Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Book Review: "Stranger Things" by Erin Healy

Photo credit: Erin Healy
In her new novel, Stranger Things (Thomas Nelson Publishers), Erin Healy explores the Celtic concept of thin places, the ever growing sex-trafficking trade in America, and the idea of a person sacrificing their life for a complete stranger.  High School teacher, Serena’s, world gets turned upside down when a student accuses her of the unthinkable.  She retreats to her very own sanctuary to process, only to discover she is not the only one drawn to this secluded spot.  She crosses paths with a sex-trafficker.  Not only is her reputation at risk, but now her life is as well and a complete stranger steps in and sacrifices his life to save hers.  This stranger, Christopher, has a personal mission to save young girls from the underground world of sex-trafficking.  He started by rescuing his sister, Amber, and from there started a non-profit along with two friends.  Christopher and his colleagues suspect Serena to be not only connected, but heavily involved in John Roman's sex trade ring, the man who lured in Amber.  Serena continuously finds herself entangled in a web she did not know was there.  As soon as she finds a truth she seemingly uncovers more lies.  Unsure who to turn to she struggles to find a way to clear her name, then to clear it again, to figure out why a complete stranger would die for her, and the meaning behind the “visions” she sees when at the abandoned fire house where Christopher died.

The lines between chapters become unclear, not because the story is so, but because the plot line is continuously moving at a fast pace.The pages turn without recognition of number, the cover refusing to close.  Unique to this story is the concept of thin places; the Celtic idea of places where the spiritual and physical veil is so thin one can see through it. They blur the line between fact and fiction, when in truth there may be no line at all.  That is something Serena, while not the lone character to experience thin places, is trying to continuously figure out.

While the challenges these characters face are most likely not completely universal, they pry eyes open to a monstrosity that most are unaware exist so close to home.  Sex-trafficking tends to be thought of an oversea trade, but is the third highest growing crime.  The “stranger” concept however is quite universal.  The idea of a stranger sacrificing their life is as old as time.  This novel in itself not only has so many layers that it begs to be read twice, but it is in itself a “thin place.”

Stranger Things is to be released December 31, 2013 and can be preordered here.  It is a story that challenges how deep a strangers actions can change one life; how one action can effect a decision to change the outcome of events.  As Healy says in Stranger Things, “If everyone only cared about one other person, we’d all be okay.”

Learn more about Erin Healy and connect with her on social media sites via the attached link.

*This book was provided for review by the author via NetGalley*

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Interview with author Erin Healy on her upcoming novel "Stranger Things"

I'm so incredibly excited and honored to host the following Erin Healy interview on my blog! (The last three questions are mine, and I'm pretty much jumping up and down right now!)  Psssst...you can read an excerpt of Stranger Things and throw your name in for a chance to win yourself a copy! 

Erin Healy’s latest supernatural thriller, Stranger Things, comes to stores on New Year’s Eve.

 Library Journal says: “Serena Diaz’s teaching career came to an abrupt end when a student falsely accused her of sexual misconduct. Seeking solace in the woods, she discovers that a gang of sex traffickers has taken over a vacant house. Serena is almost captured by one of the criminals but is saved by an unknown man who has been shadowing her. He is shot, and Serena escapes with her life. But she is drawn to know more about this stranger who died for her. What follows is a suspenseful story of danger and pure evil. Whom can Serena trust in a world that seems intent on serving its own self-interests? VERDICT Healy (Afloat; coauthor with Ted Dekker, Burn and Kiss) has written an edgy, fast-paced spiritual thriller that will please Dekker fans.”

How was your idea for Stranger Things born?
Two years ago, during a Good Friday service, my pastor (Kelly Williams of Vanguard Church, Colorado Springs) asked the congregation: “If a complete stranger died while saving your life, wouldn’t you want to know everything you could about that person? Wouldn’t you want your life to honor that person’s death?” He challenged us to consider Jesus Christ in a new light—as a stranger, as a savior we might not know as well as we think we do. This idea has roots in Romans 5:8—“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Before I ever had the chance to know him, while he was a complete stranger to me, Christ died for me. The Message translation says “when [I was] of no use whatever to him.” Why would he do that? Have I investigated him thoroughly enough to connect my own life with his purposes? This is all background, though. Stranger Things isn’t an overtly Christian tale as my previous novels have been, but it’s a parable about these questions.


