September 2014 archive

Rare Bird by Anna Whitson-Donaldson | Book Review

rare bird

“In her beautiful, cure clear-eyed prose Anna brings to life complex miracles: that the anchor of being strong is tied to feelings of unbearable weakness; that the ache of grief is often accompanied by glittering beauty; and that all we do not understand is more important to making sense of life than what we know. Her story, internist as well as Jack’s story, is gorgeous, bold and true, and no one will be unchanged in reading it.”
— Stacy Morrison, Editor in Chief, BlogHer; author of Falling Apart in One Piece

I was given the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Rare Bird by Anna Whitson-Donaldson and let me tell you, it was a hard read. I’ve read a lot of really sad memoirs but there this one was particularly devastating–I actually kept checking to make sure that this was a memoir and not a work of fiction, hoping that I had somehow made a mistake.

Unfortunately, this book is indeed a memoir and tells the story of the tragic death of Anna Whitson-Donaldson’s young son, Jack. I found myself absolutely sobbing throughout most of this book–Anna’s beautiful writing made it easy to enter in to her pain and her family’s experience of losing their son/brother. But this book was not written to simply make readers sad, but rather to testify to God’s absolute goodness and bigness in times of unimaginable sorrow. And I will say that Anna absolutely succeeded in this aspect. She writes about how her picture of God was forced out of the box she had kept Him in and that God became much larger and much more tangible through Jack’s death. I was amazed by the ways God not only comforted Anna through her pain but also used her to be a comfort to her entire community. One of the scenes from the book that stuck out to me most is when Anna and her husband get the news that Jack is dead. In that moment, Anna is completely guided by the Holy Spirit to testify of God’s goodness to the men who just delivered her the news of her 12-year-old son’s death. It absolutely blew me away.

Rare Bird is a powerful story of resilience and demonstrates the Lord’s ability to redeem even the darkest of situations. My understanding of the Holy Spirit as comforter was definitely expanded as I read Anna’s story. Another thing that was really wonderful about this book is that it taught me how to better support people through grief. Anna talked about how wonderful it was when her community remembered and memorialized Jack and his life, hanging ribbons around town. She also talked about the people in her life that consistently showed up and didn’t leave her alone. I think in times of loss and sorrow I fear being a nuisance to people who are suffering. This book taught me that physically being with someone who is suffering is not a burden but rather a gift.

Pros: This book is a wonderful testament of God’s love for us in the midst of tragedy. It is beautifully written and utterly raw and authentic.

Cons: Anna doesn’t talk about theology much in her book and just briefly addresses the question of “Why would a good God allow my son to die.” She essentially says that she doesn’t have an answer and her theology of how she explains Jack’s death even changes day-by-day. But she does say that she tends to hold to the theology that God controls everything that happens and therefore caused Jack to die. First of all, I have a hard time criticizing Anna’s theology because this book is her story, not a theology book. However, I would most likely not recommend this book to someone who has suffered a tragedy like Anna’s because I believe that at it’s core, the theology that God causes both all good and all evil is a horribly distorted view of the Lord and ultimately causes a huge amount of damage.

While I was reading Rare Bird, I sensed so much spiritual warfare surrounding Jack’s death. If my heart was breaking over the loss of a boy I’ve never met, how much more was God’s heart breaking over the death of the son he so intimately created? (To read more about my theology about good/evil in our world, click here).

Do I Recommend It? Obviously I’ve listed some of my concerns in recommending Rare Bird because I don’t agree with Anna’s theology and am concerned that it could hurt someone who is going through a tragedy like hers. However, I personally am glad I read Rare Bird and fully expect the Lord to use this powerful book to positively impact the lives of others.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.