Publication Date(s): 2010-2012
Author: Karen Kingsbury
Number of Books: Four
Book Titles: Leaving; Learning; Longing; Loving
Genre: Christian Fiction, Young Adult
The Stories: Over the course of four novels, beloved character Bailey Flanigan's story is told. An aspiring dancer who has always dreamt of being under the bright lights of Broadway, Bailey thinks her dreams are about to come true when she is cast in a musical, and the only thing stopping her is the thought of leaving those who mean the most to her…
Through trials and hard work, Bailey proves to everyone in the city that she has what it takes to shine on the stage but is learning how to be a light for her faith more important than being a star in the eyes of her director and fellow cast-mates? and what of her ex-flame Cody Coleman, the young Iraq veteran who once broke her heart? Is she still longing to see him again – or finally opening her heart to a genuine relationship with her one-time co-star Brandon Paul?
Bailey’s journey takes her down more than one path but her heart keeps coming back to one thing: Embracing true love. In life, nothing else matters but loving those around you – and her pursuit of a personal relationship with her heavenly Father.
My thoughts: It took me forever (and a day!) to get through this series and I do not have a reasonable explanation as to why. As a result, I have decided to “review” the novels as a series instead of individually. I did mange post my thoughts on Leaving last year, so I won’t be exploring the first book like I will the latter three. I can(not) promise you that I won’t actually write what happens at the much-anticipated close but in reading between the lines, you will no doubt be able to glean spoilers from what I do print: Don’t say I didn’t warn you. *wink*
Up first, my generalization of the series separated into pros vs. cons.
- Through Bailey’s story, it was refreshing to read about a character that wasn’t ten years older than me. Bailey’s pursuit to always speak the truth no matter the cost was – and should be a wonderful thing to emulate. She felt burdened for the people she was rubbing shoulders with while on Broadway because all of them were lost without a reason to truly “live.” Although I do not pretend to “know” the world of Broadway, I have no doubt that Karen spun a realistic picture in Learning of what it is like to be among the people who work there. As the reader we empathize with Bailey’s plight and her genuine desire to be a light amidst such darkness. (Among Bailey’s challenges is reaching dancers who are anorexic and homosexual.) Leading a bible study to examine what it means to be “different” and recognition of what that says in relation to being a sinner is just one of her strengths.
- In Learning the series really seemed to be “better.” I felt like Karen started to write something more fictionalized than so realistic (more on this later on).
- Book three (Longing) starts off quite differently because of Bailey’s realization that she is in love with Brandon: Can I just say – finally! It sees her eventual move to California and we are finally allowed (even in the last recesses of Learning) into Brandon’s thoughts which I loved. What I so appreciated about Longing was finally getting the sense that Bailey was “moving on” from her infatuation with Cody – finally realizing that any more sorrow over how they ended things was useless.
- Being “Team Brandon” from the get-go, I thoroughly enjoyed Kingsbury exploring him as a character and letting the reader get to know him so well – I loved that I was able to see his tenderness and love above question for Bailey.
- As a reader, I do like and in fact, relish realism in my novel-reading but not to the extent Karen takes it. She seems far too caught up in writing an autobiographical series of books that may be set as “fiction” but I can almost bet are largely what a day at the Kingsbury household might look like not to mention some of the personal hardships daughter Kelsey went through (admittedly, Karen has said this series was inspired by her and in her note in Loving says nearly exactly this). I deal with “life” everyday – when I read, right or wrong, I want a bit of fantasy to lose myself in.
- Ashley Baxter also plays a role in this series, and as much as I wanted to like her story, I really feel it harmed this series more than helped. There are thousands of Baxter Family fans, and I “get” wanting to know more about them, but when this author has already put such heartbreak in the lives of one family and this series is meant to be Bailey’s, I don’t think those characters appearing in a Kingsbury series (again!) furthered these four books - at all.
- Cody’s need to be “needed” was annoying. His reliance on someone else’s dependence was not something I wanted the hero to crave – it made me question him in ways I did not want to. Cody almost seemed to “need” Bailey or he might not be able to function normally and that was… disturbing.
If I had to “bottom-line” this series; I loved a lot about not just the story but Bailey’s journey. She was such a sweet, memorable character and her faith in God was central to the story, and I think through her story, my own thoughts have been inspired for the better. Unfortunately, I do think in reading this series that the writing was too mediocre. Too much time and thoughts (of characters) were stuck in the pain of the past – it is as if, Kingsbury was “afraid” of letting her readers glimpse joy through these characters. (Plus, although minor the repetitive use of last names grew a bit... old.) Most of the time I am not a fan of stories that feature a “choice” decision by the end in which the girl must chose one guy over the other – unless one is a total jerk and the choice is obvious, of course. Here Bailey’s decision lies between a guy (Cody) she knew in high school whom her parents mentored and took in after his own life was in shambles. Before they are able to really explore a romantic relationship though, Cody breaks things off with her, and leaves their small town. Then there is the movie star Brandon who Bailey led to a personal relationship with Christ.
I am not going to hide the fact that I was “team Brandon” from the start. It was not that I didn’t like Cody… I just… liked Brandon better. And it wasn’t because of the movie-worthy romantic gestures that swept Bailey off her feet – I respected him more than Cody. His faith seemed more firmly grounded even though he was a new Christian in comparison; I liked that he wasn’t broken by the smallest thought that someone didn’t “need” him where Cody was. As a result, even though I was convinced I “knew” (signs were always there) how the series would end, instead Karen caught me off guard and surprised me (admittedly, I did cheat and read a review – thank goodness for advance copies!). I must commend Karen for beautiful story-telling in the last third of the novel – or the “wedding part.” It was fabulous to see the writing take it past just the romance of the story, even if it was just barely past the “I do’s” The ending is not just a happy one but a fairy-tale ending that probably left me with a goofy grin.
In this case, Karen saved the best for last – Loving (which I nearly read in one Saturday afternoon) is the jewel, the pinnacle of the entire series.
Here are the two book trailers I liked best - which were also the two books that were best in my opinion.