Stranger Things sounds like a pretty dark read. Why did you choose to write about sex trafficking?
Human trafficking (of which sex trafficking is a subcategory) is the world’s third-fastest growing illegal industry behind drugs and weapons. It is the most horrifying kind of modern captivity I can imagine, and my research proved that even my imagination fell short of reality. I picked it because it’s a real contemporary crisis, but also because it profoundly symbolizes the kind of bondage that Christ came to end (Isaiah 61:1-3). Freeing the captive, physically and spiritually, is a high calling for followers of Jesus who want to express their gratitude for his sacrifice and demonstrate his love through the continuation of his work.

What does all this have to do with the “thin places” that you’re always talking about?
The traditional (Celtic) definition of a thin place is a physical location in the world where the division between physical and spiritual realities falls away, a place where we can see the greater truth of our existence. In my stories I use the term “thin place” to define moments when a person experiences a sharpened spiritual awareness about what’s really going on in his or her life. Stranger Things  is the first novel in which I’ve combined both ideas. The thin place is a physical location, a burned-out house in a sparse terrain, where Serena discovers her purpose. “There are places in the world where you will encounter things so real that you will be surprised others don’t have an identical experience,” Serena’s father tells her. “But then you will realize that the clarity given to you is a gift from God. Perhaps this gift is just for you, maybe also it will touch the lives of others.”

Did anything surprise you while writing the novel?
I started with intentions to write about an Asian-based trafficking ring, but in the course of my research was distressed to learn just how close to home the problem lies. Though it’s impossible to get a precise count of how many people are victims of sex trafficking in the US, most estimates fall between 100,000 and 300,000 (mostly women and children). Since I learned this my own awareness has expanded, and I’m happy to see just how many efforts are already underway—not only in the US—to end this atrocity. The Polaris Project is a great place to begin learning about global human trafficking.

What do you hope readers will take away from Stranger Things?

I hope the novel is layered enough to meet each reader individually. Maybe some will be challenged to investigate Jesus Christ further. Maybe some will use their new awareness of trafficking to do something about it. (I’ve joined the prayer team of a local home for girls rescued from sexual slavery.) To date my favorite response to the book was from the person who found herself looking in a new way at the strangers who surrounded her. She felt unexpectedly protective and concerned, on heightened alert to ways in which she might be able to help them. In other words, ways in which she might be able to do what Christ did for her. So many opportunities! If we all moved through the world with eyes like that, what might change for the better? I love to think of all the possibilities.

What is the most memorable "thin place" you have experienced?
The most memorable--maybe because it was the most sensory--was a small town in England that has an ancient history of druid activity. Today the town plays up this element for the tourists, but I was there as a student. It was only for a lunch stop. My class was passing through en route to another city. I remember the afternoon being foggy and damp, which is usually "comfort weather" for me, but not this day. There was a chill to the place that made me uneasy and even frightened, stranger still in the middle of the day. I ate quickly and returned straight to the bus with a couple of other students who felt the same way. We waited for others to return from a short hike, feeling an urgent need to leave. Nothing significant "happened" that day, but I've never experienced the same sensations of inner discomfort anywhere else, not even in other similar towns

What is the most difficult part of being both an editor and an author?
Learning how to be a book author was like being in therapy to build up half my brain. For me, editing is a pretty left-brained activity, and writing is right-brained. (It seems I'm going to have to come up with a different metaphor. Apparently all this left-right-brained stuff is a myth after all.) Still, I think I went into authorship looking a little bit like a circus freak show, half strong man (editor), half stick insect (author). Today my brain is a little more balanced, and I think of my two functions being complimentary. Writing makes me a better editor, and editing makes me a better writer. Other than that the most difficult part is finding time to do both as much as I really want to!

What story that you have published was the most difficult for you to let go and let others into? Why?
I've never thought about this before. Each story is difficult to let go of for different reasons. I wrote Never Let You Go about specific people I know and was worried they'd see themselves in it (they didn't). The antagonist of The Baker's Wife is a horrible Christian man, and I thought my portrayal of him might offend (if he did, no one told me). House of Mercy is my favorite story to date--it's my most personal story about the spiritual question that is hardest for me to answer. I didn't want to be so transparent. Also, there's more of the story to tell, and I don't know when I'll have the chance. I worried people wouldn't "get it." Some didn't. But many did, and that's very rewarding. So I guess that fear is what makes a thing hard to let go of, which is funny, because in my experience God always turns out to be greater than the fear.

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SNEAK A PEEK at the first two chapters

Thanks for reading! Comment with your most memorable experience with a stranger!