Unplanned is one of three books by Alana Terry that are loosely tied together by references to an American couple, Roger and Juliette Stern, living in China near the North Korean border. There, they take in refugees from North Korea who express a desire to return to their home country with the gospel of Christ. The Sterns train them for a year in their secret seminary. The book Slave Again has more of their story and acts as a pre-quel for the book Torn Asunder, which focuses on three of the Stern’s students once they return to North Korea: Simon, Levi, and Hannah.
The main character in Unplanned is Kennedy Stern, Roger and Juliette’s daughter. She lives in Massachusetts, acclimating to American culture after ten years living in China. She attends Harvard University as a pre-med first year student. Rather than a sequel, this book is to begin a new series while occurring in the same time frame as Torn Asunder. From time to time, Kennedy reflects back to some of her parents’ students and wonders how they are faring in their missionary calling. At the opening of this book, she has just met with her childhood pastor, the first familiar face she has seen since her return to the States. Pastor Carl is married to Sandy, Kennedy’s childhood Sunday School teacher. The Lindgrens were also family friends of the Sterns, so from this point on the couple practically adopts Kennedy and looks after her.
Pastor Carl and Sandy, along with their church, St. Margaret’s, had just opened a crisis pregnancy center and were searching for volunteers. Before she could think twice, Kennedy was given the hotline phone to answer over the weekend. Thinking this was the least time-consuming, low-impact help she could offer, she accepted. But her first…and second…and third calls were anything but ordinary. By the end of the weekend, she was embroiled in a sinister mystery that grew bleaker by the hour. A short, cursory investigation online placed her on someone’s radar. She and her unknown caller were both abducted and found themselves fighting for their lives.
Based on the three books I have recently read by this author, I enjoy the way she writes suspense thrillers. The issue she uses in her works are relevant, up-to-date and pertinent, especially for Christian readers. She is willing to push the envelope a bit and challenge her readers to really ponder things we are complacent about. In this particular case, she uses abortion, not as the issue, but as an issue that pushes the action and tension forward and challenges the readers to examine their own perceptions and beliefs.
The second aspect of the book I like is how well the author intertwines the suspense with character introspection. Kennedy is one person whom many of us may readily relate with. She all too easily gets caught in the pressing details of her life: lost in test preparation, lab assignments and reports, and assigned readings, barely communicating with her roommate, her parents and her friends. Finally faced with crushing seclusion, fear, and the threat of death, she realized how shallow she had become. What bothered her most during her darkest hours were thoughts of the Secret Seminary Students. Why couldn’t she be more like them in contrast to the plastic world in which she currently existed?
Reading this story reminded me of reading one of Jesus’ parables. Let’s call this one the parable of the rock and the rowboat. The rock is what was solid and stable in Kennedy’s world. She has lived on the rock all her life until now. Suddenly, in spite of her knowledge of the perils of the sea, she finds herself out in a rowboat, seeking adventure and excitement. She is aware that the rock is still there while she allows the gentle waves to ease her further away. Reading this story, we find her in choppy waters she is barely aware of until they become turbulent. The adventure is exciting to read, although there is not yet a conclusion. There seem to be more adventures ahead for our boater. Will she head back toward the rock? Will she continue to drift outward or choose an entirely different option? To be continued. I recommend all the works by this author, including this most recent fiction, to read.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”