Books: Borders of the Heart

I picked this book to read because it is part of Tyndale’s Summer Reading Program. The previous three books I read were from the non-fiction list, and I had liked all of them, even though none were books I would probably have read otherwise. So I decided to try some books from the fiction list.

I selected Borders of the Heart in large part because it is by Chris Fabry. I had not read any of his novels previously (but planned to read one sooner or later), but I had read three of his humor/inspirational books. I bought Spiritually Correct Bedtime Stories to go with the very humorous Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner and Legally Correct Bedtime Stories by David Fisher.

I don’t think it was quite as funny as the books by Garner or Fisher, but I enjoyed it enough to also buy Away With the Manger and The 77 Habits of Highly Ineffective Christians. I have to admit I didn’t enjoy them as much, but I was interested in seeing what Fabry did with fiction.

I was particularly interested in seeing a novel tackle the issue of illegal immigration, especially from a Christian perspective. As it turns out, however, the main characters are not actually dealing with a case of illegal immigration but with a drug cartel. (That is also an important issue, and one that has significant ramifications for how the whole border issue is handled.)

Attitudes toward immigrants (legal or otherwise) do play an important role in the story. But it is primarily dealt with as a problem of prejudice/lack of compassion. There is some acknowledgement of the economic and social problems stemming from illegal immigration, but no discussion of possible solutions. Fabry says in a Q&A by Fabry about the novel that he has no ax to grind on the subject, he just wants to “show how real people are affected by these contemporary topics.”

Personally I would have preferred more about the immigration issues and less love story, but I know there is a huge audience for romance novels. In particular, Christian romance novels seem to be a huge chunk of the Christian fiction market, so much so that the selection at the local Christian bookstore is pretty sparse except for the romance section. Even if Fabry’s motivation is less about selling large numbers of books and more about spreading a message about faith, it’s understandable that he would want to appeal to those who eagerly read this sort of novel.

For most of the book, I really enjoyed seeing the story and characters develop. There is a surprisingly high body count, but it’s really only realistic considering the involvement of a ruthless criminal. What is somewhat surprising is how the protagonist, J.D., keeps going toward the violence rather than away. To some extent this is explained by his feelings for Maria, but at some point I began to question the believability of his actions.

At about the same point I also started to find the books getting rather “preachy.” Unlike some readers who object to the religious overtones getting more and more intrusive, I agree with the message Fabry weaves into the story. But I am surprised by other readers who think he did a good job keeping the message from overshadowing the story. Toward the end, I started feeling that the story and characters were just a vehicle for his message, and their believability went correspondingly downhill.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a message in a story. Since people are inevitably motivated by their values and beliefs, you can’t tell a story without some kind of implicit message about what is important. But for the characters to be believable, they have to appear to act out of their own personalities, even while the reader knows that the author is pulling all the strings. The more explicit the message becomes, the less believable it seems that people act that way because that’s how real people act, and more because it fits the message the author wants to get across.

As I say, I do agree with the message that Fabry wants to get across: “I hope readers will take away the truth that what looks impossible to people is possible with God’s power. Even if something looks hopeless, it’s really not when God is involved.” But I think it would come across better if it weren’t pushed quite so much.


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