Ruby Madden's life is turning upside down. She's moving from her little town of Cottonwood, California, to glamorous (and expensive) Marin County. Her parents have gotten divorced, and both have married other people. Her older brother has decided to stay behind with her dad. Ruby has a new high school, a new job, and a whole new group of friends. But her old life and old loyalties are still tugging at her heart, making her wonder where she truly belongs.
"Ruby Unscripted" by Cindy Martinusen-Coloma (author of "Beautiful") deals with a few months in the life of one Christian teenage girl -- a few months in which everything changes, leaving her trying to figure out who she really is, and what she really believes. In some ways she adapts quickly; in other ways, as most teens -- or even many adults -- would, she flounders.
"Strangely, He -- God, that is -- feels very invisible to me," she muses, during worship at the new church her family is trying out. "And I realize it's been a long time since I've thought of Him otherwise. Once He was as existent as the weather, a cool breeze on my face, or even as concrete in my life as . . . my cell phone. But of course more than that. He was God to me. Now it's like maybe I made all that up."
Ruby's struggles with God, family, and friends play out in a realistic and relatable way. At times, though, it would be nice to see her think things through more carefully. Many of her ideas, decisions, and actions are based more on emotion than anything else, and while that's not necessarily surprising in a girl of her age, sometimes it's frustrating to read about. When she falls in with a group of aspiring film students, Ruby suddenly decides that filmmaking is a perfect goal for her, the thing she's always been destined to do. But it's hard to tell whether that's true or whether she's just caught up in the novelty and excitement of it -- and maybe a little inclined just to go along with the crowd.
Another example is Ruby's budding friendship with Frankie, an openly gay classmate. This is a situation we're not generally used to seeing in Christian novels, but -- if we're honest -- it is a situation that more and more Christian kids are dealing with in real life. It's worth thinking about how they can handle it with grace, understanding, and maturity. And it's worth remembering that Christians are called to love everyone, not just those who live in accordance with our own faith.
Ruby, however, isn't sure what she thinks:
". . . I wonder what I believe about homosexuality. And then I wonder why I'm wondering about this right now. But still, I know what most Christians think, what my dad and my grandmother would say. Grandma Hazel will start sending me Bible tracts if she hears I have a gay friend. And I know what the extreme conservative Christians have projected on gay people -- that they should be hated, that they are evil. Mom gets really upset about people like that and sometimes goes on a rampage, saying she's going to write all these articles or a book about it. Our pastor in Cottonwood preached a sermon about it; he says love them, don't condemn or judge them as we shouldn't condemn or judge anyone, treat them as Jesus would treat anyone, look at the sin in our own lives, etc.
"Between my room and the living room, I decide that I don't really care to figure it all out right now."
Ruby never does really try to figure it all out. Her experiences and her mindset should look familiar to us; like most Christian kids, she's been hit with a wide range of viewpoints on the subject. But she doesn't try to synthesize all the information into a well-informed, scripturally sound view of her own. Though it's commendable that she manages both to extend friendship toward someone very different from her, and to (in the end) find a way to hang on to her faith, it would have been nice to see her make that kind of effort. Kids should be aware that belief systems usually change not because of rational arguments, but just by drifting toward a different point of view without ever really thinking about it.
Other sensitive subjects in the book include Ruby's best friend, Kate, beginning a sexual relationship with a college boy. Ruby tries to tell her that she's making a mistake, but when Kate won't listen, she doesn't know what else to do. Kate is eventually caught, and her boyfriend threatened with jail time, though Kate blames herself for much of what happened.
When Ruby does take the time to talk with and listen to the adults in her life, she sometimes gets wise advice -- for instance, when her aunt tells her, "If you have a strong sense of who you are, what you believe, and God's purpose for you, you'll have no trouble with anyone you meet your entire life." On the other hand, she has to deal with the fact that her Christian parents divorced -- an event that's still causing her serious spiritual and emotional fallout.
"Ruby Unscripted" is definitely a book that parents will want to discuss with their teens. It raises issues that are very relevant to Christian kids growing up in an "anything goes" world, and though in some ways it could have done a better job of dealing with them, Cindy Martinusen-Columa deserves credit for recongizing that they exist, and trying to handle them honestly and sensitively.
Image copyright Thomas Nelson Publishers. Review copy obtained from the reviewer's local library.
Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog.
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