Published by Herald Press on July 6, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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Longing for permission to be real about your own needs and struggles? Permission granted.
As good Christian moms, we’re not supposed to ask for much. Jesus meets all our needs and we’re the light of the world to everybody else, right? Wrong. Shari Zook appeared to be an overachieving supermom who deftly supported her pastor-husband and their congregation, looked after their children, and cared for foster children through the ups and downs of placements. But inside, her world was growing increasingly desperate as she struggled with the grief of miscarriage, parenting a difficult child, and spiraling depression. In her darkest hour, Zook let go of her need to appear super-human and reached out to receive God’s unfolding grace. With humor and artistry, Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings gives us permission to step out from behind the appearance of rose-filtered perfection and embrace the authenticity of honest need and human limitations. In the book’s twelve chapters you’ll find twelve practical ways to reach for a faith that includes doubt, and holiness that includes failure.
Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings is a unique, artistic, soulful, and poignant look at parenthood (motherhood, specifically) that offers readers permission to be real about their own needs, shortcomings, struggles, and doubts. Mostly memoir, somewhat reflective self-help, author Shari Zook relates her story to readers in an attempt to begin the honest conversations we never have.
From the outside, she was the Pastor’s Wife supermom. But inside, she struggled with the grief of miscarriage, parenting a difficult child, an increasing weight of depression, and thoughts of suicide. Amid it all, Zook let go of the image she’d been projecting and allowed herself to be broken—and then healed in God’s grace.
The book is divided into twelve chapters, each thematically relating to an aspect of Zook’s life and weaving in the lessons she’s learned for persevering in faith amid the struggle. The chapters end with discussion questions and other prompts that invite further reflection and offer the reader to really immerse themselves in the material—either by themselves or in a group.
There’s this really powerful chapter at the end of the book where Zook details a failed adoption from foster care. Failed being a relative term, because while the adoption failed, it did so because the first family was reunited. I’m a parent who has been in that situation. And it sucks. And it’s a loss. And it’s redemptive. Zook captures the emotions perfectly, getting both the logical understanding of the redemptive nature of family reunited and the emotional longing of a new family now lost.
Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings is written in a flowery, meandering prose that shuffles between stream of consciousness and crisp, incisive narrative. It’s an obvious stylistic choice, one that you’ll either love for its “homey” feeling or disdain for its sense of melodrama. Looking at the endorsements from the opening page, I can see that it’s called “charming, interactive” and Zook as having “an ear for beautiful language.” It is Jen Hatmaker-esque in its writing approach, though more to the tone of her Facebook posts than her books. It vacillates between light-hearted and deep, silly and serious, punctuated with excessive colons, (parentheticals), and ALL CAPS and italics. It all comes together to give the book a unique flavor, but one that might not be the best flavor for all. (You may have noticed that the tone of this review somewhat mirrors the tone of the book.)
I also found that the tone had the tendency to downplay the seriousness of some events, or engage them with a sense of melodrama instead of the gravitas they deserve. Again, this is a decision that Zook makes to bring levity to difficult situations and to lure readers into reflecting on their own pain (and to think about their own healing). It’s an artistic choice, making this book more powerful for some readers but a turn-off for others.
Overall, Peanut Butter and Dragon Wings does the job it sets out to do. It’s an intensely personal, artistic memoir of momhood that lays aside the Instagram filters to get real about parenting and mental health and foster care/adoption and faith and any number of things that we often hush up and keep quiet. It’s a beautiful testament to a faith that perseveres amid doubt and a holiness that is upheld amid failure. It’s a story of love and loss, of weeping and laughter, of despair and joy. In other words, it’s the story of life.