Friday, May 1, 2009

The Shack, My Book Club, and Me

The Shack
By Wm. Paul Young
Windblown Media, 2007
248 pages

Publisher’s blurb:
Mackenzie Allen Philips' youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend.

Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack's world forever.

In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant "The Shack" wrestles with the timeless question, "Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?" The answers Mack gets will astound you and perhaps transform you as much as it did him. You'll want everyone you know to read this book.

My book club met last Friday at the local coffee shop (which we tend to think of as our community living room) to discuss The Shack by William Paul Young. There were nine members present and seven had read the book. The discussion started off very tentatively. We knew this to be a book people have strong feelings about and were trying to gauge where others stood. As it turned out, the member that raved about the book and suggested we read it was not present. The rest of us were somewhere between mildly positive and take-it-or-leave-it.

Even though there were no especially strong/vocal opinions on the book, it ended up being one of the best discussions we’ve had in recent memory. We recognized how this could be perceived as an uplifting, even life-changing book for some and how it challenges our perception of God. A couple members even shared personal experiences they’ve had with God/Jesus. One talked about reading very quickly through the beginning of the book, then having to slow down and take a break to let it all ‘digest’ as things became more ‘philosophical’. I voiced the most negative comments – mostly having to do with the writing (which I thought was mediocre at best) and the ‘outer’ story. Within the first few pages, I had the urge to throw the book across the room, but quickly remembered that I was on an airplane, and this was for book club…so, instead, I read on. The ‘inner story’ presented many ideas to think about and discuss – why bad things happen to good people, the idea of God and heaven, what happens to people after they die, etc.

Christian/Inspirational fiction is a category I have very little experience with and would consider to be outside my normal comfort zone. Though this is a book I never would have picked up on my own, I am not sorry to have read it. In fact, I was very glad to be able to participate in the discussion. That said however, I will not be recommending The Shack to anyone (except possibly my mother).
My rating 3/5


  1. I felt very much the same about this book. The writing was not good (too many attempts at description in the beginning, among other things), but it helped me to find out that he's not really an author--he just wrote it for his kids. We had mixed reactions at our book club too.

  2. A co-worker was reading this book for book review. She described it and her thoughts were much like yours, the ending was a bit much she thought. Always terrific though if something sparks a great discussion!

  3. So many of my friends at church have read this that I picked up my own copy. I'm a bit nervous, because isn't there something about a child dying? But, I'm intrigued enough to read it. Sometimes Christian literature is so out there it's hard to sort out what's truth, which of course is subjective to many people anyway. I'll look forward to discussing it with you when I've read it myself.

    One more passing thought: isn't it great how book clubs can stretch us outside of what we'd normally read? I also love when I've left a discussion of a book I didn't enjoy with a whole new perspective. Like blogging! ;)

  4. I have read some other not so favorable reviews of this book and coupled with the subject matter, this will probably be a book that I skip. I have really enjoyed you sharing your discussions with your book clubs with us. Fascinating to see how others have experienced reading the same books.

  5. I agree with you about the bad writing. In fact I didn't finish the book just skipped to the end to see if it was worth pursuing. Not for me. Nothing revolutionary in the ideas, nothing to make me ponder deeply. I do know a couple of people who thought it a masterpiece, good luck to them, I wish I had.

  6. Shelley -
    You're right! It is easier to look past the writing if you keep in mind that it was written for his kids.

    Darlene -
    The best book club books are not always the most well-written, etc. They are the ones that give us something to really talk about...and this one sure did!

  7. Bellezza -
    A child does die...and it's a pretty horrible death - not at all easy to read! Tears were in my eyes more than once while reading this book. I'll look forward to hearing what you think of it.

    I love how bookclubs get me to read out of my comfort zone. I can be such a creature of habit and get stuck in a rut very easily! But even better is getting an entirely different perspective and seeing something from an angle I never considered before. You're right - blogging often does the same thing!

  8. BookPsmith -
    I really don't think you'll be missing much if you pass on The Shack. Glad you enjoy reading about our meetings. It's always interesting for me, too, when bloggers write about book clubs.

    Thanks for visiting! I can certainly understand not finishing is just too short to waste time on books that aren't to your liking. I still wish the member that raved about the book had been at our meeting...

  9. I hope the member who suggested The Shack had a good excuse for not being at the meeting :)

    I read this with my book group, too, and like yours, reactions were all over the place!

    I think you and I had similar thoughts - the outer story drove me crazy with poor writing and structure. The inner story gave me pause to think.

    What is your book group reading next?

  10. Dawn,
    I never heard why she wasn't at the may have been a more heated discussion if she'd been there though! Next up is The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt.

  11. This book is an interesting phenomenon. I think it may help to know that he originally wrote the book for his own family, and it wasn't originally meant for publication (which may explain the poor writing). My book club also had a good discussion when we talked about this book. I was more comfortable talking about the big picture ideas you mention (bad things happening to good people, etc.) From everything I've read and heard personally, many devout Christians didn't like the book at all. They were offended by the liberties the author takes with God/Jesus. Overall, I thought it was a decent book, which gave me some things to think about.

  12. Lisa,
    It really does help to know that he wrote this for his family. I absolutely agree with your statement that it's a decent book that gives you something to think about. My mother is reading it now.

  13. I love reading about spirituality and religion, but usually I like them factual. I haven't read any book like this and having heard about (and skimmed the first few pages of this book at WalMart), I don't think I'll read it either. I do have this book on my TBR which is kind of a fictionlike spiritual journey, too. The title is So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore by Jake Colsen. Apparently it is really good (spiritual-wise, but don't know about the writing), a more "valid" version of The Shack, as they say. Lol.

  14. Claire,
    I think I would have preferred a more factual book as well. Just checked amazon for the title you mentioned and it has some very positive reviews. A very negative review (the third one) also stands out that says..

    "Jake Colsen does not exist. Rather, he is a pseudonym for the combined work of Dave Coleman and Wayne Jacobsen. You may recognize Wayne Jacobsen as one of the founders of Windblown Media, the company that published a little book called The Shack--a little book that has gone on to sell well over a million copies. As The Shack has found international renown, it has pulled in its wake Windblown Media's two other titles, both of which are written or co-written by Jacobsen."

    Interesting stuff...and apparently pretty controversial too. Thanks for visiting today!


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