other novels starring the Flanigans, everything worked out exactly as Bailey wanted it to without her having to sacrifice one thing. I was almost angry when, at her wedding, she was saying that she was so in love with Brandon that she would follow him anywhere, even LA. It is really easy to say that after Brandon gave up everything so that Bailey could have her dream exactly the way she wanted it. But when it came to her actions, we all saw that statement was the furthest thing from truth.
More than anything I felt that what this book lacked most was creativity. Aside from the very obvious fact that this story line was already used with Katy and Dayne's story, there were parts of this book that made me roll my eyes and audibly groan they were so bad. For instance, the first time we meet Molly Anderson on the set of the Montana movie she is described with this sentence, "Anyone who would listen had heard her explain how she was born for the part - what with her real name being Molly, same as the real-life girl." Really? That is as creative as you can get? That sounds like something that one of Ashley Blake's children would say, not a 19 year old actress who is described later as having great professionalism. I don't think a 19 year old would feel that she was born for a part just because she and the character share a very common name.
I used to love the plots that Karen Kingsbury could work up and how realistic and truly life-changing they were. She drug the poor Baxters through the mud and back, but it spoke straight to people's hearts because they continued to cling to God in the midst of so many trials. Yet, for the Flanigans, life continues to remain easy and untouchable. They get the jobs that they want, the life they want, the perfect kids, and the perfect house, and while that may be the writer's life, it isn't the reader's life and we can't relate to that. I really hope that this experiment of writing fiction that mirrors the writer's life is over, because it did not turn out very well. I miss the truly "life-changing" novels of Karen Kingsbury.