Monday, June 11, 2007

Cage of Stars by Jacquelyn Mitchard

The concept of forgiveness is at the forefront of Jacquelyn Mitchard's Cage of Stars. As a Christian, forgiveness is akin to redemption, salvation, and freedom, but before we can expect God to forgive us for our sins, we must forgive those who have sinned against us.

We might have to forgive someone for lying to us, lashing out at us when they have a bad day, or betraying our confidences. (We might even have to ask forgiveness for these offenses ourselves.) But would we be able to forgive someone for the ultimate crime: the murder of a loved one?

(Spoiler warning: If you plan on reading the book, you might not want to continue reading!)

That's the predicament the Swan family must endure in Cage of Stars. A mentally ill young man butchers Ronnie Swan's little sisters while she is hiding in a shed (not hiding to avoid a similar fate, but hiding as part of a game of Hide and Seek). Obviously, the Swan family is changed forever. Ronnie feels guilt, she feels "stuck." Her mother, understandably, is most profoundly affected, withdrawing from life and the baby boy she delivers shortly after the girls' deaths. She's afraid to love, for fear of losing what she still has, what she now realizes is so, so fragile.

In order to move, to love again, to rid themselves of the all-consuming, fiery hatred, Ronnie's parents decide to forgive their daughters' killer, truly forgive him--something Ronnie cannot bring herself to do. Ronnie is outraged when the killer gets out of jail early, gets married, and has a daughter of his own--experiences he denied her sisters.

Forgiveness is complicated on its own, never mind adding mental illness to the equation. (The killer claimed he heard voices and was not taking his medication.) I know it was not an easy decision the Swans made to forgive, and I know we are called by God to do so, but if confronted with such a situation, could I forgive? That's the question I asked myself throughout the book.

How do you forgive when your soul has been torn from your being and tortured to within an inch of existence? How do you forgive when you look at the life ahead of you, all the hopes, dreams, plans shattered in an instant by a single senseless act?

But at the same time, how do you live when hatred fuels every thought, when everything you do builds up to the day when you make the killer feel the same pain?

Ronnie ultimately ends up in the space between forgiveness and revenge, having almost crossed the line to the latter. I'm not saying I agree with revenge, but I thought Ronnie was brave in moving away, tracking him down, integrating herself into his family, but I though it was much braver to save his life--especially when what she'd longed for in the years after her sisters' deaths was conveniently occurring without having to do it herself.

When taken at face value, forgiveness seems to be simple. I tell you I'm sorry, your wounds are healed, we move on. Many of us say the "Our Father" ("forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us") without really thinking what it means. It's not so simple when a grave wrong (or any wrong for that matter) has been committed and God has called us to live these words and put His commands into action.

Disclosure:  I borrowed Cage of Stars from the library.


Serena said...

sounds like a good book with complex would you consider this a positive review?! are you planning on posting negative reviews?

Anna said...

The book was good. I'd recommend it. If I hate a book, you'll know. (Stay tuned for "The Golden Notebook" review. LOL)

Serena said...

and here I thought that golden notebook would be your first review

Anna said...

I'm still trying to figure out what I want to say. That was a hard book, and it took me forever to read it. I know I want to say something about it, but it's so complex, it'll probably take me as long as it did to read the book to figure out what I want to say about it!