William Sirls. The Sinners’ Garden. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013.
The Sinners’ Garden is about broken people being healed, supernatural phenomena, and mystery. The strongest feature of this book is its characterization. There is Andy Kemp, a reclusive, moody teen with a scar on his face because his abusive father years before inadvertently threw on him hot water that he was aiming at Andy’s mother. There is Andy’s mother Judi, who blames herself for not protecting Andy. There is Judi’s good-humored brother Rip, who spent time in jail for selling marijuana. Rip is now a Christian and acts as a father-figure, friend, and mentor to Andy. There is Rip’s crusty pastor, Pastor Welsh, who is familiar with the hard knocks of life and offers Rip spiritual counsel as Rip attempts to live better, amidst people’s suspicions of him. There is Heather, a police officer and love interest to Rip. She is tracking down the mysterious “Summer Santa,” who is breaking into people’s houses, not to steal anything, but rather to leave generous gifts. And there is Kevin Hart, the wealthy pillar of the community, who is prominent at church, gives Rip a job and a place to live after Rip gets out of jail, and does works of charity. Yet, Kevin lives another kind of life when he is away from the spotlight.
Essentially, Andy speaks God’s words that he hears through a broken iPod, specifically to Jodi, Heather, Kevin, and Rip. Incidentally, a new garden has appeared, and these four people have plots in the garden. Their plot disappears once they have resolved something in their life that is troubling them—-once their brokenness is healed, or they have repented. Jodi’s problem is guilt at not protecting her son. Heather is perplexed about whether her late father, a police officer who was shot to death, is in heaven. And Rip and Kevin are dealing with issues: one of them resolves his issues, while the other one does not.
My favorite part of the book revolves around Andy’s romance with a girl named Chelsae. Andy is interested in Chelsae, but he does not think that Chelsae will be interested in him on account of his scar. Rip bets Andy a coke that Chelsae will accept Andy. When Chelsae asks Andy to dance, and the two of them are dancing, Rip yells out to Andy, “You owe me a coke!”
In terms of any criticisms that I have of the book, there are two. First, in the scene in which Heather has finally cornered the Summer Santa, Heather is thinking that the Summer Santa is one particular person, but it turns out to be somebody else. The thing is, my understanding is that the two people had different body builds, so I am perplexed as to how Heather could have confused the two. Second, there is a scene in which Heather’s mother appears to have spiritual insight, which is odd because mostly in the book Heather’s mother sat in front of the television set all day and did not go out. I think that the book should have elaborated more about her spiritual insight—-how she gained it, and how it fits into her character as a whole.
A common theme in the book is that Andy does not need his iPod to hear from God, since God is everywhere and is continuously speaking. Yet, it is interesting that God in the book still uses iPods to prompt people to do the right thing: God uses Andy to speak to people’s situations, and, at the end of the book, God speaks through an iPod to an abused boy, giving him the strength to confront his mother’s abusive boyfriend. (The book begins and ends with a scene about abuse.) This issue may overlap with another issue in the book: Why doesn’t God do as many miracles as God did in biblical times? William Sirls does not strike me as a cessationist, for Pastor Welsh asks, “Why is it that people think God could only perform miracles two thousands years ago? Where is it written that He was going to stop?” But healing comes to one person and not to another in the book, and William Sirls in the back asks “Why do you think we don’t see as many miracles today as they did in Bible times?”
I really enjoyed this book. I pictured Rip as a young Kevin Costner (only I modified my image of him when I learned that Rip was blonde), and Kevin Hart reminded me somewhat of J.R. Ewing, only (unlike J.R.) Kevin Hart tried to project a Christian facade. Overall, the characters were what made this book.
Click here for Thomas Nelson’s page about this book.
Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book through the Booksneeze.com book review bloggers program. The program does not require for my review to be positive, and my review reflects my honest reaction to the book.