Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Facing Trials with Humility

Reviewed by Phee Paradise

Almost Heaven
By Chris Fabry

Why do bad things happen to innocent people? In Almost Heaven, Chris Fabry asks this question. I’m not it can be answered to anyone’s complete satisfaction, but in asking the question, Fabry tells a fascinating story. Billy Allman is a bit of a recluse who has a radio station in his home. His hope is that the bluegrass music he plays and the devotionals he shares will help the people of his community face their troubles. The radio station is important to Billy, but the book is about how he became a recluse who loves God.

Billy’s life was not easy, but he tells his readers about it with humility and without bitterness. A flood destroyed his home and nearly killed him when he was a child. After that his family lived in poverty and each of his parents died tragically. In spite of these disasters he dreamed of being a musician, but the dream died too. The radio station came later – a means of sharing the faith he had clung to throughout the calamities of his life.

Fabry adds an interesting component to this narrative, in the voice of Billy’s guardian angel. Interspersed between Billy’s narratives of events in his life, we hear some of them from the angel. He not only describes the events, but muses on their meaning and God’s plan for Billy. It’s interesting that Billy never doubts God and His love, but the angel does admit to some doubts.

If you were to ask Billy why bad things had happened to him, I don’t think he would have an answer. Instead, he would tell you that God loves him and has taken care of him in the midst of the problems. But there was one period in his life when the angel was called away to battle to the Satanic forces. Billy jumped over that time in his narrative and the reader realizes that something important happened that has influenced Billy more than anything else. Eventually, he has to face what happened. He deals with it with the same humility he has approached all of life, but it doesn’t really answer the central question of the book.

Almost Heaven is a gripping story about a man who doesn’t appear to live up to the potential God has gifted him with. He is a failure in all the ways the world counts success. But he has a strong faith and lives humbly before his God. Perhaps Billy’s life is the answer to the question of suffering. God allows his tragedies so his faith can shine. I sure hope my faith shines like that in the hard places in my life.

Pros: Well told story with some mystery and suspense. The characters are ordinary, yet have qualities that make them stand out.

Cons: The angel’s musings seem a little strange. The author might have found a way to weave the philosophy into the story without this device.

About the book:

Billy Allman is a hillbilly genius. People in Dogwood, West Virginia, say he was born with a second helping of brains and a gift for playing the mandolin but was cut short on social skills. Though he’d gladly give you the shirt off his back, they were right. Billy longs to use his life as an ode to God, a lyrical, beautiful bluegrass song played with a finely tuned heart. So with spare parts from a lifetime of collecting, he builds a radio station in his own home. People in town laugh. But Billy carries a brutal secret that keeps him from significance and purpose. Things always seem to go wrong for him.
However small his life seems, from a different perspective Billy’s song reaches far beyond the hills and hollers he calls home. Malachi is an angel sent to observe Billy. Though it is not his dream assignment, Malachi follows the man and begins to see the bigger picture of how each painful step Billy takes is a note added to a beautiful symphony that will forever change the lives of those who hear it.

About the author:

Chris Fabry is a 1982 graduate of the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism at Marshall University. He is heard on Chris Fabry Live! each weekday on Moody Radio, the Love Worth Finding broadcast, and other radio programs. You may have also heard Chris cohosting programs for Focus on the Family radio. He and his wife, Andrea, live in Arizona and are the parents of nine children.

Chris's first novel for adults, Dogwood, received the 2009 Christy Award in the Contemporary Standalone category. His latest novel, June Bug, was released in July 2009. He has published more than 65 other books, including many novels for children and young adults. He coauthored the Left Behind: The Kids series with Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, as well as the Red Rock Mysteries and the Wormling series with Jerry B. Jenkins. RPM is his latest series for kids and explores the exciting world of NASCAR. Visit his Web site at

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