Any Good Thing is Joy Rancatore's debut novel and clearly she poured herself into writing and publishing her first adult book. From the cover design through to the acknowledgments at the end, Joy's passion for her characters and topic shine through.
The book dramatically opens with 15-year-old Jack Calhoun's life permanently altered: a teenage drag race ends in death and disaster. From that point onward, Jack shoulders the guilt of four deaths--compounded later by two other deaths for which he takes responsibility.
In the first chapter the reader meets Jack's girlfriend, Rachel Burns, her father Ben, and Jack's mother, Becky; the three people who are his trinity of support as Jack wrestles with demons from his past.
Jack's father abandoned the family when Jack was young and Ben becomes a father figure to him. Quickly after the accidents, Jack descends into alcoholism; Ben helps him to get into a rehab. There, Jack confesses his motivation to get over his addiction: "I want to be better for my mom and the people who've stuck by me...despite all I've done." (p. 43)
Although this refrain is repeated throughout the book, Jack's fatal flaw is that he believes the only way he can help the people he loves is to remove his poisonous influence from their lives. "No more would he sit by and watch people he loved get hurt by whatever curse had claimed him as its host. The final tendrils of the sun's red hair slunk before him as he headed west." (p. 90)
With this faulty conclusion guiding him, he joins the Marines and vows to make something of his life and become a source of pride to his mother.
Jack's internal conversation shows that he sees himself as a failure, but at the same time the author portrays him as a successful carpenter and outstanding Marine who is consistently promoted. Even when he feels responsible for his best friend, Tray's, death in Iraq, Tray's mother forgives him, but he doesn't forgive himself.
Jack feels hopeless when he returns home after taking a bullet in his right arm. His days as a Marine Scout Sniper are over and he refuses to get help. He enters into a bleak, near-suicidal time of roaming through North Carolina. His only help for the reoccurring PTSD anxiety is a stray, shaggy hound, Scout, who provides the companionship which Jack desperately needs.
For me, the most powerful part of this book came in the last one hundred pages. An unexpected encounter with his father helps Jack begin his journey home, eventually leading to his emotional and spiritual healing. Rachel's unconditional love is poignantly portrayed. Jack's self-absorption (which is the lie behind "I'm too bad for even God to love me") is shown in the last few pages. Although Jack's coming to faith was predictable, it provides a satisfactory resolution to Christian readers.
Although much of what the author loves is packed into 418 pages--southern food, the Marines, small southern towns, romance, and the peace of Christ--the constant point of view shift from omniscient narrator to one of the characters, was distracting. In the author's desire to include seventeen years of Jack's life, I had to frequently remind myself what his age was; many of his thought processes make him seem older than his stated age.
Overall, I would recommend this book for the reader who loves fiction which carries a character through the dark spots of his life to Christian victory.
Please leave your name and email address if you interested in entering the giveaway for an autographed copy of Any Good Thing. Giveaway ends on January 11.