Shades of Light – Sharon Garlough Brown

Shades of Gray Sharon Garlough Brown
Shades of Light by Sharon Garlough Brown
Published by IVP on August 20, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Christian, General
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"I was desperate. . . . I couldn't turn off the dark thoughts, no matter how hard I tried or how much I prayed. And then I spent a whole weekend in bed, and the crying wouldn't stop, and I got really scared. I've had bouts with depression before--it's kind of a cloud I've learned to live with--but this time was different. I felt like I was going under, like I'd never feel hopeful again, and then that just made my anxiety worse and it all spiraled from there."
Wren Crawford is a social worker who finds herself overwhelmed with the troubles of the world. Her lifelong struggles with anxiety and depression are starting to overcome her. She finds solace in art, spiritual formation, and pastoral care along with traditional therapeutic interventions. But a complicated relationship from her past also threatens to undo her progress.
Fans of Sharon Brown's bestselling Sensible Shoes Series will be delighted to discover some old friends along the way. As Wren seeks healing in this beautifully written novel, readers are invited to move beyond pat answers and shallow theology into an experience of hope and presence that illuminates even the darkness.

As a social worker, Wren Crawford knows when to seek help. Still, knowing and doing are different and it takes all that she has to check herself into a psychiatric facility. She’s been overwhelmed with the intensity of her work—counseling domestic abuse victims—and coupled with some personal issues, it was all becoming too much.

Shades of Light is Wren’s story toward wholeness and how she finds her peace in painting, spiritual formation, and pastoral care, along with traditional therapy and medication. We also get chapters about her family and their reaction to her mental health issues and attempts to nurture Wren to wholeness. And just as some sense of normalcy returns, a complicated relationship from her past threatens to undo all her progress.

This is a unique book. InterVarsity Press is much better known for its non-fiction and academic offerings than for any forays into the fictional realm. And, indeed, when you look at what IVP terms “fiction,” the majority of the books might be better classified as parables. Specifically, they are stories where the fictional narrative is a device meant to expressly draw out an explicit spiritual theme. Secondary are their historical fictions written by individuals with doctorates in that particular era of history. IVP’s fictional offerings have a decided bent toward the goal of spiritual formation, meaning that the goals of books published by IVP in this area might be different than, say, a Thomas Nelson or Tyndale novel.

I say this simply to note that Shades of Light has a perfect home here with IVP. It is a particular type of novel for a particular type of publisher and Sharon Garlough Brown and IVP are a perfect marriage. Knowing this shifts some of my expectations for the book. The book is a bit slow-paced and keen on veering into long discussions of mental health and visio divina as a technique in spiritual formation. Normally, this would be off-putting, as didactic teaching is not the goal of a typical novel, but it’s exactly what Brown is trying to do in this book.

It’s actually when Shades of Light tries to be a “typical” novel that it takes a hit in quality. The relationship-from-the-past subplot comes in late and half-formed, never really making much sense or evoking any emotional connection. It was almost as if Brown had written the novel but was told there had to be some sort of conflict somewhere and so shoehorned this in. It also took me a while to get all the characters straight in my mind. Some, it seems, are introduced in her other fictional book, Sensible Shoes. Minus that introduction, I felt a bit thrown into the middle of family drama without really understanding it all.

Shades of Light is a book best paired with its study guide. It’s intentionally a book to learn from, not just to enjoy for the fiction. It’s a unique concept and one that pairs perfectly with IVP’s goals as a publisher. It’s not at all what I expected when I opened the book, but it surprised me in a good way. Just know what you’re getting into, because if you go into this book with the wrong expectations, you may come out with a dislike for a book that’s very eye-opening for its discussion of mental health.