Book Review: "Sensible Shoes," by Sharon Garlough Brown, Is a Journey Worth Traveling


I finished this book about two weeks ago and gave it five stars out of five on Goodreads. I'm still processing it. Still remembering the characters' struggles and still learning from the insights they experienced on their journeys.

It's a one-of-a-kind novel that's part fiction, part spiritual retreat manual, part Bible study experience.

The four protagonists are Meg, Hannah, Charissa and Mara. They each are carrying burdens that have become too much for them to bear, although they don't all know it yet. The women find out through various channels about a sacred journey retreat that has helped friends of theirs release baggage and experience peace. With much reluctance, each of the four women sign up for the eight-week class, and they end up sitting at the same table and becoming friends.

Meg Crane is a recent empty-nester single mom of 46 who is alone in a big Victorian home she inherited from her parents, haunted by memories about her recently deceased angry, critical mother. She is weighed down by her many phobias and insecurities, trapped in the grief of her past.

Hannah Shepley is a single, 39-year-old associate pastor who is given a forced nine-month sabbatical from pastoral duties, because, as her lead pastor puts it, she needs to learn to "disentangle her personal and professional identities." She has spent her whole life avoiding her problems and pain by helping others through theirs. She is the classic "fixer."

Mara Garrison is a 50-year-old mother of three, haunted by a lifetime of rejection, who believes she's never been wanted. She is married to an unkind man who doesn't love her, and she buries her sorrows in comfort food and reality TV. What she really wants is peace, rest and someone to love her.

Charissa Sinclair is a 26-year-old Ph.D. candidate studying English literature at a small Christian university, a big fish in a little pond. She is a statuesque beauty with an adoring husband, doting parents and the respect of all her peers. She is Miss Perfect and she lives for The Right Answer. But when she embarks on the sacred journey, she finds herself suddenly without answers.

I found myself drawn most powerfully to the struggles of Hannah, the fixer, and Charissa, the perfectionist. They are "just fine" in their own minds. They don't need help. They don't even believe they have needs. This was me for so many years. It was an emotional and life-giving experience to travel with Hannah and Charissa as they gradually came to the end of self-sufficiency and realized they did need help, grace and love, and that it was OK to have those needs.

If you see yourself in any of the four archetypes of this novel, I highly recommend you read it. There's hope in the healing process. There's life in the sacred journey toward God.

Read more of my book reviews here.

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