Grace in Strange Disguise, by Christine Dillon (2017)
Esther Macdonald is diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at age 28 – shortly before her wedding. Her fiancé doesn’t know how to handle it, and he’s too busy with his own reactions to take an interest in supporting her.
Her father’s even worse. He’s the polished pastor of the second-largest church in Sydney, Australia, and this is not in his script. When prayer doesn’t heal Esther, he blames her for harbouring sin or doubt.
Her mother is a more supportive, but having lived in the shadow of Esther’s father for so long, she doesn’t dare offer much in the way of original thought.
Help comes from an outspoken cleaning lady at the hospital, who overhears Esther’s frustration with God for not healing her. This lady, Joy, dares to suggest that asking in faith isn’t the only ingredient in a miracle.
Determined to prove her wrong, Esther searches in her Bible for the examples Joy gave. Reading more than her father’s sound-bites of Scripture opens her eyes to the context of his “victory” verses.
Joy becomes Esther’s mentor and friend, and shares Bible events with her through storytelling and simple, thought-provoking questions.
At this point you may be thinking “too preachy for me” and that the novel would read like a sermon. Not so – yes, faith and Scriptural themes are part of the plot, but it’s all driven by Esther’s situation and her need for answers.
Nothing is forced or dry. Instead, it’s one of those stories that kept me thinking about the characters when I wasn’t reading.
Esther is easy to care about, even in the beginning when she’s not operating from a place of truth. Readers see for themselves the flaws and blind spots in the characters and in the excuses Esther habitually makes for them until she begins to change.
Esther’s health crisis and the resulting fallout in her family make her a character we can care about, and seeing her learn to stand up for herself and apply truth to her life is encouraging. What’s heart-warming is to see her begin to share what she’s found with others. Non-Christians won’t get that part, but Christians will be inspired to look for more opportunities to share with the people around them.
The medical details have been carefully researched, and they’re sparingly revealed as Esther needs to know them. No information dumps here. The story is set in 1995, so some things will have changed in the real world. The only thing I was surprised not to see included was discussion of a prosthesis or reconstructive surgery after Esther’s mastectomy. Even if that’s not something that her body would have yet been ready for, she’d likely have asked. Side note: in Australia, radiation treatment is called radiotherapy. I like that much better – sounds less frightening.
Although the novel’s focus is relationships, another bonus is its setting. While most scenes take place inside, there are a few ventures into Australia’s gorgeous outdoors. I don’t expect to ever get there, so the virtual visit was a treat.
She might feel full of cracks but somehow her learned patters of behaviour were holding her together. Like a broken egg bound with string. [Kindle location 705]
The habit would have to be fought. It wouldn’t just roll over and die. [Kindle location 2187]
Christine Dillon has previously published the non-fiction books 1-2-1 Discipleship and Telling the Gospel Through Story, but Grace in Strange Disguise is her first novel. It doesn’t read like a first novel, and I hope we won’t have too long a wait for the next book in the series, Grace in the Shadows.
For more about the author, her books, and her Bible storytelling ministry, visit storytellerchristine.com. You’ll also find discussion questions for her novel.
[Review copy provided by the author.]