Sunday, August 31, 2014

Smile by Jenny Matula

Okay, this is a tough one for me. Quite simply, I know the author and I'm not sure I can give this book a rave review. Despite this, the book is intriguing and evoked strong emotions in me. I'm just not sure they're the emotions the author was hoping to elicit.

Smile is the autobiography of Jenny Matula, who was raised in the Philippines. Because English is not her first language, the book is rife with grammatical errors. For me, it was endearing, because it simply reminded me of her. I think for others, however, it might just come across as poor editing (the book was actually self-published with minimal editing help through WestBow Press). If you're thinking a mistake here or there, like you're reading a self-published kindle book (or my blog), no, it's much worse.

If the grammar issues can be forgiven, well then you have to deal with the Jesus talk. Woah, woah! I'm not opposed to Jesus talk. Hell, I grew up going to church every Sunday. I even went on other days of the week voluntarily! I went on missions trips in other countries, memorized books (yes ENTIRE BOOKS) of the bible FOR FUN, and basically grew up doing churchy stuff all the time. I remember being on my way to Mexico for a week to do a vacation bible school with "Jesus Freak" blaring on the radio. Yes, instead of listening to Coolio, I was rocking to DC Talk because this gangsta's paradise isn't an earthly one. And until I get there, I'm gonna scream my way to Mexico for Jesus because I'm a JESUS FREAK.

So I've settled down since then.

I have retained many of my religious beliefs, but they've evolved since high school. And I don't attend church anymore. I think just by writing this, some of my old church friends might be concerned that I've fallen away, or backslidden (is that a word?  It is in church). Which is why writing this review is difficult. For many reasons.

But back to my point about the Jesus talk. There are portions of Jenny's narrative, especially in the very beginning, that are pretty much just verses from the Bible verbatum. Some people have speaking this way. I think for someone who is seeking comfort in the Bible, this can be beneficial. But I think to people who don't share the same views as she, it will be heavy-handed.  

After some introductory housekeeping points, Jenny goes into her life story, which is tough. Her parents divorced when she was young, which also separated her from two of her siblings. Also when she was young, her mother left her and her brother alone on a farm to work while she went to the city to work and save enough money to bring them with her. I don't know what age came to mind when I said "young" but Jenny was something like 7 and her brother even younger. That's annoyingly, dangerously, irresponsibly, flipping young. The farmer, who was an asshole, would visit them once a week and treated them horribly when he did. Are we surprised by this? I'm not. I'm more surprised that Jenny's mother didn't see this coming.

Eventually her mother came back but sent her and her brother to an orphanage, again, while she worked. It sounds like this was (is?) a somewhat normal thing to do over there. Again, Jenny was eventually reunited with her mother, who had since remarried. Jenny's stepfather abused her, and when she told her mother, the mother sided with the stepfather.  

Jenny's story continues with more trials, but also triumphs. She has a few stories that even gave me goosebumps. Her overall point being that through it all, God was with her and she was able to be strengthened through her adversity. I suppose the fact I am angered by her story means I'm missing the point entirely. Jenny was able to forgive and rise above her past. But there were too many things I read that completely disgusted me. Sure, she forgave her mother, but she also made excuses for her. And although her mother's actions may have been forgivable, they were definitely inexcusable.  

Maybe there are cultural differences at work here, but I also had a major problem with how often children were separated from parents. I don't understand why her parents split up siblings never to see each other again. Then there was the farm, the orphanage, and even Jenny herslef was separated from her own child as well. I just don't understand that.

So call me a heathen, a reprobate, or what you will. But I didn't respond well to Jenny's message. And it's hard for me to admit, because Jenny is such a genuine person. I don't want to take away from what she has to offer and the amazing ways God has worked in her life. Maybe I'm just not ready to hear her message. Maybe my heart has been hardened by the devil. Maybe I'm culturally insensitive. Whatever it is, this book was a pill swallowed with no water. While I'm happy she wrote it, as I'm sure her story will benefit others, it's just not for me, not now.

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