Saturday, August 4, 2007
"JOAN OF ARCADIA" CREATOR PENS "CONFESSIONS"
The thing about dancing with the devil is this: you're not done dancing until the devil is done dancing. And the devil is never done."
Barbara Hall, The Noah Confessions
Like most 16-year-olds in her 90210-like California town, Lynnie Russo expects a car for her birthday. Instead, her father gives her a charm bracelet that belonged to her deceased mother. Disappointed and confused by this seemingly meaningless gift, Lynnie acts uncharacteristically rebellious by ditching school and going surfing for the first time. Instead of punishing Lynnie, her father tries to teach her how significant the bracelet really is by presenting her with a lengthy letter written by her Mom titled “The Noah Confessions.” That letter reveals some dark family secrets that will change Lynnie’s view of herself, her life, and the parents who raised her.
“The Noah Confessions” is a young adult novel authored by Barbara Hall, the creator, writer and executive producer of the TV series “Joan of Arcadia” about a teenage girl who gets first-hand advice and guidance from God. Though geared toward teens, I (who am admittedly a few years beyond my teens) found the story to be engaging, witty, and a real page-turner. Hall’s strength as a storyteller both in this book and in her television writing is the ability to create smart, funny heroines like Lynnie and her Mom and integrate them seamlessly with weightier themes like, in this case, teenage angst and the generational repercussions of secrets and lies.
Secrets and lies are the hallmarks of many stories set in the South and Hall’s book is no exception. One of the primary settings is Union Grade, Virginia where the majority of Lynnie’s mother’s story takes place. Hall, who was raised in Virginia, creates a Southern atmosphere that is both appealing and appalling, highlighting some dark compromises covered up by the area’s “history of gentility and manners.”
These compromises are generally due to people not accepting who they are and not, as God once told Joan in Arcadia, “fulfilling their nature.” Their egos or fragile psyches reject society’s view of them, so they create secret lives for themselves which ultimately lead to madness or violence. As the aforementioned quote states, the secrets in Lynnie’s family reveal several ‘dances with the devil’ that snowball from one generation to the next until someone is brave enough to break the cycle of secrecy no matter how painful. Breaking that cycle comes down to the revelation and acceptance of truth.
The writer and theologian C.S. Lewis once said, “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort, you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin - and in the end, despair.”
That quote perfectly captures the choices and struggles of the characters in this book. Life is about being true to yourself and also to a higher truth. I associate Hall’s description of truth in "Confessions" with the acceptance of God and faith. She writes, “The truth always settles on you very quietly, and it sits in a pocket inside you and doesn't displace anything and it just feels right but not always logical. Logic is something else. The truth is quiet and simple but not painless. The truth just is."
For me, this points to another strength in “The Noah Confessions.” Barbara Hall is a recent convert to Catholicism so Christian beliefs and principles are a natural part of her thinking. God's presence in this story is not as prominent as it was in "Joan" but there is a definite subtext about faith. Instead of hitting readers over the head with religion, Hall simply weaves truths into the story. In my opinion, truth always points toward God.
If teens, teachers or parents are looking for a multi-layered story with a relatable heroine, seek out “The Noah Confessions.” It will lead you on a journey well-worth taking.