Luci Kinsinger just came out with a new book, Turtle Heart. I agreed to read and review a copy because based on her first book, Anything but Simple, I knew she was a good writer. But I was unprepared for just how much I’d love and relate to the stories and ideas inside it.
Turtle Heart is the story of Luci’s deep and life-changing friendship with Charlene, an elderly Ojibwe woman. It’s a heartfelt and wild story from beginning to end, taking twists and turns that I did not expect.
When I first heard the synopsis, before I read the book, the concept felt familiar. I’ve read several popular books about a kindhearted person befriending a societal “outsider,” believing they can help them and then ultimately being changed because of them. It’s not new.
And yet, this book felt new to me. And I think what was remarkable about it was the way it wasn’t about a “normal person” finding an “outsider,” it was two outsiders finding each other. The book begins with the line, “I heard the F word for the first time when I was twenty-four,” underscoring the way Luci feels like a sheltered outsider from greater US American society. Although she begins her friendship with Charlene having some benevolent ideas of saving her soul and helping a frail old lady, from the beginning we understand that their friendship is something different: two lonely outsider souls who found each other.
There was much to love in this book. Foremost, of course, was the beautiful friendship at the center of it. Then there’s the story itself which, together with the story of Charlene’s past, is slowly revealed to the reader in surprising ways.
But what I loved the most was the commentary on outreach.
Here’s a question for you: What is the best way to reach people in your community for Jesus?
You may be full of ideas, then go out into the real world and discover that your ideas don’t quite “work” the way you expected them to. Thus it is for Luci and Charlene. Luci begins the book trying to teach Charlene the plan of salvation while also trying to win her heart by being a “sweet Mennonite girl,” singing while she weeds the garden and such.
These tactics never go as planned. It’s not that Charlene doesn’t want Jesus. It’s that Charlene already has a relationship with the Creator. Being much older and full of life experience than Luci, she doesn’t exactly appreciate Luci acting like she has all the answers.
And the thing is, Luci doesn’t have all the answers. Ultimately, the story becomes something much larger than the story of someone being “led to the Lord.” While Luci answers many of Charlene’s spiritual questions and gets her to start reading the Bible, Charlene gives Luci many insights into the nature of the Creator, helping Luci to realize that He is much greater than she ever realized.
That was my favorite message from the book.
I also have to add that Luci has a masterful way of writing about what it feels like to be the odd one out, knowing that how you’re perceived isn’t how you feel inside. For instance, describing attending a funeral with Charlene, Luci writes,
I sit in a corner, just behind Charlene, and watch the family move around the room in short-cut or long-swinging hair, in short black skirts or jeans, in earrings and bracelets and tattoos, and feel conspicuous with my unmarked skin, my long dress, and my little white cap. Like a saint or a nun…and who wants that when you are just turned twenty-five? I want to be young and free-spirited, not righteous. But I’ve grown used to this conspicuousness of dress and wear it like a security blanket. It’s my identity, chosen for me before I was born.
Chills. I relate so much. Thank you, Luci, for writing this. Your work is a gift.
Now, here’s the best news: Luci has agreed to give away a copy of her book!
*Update: This giveaway is now closed*
To enter, just leave a comment saying you’d like to be entered. Or leave a comment telling me the best book you’ve read recently, or your favorite thing about Fall. In fact, unless your comment specifically says that you DO NOT want to be entered, any comment will count as an entry.
Unfortunately, this giveaway only applies to US addresses. International shipping costs are brutal, guys! Even Canada. If you live overseas and want to enter, consider asking a friend in the USA if you can get it sent to his or her address for you to pick up on your next trip to the States.
Also: This is your friendly reminder that I’m doing a mini book tour next week! Wednesday the 29’th I’ll be in Lancaster PA, and Thursday the 30th I’ll be in Harrisonburg VA. For more details, click here.
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