and the book:
Thomas Nelson (March 13, 2012)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As a child growing up on the campus of a Christian school where her parents taught, Neta Jackson began creating imaginary worlds at a young age. Loving horses but not having one, she wrote stories about them instead. By the time she reached high school, she had so honed both imagination and writing skills that when her English teacher submitted one of her stories to a Scholastic magazine writing contest, it won first place. With that first win, Jackson knew beyond the shadow of a doubt she wanted to be a writer. She’s been writing ever since.
After marrying the love of her life, Dave Jackson, the couple chose to settle in the Chicago area where Neta had attended college. Throughout their marriage, the Jacksons have worked together as a team, writing a multitude of books together on topics ranging from medical ethics to stories of gang kids, sometimes sharing the task with other experts who have served as co-writers. Together, they have also penned forty historical fiction accounts of Christian heroes, called the Trailblazer Books, along with another five-volume series called Hero Tales: A Family Treasury of True Stories from the Lives of Christian Heroes.
These days, both are busy penning their own works of adult fiction. Jackson began her individual effort in 2003 with the Yada Yada Prayer Group series, inspired by her real-life Bible study group, a multi-cultural gathering of dynamic women who have played an important role in her life for over fifteen years. Since publication of the first Yada Yada Prayer Group novel, the seven-book series has sold over a half-million copies and given rise to countless prayer groups across the country and the publication of a personal prayer journal for prayer group participants. In 2008, Where Do I Go?, her first book in the four-book House of Hope series, was published. The second book in the series, Who Do I Talk To?, won a Christy Award in 2010 for excellence in Christian fiction. Recently, the fourth book of the series, Who Is My Shelter?, was nominated for Best Inspirational Novel for 2011 by RT Book Reviews. Stand by Me is the first in Jackson’s new SouledOut Sisters series.
The Jacksons have been married 45 years and have raised two children plus a Cambodian foster daughter. They continue to live in urban Chicago where, together, they enjoy writing, gardening and spending time with their grandchildren.
Visit the author's website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION
How does God expect us to get along with those people who are always causing us pain? Are we supposed to keep helping those who repeatedly take advantage of us? Exactly what is the key to living in peace with difficult people? These are the questions award-winning author Neta Jackson addresses in her latest novel, Stand by Me (Thomas Nelson), the first book of her newest series, SouledOut Sisters.
Inspired by her own Bible study group, Jackson began several years ago to write about a multi-cultural gathering of dynamic women in a collection of books known as the Yada Yada Prayer Group series. Since publication of the first Yada Yada Prayer Group novel in 2003, the seven-book series has sold over a half-million copies and given rise to countless prayer groups across the country. Jackson followed the Yada Yada novels with the four-book House of Hope series. Though the series is not dependent upon its predecessors for understanding, Jackson has used the individual lives of familiar characters to introduce some of the more complex issues prevalent in our modern society. By allowing her characters to lead the way, Jackson has shed light on issues like drug addiction, the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and even the racial conflicts that can so easily arise within any culturally diverse group.
In her newest work, Stand by Me, Jackson introduces her readers to Kathryn Davis, a young college student who has left her prestigious Phoenix family behind to move to Chicago after dropping out of medical school against her father’s protests. Her newfound faith in Christ helps temper the realization that she has stepped out of her family’s good graces, but does little to alleviate the pain of their rejection.
When Kat discovers the dynamic multi-cultural membership at Souled Out Community Church, she longs to be part of it. But her unconventional behavior and brash eagerness have not helped her win favor with the church members. And, much to her dismay, Avis Douglass, the one woman in the church whom she most admires and would love to know better, is the one who is the most aloof.
Kat has no idea that, after being confronted by a number of serious problems all at once, Avis and her husband, Peter, are beginning to question God’s will for their lives. Having been recently estranged from her HIV positive daughter and being worried about her welfare, Avis would like nothing more than to quietly retreat into the recesses of her faith and find the answers she seeks. Her attempts to do so, however, are thwarted at every turn by the flamboyant Kat, who has apparently decided to foist herself on their lives whether they want her to or not.
