Wednesday, March 29, 2017

English Lessons by Andrea Lucado -- Book Review #bloggingforbooks

About English Lessons (from the publisher)
"Could She Come to Love the Questions Themselves? The church wasn’t just a part of Andrea Lucado’s childhood. It was her childhood. It provided more than happy moments. It provided an invitation to know Jesus. When Andrea arrived in Oxford the year after she graduated from college, she expected to meet God there. What she didn’t expect was that God would be much bigger than she’d believed. In this engaging memoir, Andrea speaks to all of us who wrestle with doubt and identity. 'So many nights in Oxford,' Andrea writes, 'I felt like the details of my faith were getting fuzzier. Nights turned restless with questions. I questioned God’s existence, and the doubt was getting into my bones.' In English Lessons, Andrea takes us through the roads of England and, more importantly, the paths of the soul. Here she explores the journey of a changing faith and an unchanging God—and why growing up starts with realizing just how small we are."

I struggled with reviewing this book. As a Christian, a writer, a woman, and one who has traveled in England, I think I know what she's trying to say with this book. The problem is, she doesn't actually say it---and that makes it difficult to decide how to go about evaluating it. The book's subtitle, "The crooked little grace-filled path of growing up" alludes to the author's growth throughout the period of time the book describes. The problem is that she doesn't actually grow---or if she does, she doesn't make that very clear.

Here's what I was expecting when I picked up this book: The cover info implies a physical journey, as well as a spiritual one. I was expecting her to have visited "the roads of England" as the back cover states and to have "grown up" a little spiritually or emotionally during that journey.

Instead, I got 200 pages of a pampered Millennial rambling about her issues with "British culture"---opinions that were based on what she experienced within about a three-mile radius of her classes at Oxford Brookes. {If you don't see the issue with this, imagine someone basing their knowledge and opinion of American culture on only the people, conversations, food choices, accent, and political stances of the people in one state--like New Jersey---or Texas---or Oregon---or Minnesota.}

So fine---not every story has to have a deeply spiritual ending. She's still on her journey---I get that. We all are. My question is--what is the point of this book? It's not encouraging to a mature faith and it's not the greatest example to an immature one. I thought maybe all her mentions of drinking and hangovers would culminate in some choice to maybe lay off the liquor a little in the end---but...nope. I think it's one of those preacher-kid rebellion things where it makes her feel edgy and relatable to talk about all her boyfriends and drunken parties and hangouts with the atheist club. All of this would make a great backstory for a redemption tale. But, by the last page, I'm still not seeing a redemption tale.

Why are we publishing the diaries of a wandering preacher's kid? She's careful not to mention on her site's About Me page that she's Max Lucado's daughter so I get it that she doesn't want to stand on the fame of her father, but the thing is---the people who are going to pick up this book are people who have been reading her father for the last 20+ years. People older than me. Then they're going to be super annoyed that they're reading something that sounds like the whiny kids they just scooted out of the house and which should be very clearly marketed to the back end of the Millennial generation. This is a rant, yes. My point is---there is no solid point to this book. That bugs me. Moving on...

Andrea's back cover says, "What she didn't expect to find was that God would be so much bigger than she believed." She did not reveal a big God here. The constant whining about her circumstances got really old, really fast. 100 pages in, I was still wondering if she was going to have a growing up moment. I'd really had enough of the diva drama. Besides the fact that scores of intelligent women would highly covet the opportunity to study at Oxford and explore England without much responsibility for a year, her spoiled attitude {no microwave, no coffee maker, no instantly heated room, etc...} makes me wonder if this woman even realizes what a real problem is? You know---things like hunger, fear, abuse? It makes me embarrassed for her parents and undermines their credibility to have raised such a selfish drama queen. I kept thinking she was overdramatizing herself in order to come around later and talk about her big revelation and change---but nope. As she says, "I tried to have a very serious and contemplative moment with myself, but I couldn't....I looked the same. Maybe all the clothes I had on were European brands and maybe my hair had grown longer, but overall, still me." If the point of this book is to tell the story of how a spirit-filled girl spends a year in one place without having any sort of spiritual or emotional change, then let's make that plainly known from the outset, shall we?

 Now for the redeeming bits...

The mature voice does show itself, if just now and then, in the second half of the book---although the chapter on My Frontlight in the first half of the book provided a great mental picture about how we often need to be carried by those spiritually stronger. I thought her insights in chapter eight were spot on. My favorite quote was this: "If the gospel can be portrayed by someone who isn't even a Christian, it must be an inescapable story. It must be an inescapable story, a thread that runs through everything and everyone." She really does share some great perspectives and truths when she's in the contemplative mood, but her diva-ness obscures a lot of them. Too bad. Sometimes less is more and we writers don't have to share every. single. thing. to be authentic.

Since anyone who has read this far probably already hates me by now, I'm going to go ahead and say this next part and then be done. The author talks a lot about huge cultural differences and how she feels alone. Everyone is "speaking a different language", even though it's all technically English. The problem here is proper education. She nails it on page 26 when she says, "It made me wish I had read more as a child and watched less Saved By The Bell." America's education priorities are ridiculous. {I am aware she was privately schooled. That means little in this case as many are modeled on the same failed system.} Why are we not preparing our children to maturely interact on a global level? Many of the Americans I've traveled with (and some older Canadians, for that matter) come across as very ignorant and irritated when the things we experience in England aren't simple or convenient enough for them. However, when one is traveling, isn't the experience of the new and unexpected the whole point? It's up to us to adapt, not for them to conform. The author's rambling, self-interested dialogue is grating and makes it difficult to understand the point of what she's saying. (13 pages of rambling about a spoon in her tea ends with, "I didn't get it and honestly I still don't." WHAT?!!) If this is how she spoke to the people "over there", I can see why the not-too-wordy British seemed a little standoffish.

In short, the book was full of way too many attempts at artsy poetic-ness and way too little substance. The book needs a resolution---some kind of take-away to make the reader feel like there was a reason for both the writing and the reading of it.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinionated opinions have been opined without coercion.


  1. Thank you for your honest review. The idyllic painting on the cover drew me in, but I'd have been very disappointed by the contents. I'm amazed sometimes by what publishers consider worth publishing.