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Friday, February 16, 2018

Book Review: Riven, by Jerry Jenkins

Jerry Jenkins, author of more than 180 books, says Riven is one of his favorites. On that recommendation, I bought this book. To say it’s not at all what I expected is one of the understatements of the century.

Jerry starts off by telling two stories. One is about a pastor named Thomas, married to Grace (double meaning, there), who takes a new pastorate. It falls through before he even gets started. It’s another personal failure on top of a whole list of failures. Thomas begins to doubt his effectiveness—even though he’s been faithful to his divine calling. An opportunity opens up for him to be a chaplain at a maximum-security prison. He accepts, desiring more than anything to make a difference. The only problem is, the prisoners have to petition to see him—and not many of them are interested. Make that almost none. After witnessing his first execution, Thomas hits a low point. Adding to that, Grace has leukemia.

The parallel story is about a young high schooler named Brady. He’s a mess. Brady’s from a broken home. His mother is a drunk and rarely home. His little brother Petey is his best friend. Even though Brady is a terrible example, he wants to protect his brother. Brady’s attitude basically is, “Do what I say, not what I do.” Brady finds he has a talent for acting. (It probably comes from a lying habit, but he is good. If only his grades would let him act and make it big.) Brady’s life is colorful but not happy, and his habits and desires lead him down a path he would never recommend to his little brother.

In order not to spoil, I can’t reveal more of the plot.

There are multiple layers of meaning in this book. Many pastors and their wives can identify with Thomas. Many church people need to identify with him—and pray for their pastors. Many can also fall in love with Brady. I know I did, and I wanted to believe in him, just like his aunt and uncle and two others. I wanted him to succeed. Perhaps, he did.

There are several clear presentations of the gospel in this book. I loved the different contexts and the emphasis on Jesus and His willingness to forgive anyone. It's powerful.

The last quarter of Riven is about something Brady requests—and is granted. I understand why the author did this. (It’s a shocker.) And, I am glad that I read this book. But, I am not in agreement, and I don’t think a lot of other readers will be, either. It’s about a method of capital punishment. In the book, there’s a reason behind it. But, I believe it sensationalizes someone's death—the killing of this person is televised—and I just can’t approve. The author describes it in graphic detail. I flipped through those pages. Again, I understand Jenkins’ point, and you will, too, if you read the book. This part wasn’t for me, though, and it’s not for the squeamish.

I was also disappointed in the title. It’s one of those one-word titles in vogue today. The problem is that Riven is not represented in the story. It's outside the story.

Riven grabbed me from the beginning. It is well written, though not literary. I loved the characters—all of the main characters. This book made me think and analyze and mull it over in my mind. It is strong, and its impact is amazing. What a concept!

This book is for adults only. I believe some of the thematic elements would be disturbing to young people and to young Christians. There are no curse words (though cursing is mentioned), only passing references to sexual conduct, and it is clean. There are: lying, cheating, stealing, mocking religion and Jesus, the graphic description of a horrible death, and another disturbing death scene.

If you’ve read Riven, I’d love to know what you thought about this book.


  1. I've had this in my Kindle app for ages but just haven't gotten to it. Sounds good!

    1. I'd love to hear what you think about it. It is very strong. Thank you for commenting. God bless you!


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