Friday, February 14, 2014

Jody Hedlund's "Unending Devotion"

Unending DevotionJody Hedlund's Unending Devotion tells the story of a young woman serving as a photographer's assistant as she meticulously searches through Michigan's lumber camps for her missing younger sister.  Along the way Lily has discovered a passion for helping fallen women toward a better life, knowing that her sister is likely one of these women.  The town of Harrison she finds to be rife with corruption, and with the reluctant aid of complacent Connell McCormick, the boss of three of the local lumber camps, she searches for Daisy and encourages a spirit of reform.  However, the corrupt and powerful people who run the town have no interest in seeing her succeed at either task . . . 

The plot starts out at a fast clip and it just keeps going - there is definitely no sagging in the middle before the climax.  However, it does not feel like too much happens either (as opposed to some stories in which so much stuff happens that it no longer is believable and the heart of the story is lost among so many disasters); it is well paced, and every event is well developed.  For such an active book the characters are fleshed out beautifully.  And oh, the romantic tension in some spots!  Regarding the villain, it was shocking how much of the evil in the book is based on real people and events.  It is hard to see how people could stand for it, and yet I can see how hard it would be to finally take a stand to put a stop to it. 

My only issue - and a relatively minor one, at that - is the heroine's personality.  She is one of those incredibly idealistic people who is impulsive, never backs down from a fight, and always thinks she's right - which gets her into trouble.  A lot.  Granted, she is admirable for standing up for what she believes in and throwing herself into a worthy cause, but she does not use her head enough.   I like to play it safe and maintain peace as much as possible, so while I largely agreed with what she believes, I cringed at her methods.  Thus I connected significantly better with Connell, the peace-maker, than with Lily.

This book successfully deals with a fair number of problems that easily beset Christians: complacency (going with what society accepts rather than standing up for what God wants), self-righteousness, and self-reliance (rather than reliance on the Lord).  I found one of the strongest points of the story to be when Lily realizes that she is not infallible - when her self-righteous "I would never do that" is tested, and she realizes that not only is she tempted, but also about the only thing keeping it from happening is the self-restraint of someone else; her self-restraint is not enoughA person who has never been offered even half a box of expensive European chocolates can claim all they want that they would never be tempted to eat an entire box all by themselves, but until no one else is around and a pristine, untouched box appears in their lap for the entire course of a sappy, romantic movie during a certain time of the month, can they really be sure that they won’t even be tempted?  

Like Hedlund's other novels, this one excels at romance and historical detail, painted in vivid, captivating writing.  4.5 out of 5 stars!

If you enjoy stories about lumber-era Michigan, I recommend Serena B. Miller's The Measure of Katie Calloway and A Promise to Love, as well as Hedlund's other Michigan novel, A Noble Groom.

And if you like, Unending Devotion has been translated into German and Dutch, and the German copy - Die Assistentin des Fotografen - is available on Amazon.

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