List Price: $15.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (March 13, 2012)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER
Midwest Music Festival, Central Illinois
Kat Davies ducked into the billowing exhibition tent staked down in a large pasture in central Illinois like a grounded Goodyear blimp. She’d been at the Midwest Music Fest three days already—didn’t know it was a Christian festival until she got here—and needed a little respite from the music pulsing morning-till-night on the Jazz Stage, Gospel Stage, Alternative Stage, Rock Stage, Folk Stage, and a few more she’d forgotten.
Besides, she’d be heading back to Phoenix in two days, and sooner or later she needed to figure out how to tell her parents she’d “given her heart to Jesus” after the Resurrection Band concert last night. Maybe this tent had a quiet corner where she could think. Or pray. Not that she had a clue how to do that.
Kat had a good idea how they’d react. Her mother would f lutter and say something like, “Don’t take it too seriously, Kathryn dear. Getting religion is just something everyone does for a year or two.” And her father? If he didn’t blow his stack at what he’d call “another one of your little distractions,” he’d give her a lecture about keeping her priorities straight: Finish pre-med at the University of Arizona. Go to medical school. Do her internship at a prestigious hospital. Follow in the Davies’ tradition. Make her family tree of prominent physicians proud.
Except . . . she’d walked out of her biochemistry class at UA one day and realized she didn’t want to become a doctor. She’d tutored ESL kids the summer after high school and realized she liked working with kids. (“Well, you can be a pediatrician like your Uncle Bernard, darling,” her mother had said.) And the student action group on the UA campus sponsoring workshops on “Living Green” and “Sustainable Foods” had really gotten her blood pumping. (Another one of her “distractions,” accord- ing to her father.)
Was it too late to pursue something else? Her parents were already bragging to friends and co-workers that their Kathryn had received her letter of acceptance into medical school a few months ago. Feeling squeezed till she couldn’t breathe, she’d jumped at the chance to attend a music fest in Illinois with a carload of other students—friends of friends—just to get away from the pressure for a while.
What she hadn’t expected was to find so many teenagers and twenty-somethings excited about Jesus. Jesus! Not the go- to-church-at-Christmas-and-
Easter Jesus, the only Jesus she’d known growing up the daughter of a wealthy Phoenix physician and socialite mother. That Jesus, frankly, had a hard time com- peting with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
But these people talked about a Jesus who cared about poor people. A Jesus who created the world and told humans to take care of it. A Jesus who might not be blond and blue-eyed after all. A Jesus who said, “Love your neighbor”—and that neighbor might be black or brown or speak Spanish or Chinese. A Jesus who said, “All have sinned” and “You must be born again.” The Son of God, who’d died to take away the sins of the world.
That’s the Jesus she’d asked to be Lord of her life, even though she wasn’t exactly sure what that meant. But she desper- ately longed for something—Someone—to help her figure out who she was and what she should do with her life. The guitar player in the band who’d challenged the arm-waving music fans last night to be Christ-followers had said, “Jesus came to give you life—life more abundantly! But first you must give your life to Him.”
That’s what she wanted. Abundant life! A life sold out to something she could believe in. To give herself to one hundred percent. So she’d prayed the sinner’s prayer with a woman in a denim skirt whose name she never learned, and a “peace like a river” f looded her spirit.
Last night, anyway.
But by the light of day, she was still heading in a direction—medical school—that she didn’t want to go.
Big fans circulated the air in the large tent, though mostly it just moved the stif ling July heat around. Thick, curly strands of her long, dark hair had slipped out of the clip on the back of her head and stuck in wet tendrils on her skin. Redoing the clip to get the damp hair off her neck and face, she wan- dered the aisles, idly picking up brochures about Compassion International, Habitat for Humanity, and YWAM. Huh. What if she just dropped out of pre-med and did something like this Youth With A Mission thing. Far from Phoenix and the Davies Family Tradition. Go to Haiti or India or—
“Nice boots,” giggled a female voice nearby.
Kat glanced up from the brochure. A cute brunette with a shaggy pixie cut grinned at her from behind a booth that said Find Your Calling at CCU! Kat self-consciously looked down at the Arizona-chic cowboy boots peeking out beneath her designer jeans and f lushed. Ever since she’d arrived at the fes- tival, she felt as if she’d walked into a time-warp—girls in tank tops, peasant skirts, and pierced nostrils, guys wearing pony- tails, tattoos, shredded jeans, and T-shirts proclaiming Jesus Freak. Kat had felt as conspicuous as a mink coat in a second- hand store.
