I was going to try to keep this spoiler-free, but then I realized that if it were me reading this review, I would want enough spoilers to decide if it was going to be a book that was worth reading to me personally. So there are some slight spoilers below. You've been warned.
What I Liked
The best way to describe this book is a cautionary tale, on three fronts, and I guess what I liked about the book was that the author got her points across in a really powerful way.
1. The first is a cautionary tale about what can happen when Christians put a supposed call to ministry ahead of their families. This book follows Lauren and Sam as they meet, fall in love, and have a baby...then as they proceed onto the mission field. However, it becomes clear pretty early on that "the call" is really Sam's exhaustive drive to bring about his own vision of what he wants to do with his life - and to bring his family along without regard to whether they are also feeling the same "call". The results are disastrous and heartbreaking. We watch Ryan, a happy six year old, slowly descend into a sullen teenager who feels rejected by his father in favor of Nepali villagers, and consequently rejected by God. This brings him to a very dark place, and he attempts suicide. This was especially hard for me to read, since I currently have a happy six year old. However, I thought this is where the author made her point so well. The first ministry that we are given by God is to our own family, and any other ministry comes second to that...and mixing up the order can destroy lives and even faith. This book is a sobering story, even chilling.
2. The second cautionary tale was about how easily one can slip into an emotional affair if they aren't careful. In the process of the story, Lauren starts communicating with a childhood friend, and eventually becomes so infatuated or in love with him that it has negative effects on her marriage and family.
3. The third caution seems to be about submission, and how a wrong understanding of it can lead wives to submit to things that they know in their hearts go against God's plan. This happened when Lauren kept submitting to Sam's missionary plans instead of listening to the Holy Spirit's still small voice that told her this wasn't right. Unfortunately, Sam's character in this book is pretty single-minded in the worst way when it comes to the getting on the mission field (and though the book doesn't say it, I think it's for his own glory, not God's), and if Lauren stood up to him he would have gone without her.
What I Didn't Like
Appropriately, what I didn't like about this book can also be separated under those three points the author was trying to make.
1. First, with regards to priorities in ministry - I felt that in the process of making this point, the author didn't do a satisfactory enough job (to me) in clarifying that God does not call us to sacrifice our families for the sake of ministry. The book talked about how Lauren and Sam neglected Ryan, but I thought the author could have done a better job explaining how Sam's "call" really wasn't from God if Sam was willing to sacrifice his family for his own idea of what mission work should look like. Phoenix attempts to show this in the end when she writes about how Lauren turns back to "her God", the God who loves His children and is grieved by all they excused in His name, as opposed to "Sam's God". But it wasn't quite good enough for me, because it wasn't God at all who "called" Sam to abandon his family, and I wish that was shown more clearly.
2. Second, on emotional affairs - I felt that what Lauren did was never really presented as wrong. Sure, Sam was totally neglecting and disregarding his family for his own glory, but I still think Lauren should have been more on guard, and at least recognized what she did wrong with regards to getting so involved with Aidan. I don't feel like she ever did. We as the reader are just left to our own devices on the morality of her emotional affair (note: it's not okay). The consequences are seen, but the repentance is not.
3. Third, I kind of hate how this book threw in phrases like "the tyranny of submission", without really explaining more about biblical submission. It makes submission the bad guy, when really I think it was a misapplication of submission. I don't think the command for wives to submit to their husbands involves standing by and doing nothing while your child is neglected and goes down a dangerous path because of his parents' poor choices. Lauren's character acted like she was helpless because of "submission", when really she just didn't want the conflict that would result if she stood up for what God was showing her about the effects of Sam's plan on their family. And instead of seeking God about her struggle, she just distracts herself with her emotional affair (see above). Not a great example of biblical submission at all, and maybe that was the point, but again, I wish it was clarified more.
I'd also just like to note that while there was a lot of talk of "reaching" people, there wasn't a lot of talk about what the characters were trying to reach them with. Only passing references to the Gospel and Christ, but the characters themselves didn't seem to personally recognize what Christ did in dying to take away our sins and rising again, not in a way that impacted their lives - they were just going through the motions of "ministry", either to keep the peace (Lauren) or to do something "great" (Sam).
Once again, maybe that was the point, but the bottom line is, I wouldn't recommend this to someone who didn't already know what it means to believe in Jesus to take away our sins, or have a strong foundation in their knowledge of what it means to be saved. I appreciated what the author was trying to do here in presenting us with the perils of jumping recklessly into missions, but only because I am grounded in my faith. For someone who doesn't really know what Christianity is about, this book presents a very negative view of "Christian" intentions gone amuck.
I wish the salvation message had been presented more clearly through the ending in this story in case any non-believers pick it up, because without that this book lacked a shot of the Truth that I felt it desperately needed. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it because of that. I would recommend it with caution to believers in Jesus if they want a book that gets them thinking about the kind of struggles missionaries may face, and a book that gives a good shot in the arm about the importance of ministering to your own family - but don't expect to leave this book feeling encouraged, because you will be disappointed.
Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a review. This is my honest opinion.