The Amen Sisters by Angela Benson
· Paperback: 376 pages
· Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
· Language: English
· Genre: Christian Fiction
When Francine Amen joined the Temple Church, she renounced her family, friends and church because she felt they didn’t believe “enough”. She left town with Bishop Payne’s traveling ministry and her best friend ,Toni, followed her example. Later on, when Toni accuses the Bishop of getting her pregnant, Francine refuses to believe her. Subsequently Toni commits suicide and a devastated Francine has a breakdown that lands her in a mental health clinic.
The story begins with Francine getting out of the clinic and returning home with her sister Dawn, who together with her husband Sylvester Ray operates the Amen-Ray Funeral Home business that was started by both their grandparents. Despite their ongoing sibling rivalry, Dawn has stuck by her sister. Yet she has reservations about Francine coming back. This is largely because her husband Sly used to date Francine first and only turned to her when Francine left him. And partly because she doesn’t want anyone to know Sly cheated on her with another woman and as a result their marriage is on the verge of breaking down.
Francine returns to her home town with a saddened heart and a conscience heavily laden with guilt. She’s determined to make amends and begins repairing old relationships even as she starts up a budding romance with a Judge who is on his way to a stellar future. But Toni’s brother is determined to make Francine pay for his sister’s death, no matter who else gets destroyed along with her. How it all ends makes for enjoyable and surprising reading.
Angela Benson's thoughtful Christian novel deals with a lot of serious issues, some of which include religious leaders sexually abusing members of their congregation, Church leaders committing adultery, teen pregnancy, bereavement, infidelity etc. With simple prose, the author portrays a realistic picture of women who dare to come out against injustice and the way society/church treats them with skepticism.
Through the Amen sisters and other strong supporting characters such as Mother Harris, Delores, Monika, Toni etc, Benson portrays women facing challenges in every aspect of their life, whether it’s their belief in themselves, their faith or their relationships. When Francine comes back, it triggers a wave of emotion that causes not just Francine herself to face the brutal truth, but others as well. Supporting characters are very strong and their side stories are of equal interest and weave smoothly into and become an inherent part of the main story. While women characters dominate the story, the male characters are also varied and contribute a lot towards the story. The characters all have flaws and this makes them easier to relate to.
While the novel has a strong religious flavor, the story is something everybody can relate to; after all, abuse of power and position is not just limited to the Church. And the story’s overall message of forgiveness and belief in God’s benevolence transcends race, religion and nationality.
The Reading Group Guide at the end of the book also raises some very interesting questions.
One thing that struck a jarring note for me was the ending. The great initial build-up was sustained by a strong middle. However when it ends, the events feel rushed and all the loose ends are tied up hurriedly. And without revealing secrets, suffice to say that the epilogue held a surprise that, while ending relationships happily in a new and different way, had me a tad bit disappointed as I was rooting the other way. Just read the book to see what I mean.
That apart, “The Amen Sisters” made for some thoughtful and enjoyable reading.