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The Walk to Walden Hill: A Review

Full disclosure:  my ministry awarded this book second place in its 2011 Christian novel writing contest and has since entered into a marketing agreement to promote the book.  

There is a reason why Robert Abernathy’s book, The Walk to Walden Hill:  Rescued in Forgiveness, won an award in Athanatos Christian Ministry’s Christian novel contest- it is quite good!

I was drawn to the story for a variety of reasons, but I believe the primary reason is that the book had a beating heart;  it is the heart of the author, of course, but it is evident throughout that the story is a manifestation of real doubt, real grief, real suffering- and real heroism.  For the story behind the story (which is itself compelling) you should just follow up at Robert Abernathy’s blog, where he has been slowly unraveling it.  Here is his website:  http://waldenhill.net/

The Walk to Walden Hill begins with tragedy:  the orphaning of the protagonist, Josh Billows.   His mother dead, his father jailed, Josh ends up in foster care.  As just a young child he is forced to grapple with issues that are known to shipwreck adults, even if he doesn’t understand the real issues that are in play.  For example, one of the questions that Josh struggles with is how to become a man if there isn’t a father to show him the way.  His foster father is not much help, and of course his own father is in jail.  Josh flails about in search of a man to guide him into manhood- without knowing that this is what he is trying to do- and gravitates  towards Brent, the oldest of the foster children in the family.  Brent, of course, is just seventeen- better than nothing, I suppose, but still not quite suitable for the task that Josh would have him fulfill.

When Brent comes to Josh’s defense against a school bully, John Carr, events are set in motion that show how real life tends to play out.  John Carr gets what he deserves (a solid thrashing) but the hatred and bitterness that was already growing inside John’s heart gets fertilized- and set squarely against Josh and Brent;  the bitter seed will yield its bitter fruit when John eventually tries to murder Josh.

One wonders what would have happened if Brent hadn’t given John Carr what he deserved and instead had shown him mercy and compassion, recognize that John was likely doing what he was doing because of demons already loose inside his soul.   Had John Carr been won over by kindness and Christian charity, the rest of the story simply would not have happened.   It is an ironic and poignant observation given the sub-title of the book:  rescued in forgiveness.

I do not know if Abernathy intentionally built this irony into the story.  The story itself does not call attention to it.  It could be argued, though, that the hatred of John Carr was necessary to the redemption of Josh Billows, who throughout the book often views his circumstances through the prism of his relationship with the now incarcerated John Carr, but in fact Josh is- at every step of the way- viewing every thing that happens to him through the prism of his own father’s incarceration and absence.

But I said the book exhibited ‘real heroism.’   It is clear that one of the central, driving, themes of the book is the impact of broken families on the emotional and spiritual well being of us all, but especially young children.  Josh Billows is not particularly happy with God the Father, and why should he be?  God seems as absent as his earthly father.  I really appreciated this insightful running illustration of the importance of family, but in the book it isn’t presented as particularly ‘heroic.’   Where, then, is the heroism?

We often think of heroism in terms such as people risking their lives to bravely aid another person, and certainly that is true.  We also see that sort of heroism in The Walk to Walden Hill.   But we often think that people who do that sort of thing are heroic specifically because we don’t expect people to do that sort of thing.  On that basis, the hero in Josh’s life is a certain Paul Walden;  not because the ancient man goes out and dies for Josh, but because Mr. Walden takes an early and sustained interest in the life of Josh, and more.  Mr. Walden does everything in his power to show Josh what manhood is all about, up to and including the power of forgiveness to heal wounds that one might think could never be healed.

It is certainly the case that we don’t really expect people to so wholly invest themselves in the lives of those who are not family, and that would make Paul Walden a hero.  (Paul Walden, by the way, was a real person in the life of the author of the book!).  But the point here is that heroism does not require us to throw ourselves in the path of the bullet.  Who could arrange for that sort of thing?  But what we can arrange is our own prioritizing of time and talent.  We can make up our minds to care about the people around us, especially those at the margins.   Paul Walden shows us that every one of us can be a real, genuine, hero.

So, I submit Robert Abernathy’s book for you to read without reservations.   It would make a great book for church reading groups.   I can’t help but think that those who grew up in broken families would appreciate the story, as well.  But I would also submit it to another type of reader that you may find surprising:  the old and the elderly among us, who think that the days of their heroism is past.

Learn more and purchase The Walk to Walden Hill at http://waldenhill.net/


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