“Thanks. I think.”
The young woman, dressed in khaki Capris and a feminine lemon-yellow tee, laughed. “This your first time to the Fest? Where’re you from?”
Kat felt strangely relieved to be talking to someone else who didn’t look like a throwback to the seventies. “Phoenix. First time.”
“Wow. You came a long way.”
“Detroit. But during the year I’m a student at CCU in Chicago. I get a huge discount off my festival fee if I sit at this booth a couple hours a day during the Fest.” The girl grinned again and extended her hand across the stacks of informational literature. “I’m Brygitta Walczak.”
Kat shook her hand. “Kathryn Davies. But my friends call me Kat. With a K.”
“Like ‘kitty kat’ ? That’s cute. And . . . blue eyes with all that dark, curly hair? Bet the guys love that.”
Ignoring the remark, Kat glanced up at the banner above the booth. “What does CCU stand for?”
“Chicago Crista University. Usually we just call it Crista U. Located on the west side of Chicago. I’ll be a senior next year. Christian ed major.”
“Christian ed? What’s that?”
“You’re kidding.” Brygitta eyed her curiously. “Mm. You’re not kidding. Uh, are you a Christian?”
Kat allowed a wry smile. “For about twelve hours.”
The pixie-haired girl’s mouth dropped open, and then her amber eyes lit up. “That is so cool! Hey . . . want a Coke or something? I’ve got a cooler back here with some soft drinks. Wanna sit? I’d love some company.”
Brygitta dragged a folding chair from an unmanned booth nearby, and Kat found herself swapping life stories with her new friend. Unlike Kat, who had no siblings, Brygitta came from a large Polish family, had been raised in the Catholic church, “went Protestant” at a Youth for Christ rally in high school, planned to get a master’s degree at Crista U, and wanted to be a missionary overseas or a director of Christian education somewhere.
“Sorry I’m late, Bree,” said a male voice. “Uh-oh. Two gor- geous females. You’ve cloned yourself. I’m really in trouble now.”
Kat looked up. A young man about their same age grinned at them across the booth. He was maybe six feet, with short, sandy-brown hair combed forward over a nicely tanned face, wire-rim sunglasses shading his eyes. No obvious tattoos or body piercings. Just cargo shorts and a T-shirt that said CCU Soccer.
Nick slid off his shades and flashed a smile, hazel eyes teasing. “So, Miss Blue Eyes. Has Brygitta talked you into coming to CCU yet?”
Kat laughed and started to shake her head . . . and then stopped as her eyes caught the logo on the banner across the booth. Find Your Calling at CCU.
Transfer to Crista University? Why not?
Technically Stand By Me is not a member of the popular Yada Yada series. However, this first installment in the new SouledOut Sisters series, centering upon the women of the SouledOut Community Church, encompasses many characters made familiar in that first series. The Yada Yada prayer group even continues to meet for weekly prayer and fellowship in this story.
But Stand By Me is about Avis Douglass, a church worship leader, married to Peter, a church trustee, and wrestling with what it means to stand by her troubled daughter, not to mention the college students who have attached themselves to SouledOut. Avis wants to be there for her daughter, a single mother who is fresh off an abusive relationship and dealing with HIV, but the relationship between her daughter and stepfather Peter is strained. Then, as her future as an elementary school principal is threatened, Avis feels inundated by the fresh-faced, eager college students who seem to be everywhere.
Jackson does a great job of writing a multicultural cast of characters, placing emphasis on their physical differences only as needed to advance the story. She writes middle-aged married as well as she writes young adult single. Each character comes alive through voice and action. I knew a few Kat Davies in my day, and Stand By Me touched a nerve or two as I realized that perhaps I could have been more open, seeing them from one angle when a slight twist in viewing angle might have made all the difference.
That's the biggest pleasure in reading Stand By Me. Jackson doesn't flip her characters on their heads. Rather, she more subtly turns than a degree, just enough for readers to see vulnerabilities and frailties they might otherwise have missed, and in doing so, to consider how they relate to similar characters in real life.
Stand By Me is the first book of Jackson's that I've read. There are too many Yada Yada books to go back and catch up, but I'll be sure to keep up with the SouledOut Sisters going forward.
Peace & Blessings,
Stay focused. Be deliberate. Believe.