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I recently listened to Mitali Perkins interviewed on the Conversing Podcast. I borrowed her book You Bring the Distant Near from the library and loved it. When I saw Perkins had a new book coming out, I preordered it. Forward Me Back to You is very different. You Bring the Distant Near was a multi-generational immigration story. A story of finding out what it means to be from India and in the US and how that experience is different across generations. Forward Me Back is primarily a young adult book about Trauma. That is a heavy topic for a young adult book, and for one that I would probably classify as ‘Christian Fiction’ even though it is not published by either a Christian publisher or even a Christian focused imprint. But there are fully fleshed out Christian characters talking about God and faith and the world around them, while avoiding some of the traps that Christian fiction can fall into. Katina King is the biracial child of a young White single mom. She works hard, not just at school, but in her jiu-jitsu (current northern California champ) and with a real vision for her future. She attends an elite private high school on scholarship. But after a sexual assault at her school that she was able to fight off, but was still traumatized by, her Mom sends her to Boston to heal with ‘Grandma Vee’. Grandma Vee is the aunt of her jiu-jitsu coach and an African refugee herself. Robin Thorton was adopted from an orphanage in Kolkata by a wealthy White family in Boston. His parents love him and he loves them, but the loss of his family and history in India still matters. When Kat and Robin meet at the church where Robin has been all of his adopted life, and where Grandma Vee has been even longer, Kat is defensive and wary. She is uncomfortable being around any men. But after watching a video from an anti-trafficking non-profit she decides on a whim to spend her summer in India with two other members of the youth group working in India. Robin has his own reasons for wanting to go back to India, to find his history, and maybe his mother. Their church team is rounded out by the youth pastor teaching at the local seminary, and Gracie, another teen girl. Forward Me Back to You is somewhat of an ‘issue book’. Human Trafficking and its impact is felt throughout the book. And while there is an avoidance of simplistic presentation, there are a few sections that feel a bit too informational. With the addition of sexual assault, cross racial and international adoption, racism, and trauma more broadly, there is a lot going on in the book. Forward Me Back to You is clearly a young adult book. But it is not simplistic. It is Christian, but not focused on platitudes. I really was concerned a couple times about the framing of different issues, but in general every time I thought the book might go into a ditch, it surprised me (in a good way). There was a lot of skill both in the writing and the story development. I alternated between reading in print and the audiobook. Soneela Nankai handled the narration well. I have been reading a lot of heavy books recently and a young adult book was a good change of pace. Forward Me Back to You was still a book that focused on heavy themes, but there was hope that carried through. Even at dark periods in the book, there was alway hope coming. The fact that the hope came without easy answers or simplistic solutions I think does show a lot of skill in Perkins’ writing. I have read two of Perkins’ books so far this year and I will probably pick up another one or two. Authors that are both skilled, and able to handle diverse books are worth supporting.
Kat and Robin are dealing with heavy inner turmoil. Kat is recovering from an assault, and Robin is grappling with what it means to be adopted. But these heavy themes are handled with deft hands. The result is a heartwarming, and sometimes humorous story (despite the subject matter), about two people who find friendship and growth in the unlikeliest of places. I loved the way Kat views the world and how her hard edges and protective instincts are transformed, and I enjoyed Robin (Ravi's) confident evolution as he digs into his past and discovers what he wants for the future. The diverse cast is beautifully constructed and each character fully fleshed out. If you are looking for a story to touch your heart, inspire your mind, and ignite a fire in your soul this is absolutely the book to read.
I hardly ever finish a book (a slow reader) but I heard an interview by Mitali Perkins on the radio. I ordered this book and have literally read for 2 days to finish it. It is truly an unforgettable novel!