When You Believe
When You Believe explores the topic of child sexual molestation in several ways, using the pain of different characters who experienced this kind of terrible violation. Unfortunately, because of Bedford’s underdeveloped characterization, the impact falls somewhat flat.
Lydia Porter’s life is finally coming together. Though Lydia enjoys her job as Shadrach High School’s guidance counselor, she longs and prays for something more. She wants a family, and it looks like she will finally get her wish. Charlie Stains, the school’s new woodshop teacher, is everything she’s ever hoped for. He’s kind, gentle, good with kids, and a devout Christian. He’s definitely the guy she wants to spend the rest of her life with, and when he proposes, Lydia is ecstatic. But before they can announce their engagement, one of Lydia students reveals something terrible. Shelby Tatum tells her someone’s been touching her, forcing her to do inappropriate and frightening things, and she says that someone is Charlie Stains.
Lydia has simply no idea of what to do in this situation. She knows she must help Shelby. By law and by moral obligation she has to believe what she is saying. But she loves Charlie, and she can’t believe what Shelby says is true. However, she can’t with absolute certainty say it’s false either. Who will she stand by – Charlie or Shelby? What will happen to her dreams of having a family? And where is God in all of this terrible suffering?
Though smoothly written, this story was very difficult for me to read, and, in fact, I put it down numerous times. Lydia’s dilemma is so very wrenching to read, and I felt for Shelby who was clearly suffering from someone’s predatory behavior. But Charlie’s situation was equally horrible. He’s convicted in the eyes of everyone he knows as soon as the words are out of Shelby’s mouth. Within hours his carefully constructed life including his job, his relationship, and his freedom, are gone. Bedford does not reveal what is going on until the end of the story, so the reader is left to question who is guilty and who is innocent, who is lying and who is telling the truth. End peeking was absolutely vital for me to continue reading; I couldn’t have kept on if I hadn’t.
Though the book’s set up is extremely angsty and affecting, its execution suffered from a lack of characterization. Lydia is a sympathetic heroine, but Bedford doesn’t delve that deeply into her personality, her past (with the exception of one particular episode), or her relationship with Charlie. The remainder of the characters are static, and as a result, while Lydia, Shelby, and Charlie’s problems are compelling, their personalities and internal dilemmas aren’t, particularly. Which means that the book’s inspirational dimension falls rather flat. Toward the end of the book is a scene that is supposed to symbolize Lydia’s search for God; that scene confused me and didn’t match up with the rest of the plot. And the book’s final resolution was also far too quick and pat for this extremely complex situation.
When You Believe is not Bedford’s first child molestation story. Several years ago she wrote a romance called A Child’s Promise which also revolved around this topic. That effort was better – more romantic, more touching, and more in-depth emotionally. I recommend it over this new book. For such an gut-wrenching topic, When You Believe unfortunately left me almost completely unaffected.