PUBLICATION DATE:  March 13, 2012

Stand By Me is the first entry in the new SouledOut Sisters series by well-known Christian author Neta Jackson.  The new series features some familiar faces from the Yada Yada books and introduces new characters as well.

The story focuses on Avis Douglass, the polished elementary school principal who always seems to have everything under control.  This book finds Avis grappling with a number of problems.  She has not seen her daughter, Rochelle, and grandson, Conny, for months, and what’s worse, she begins to suspect her daughter of stealing from her.  Meanwhile, Avis and her husband are not seeing eye-to-eye about what’s next in their lives. They have trouble deciding whether to go on an international mission trip, and they disagree about how much to help Rochelle.   The stress on Avis multiplies when her job and her husband’s company are at-risk in a struggling economy.

The last thing Avis needs is a group of college students moving into her building for the summer. In particular, Kat Davies, an idealistic graduate student, rubs Avis the wrong way.  Kat is impulsive and often speaks without thinking.  Avis doesn’t want to be bothered with her, but their paths continue to cross at church and at home.

Meanwhile, Kat plows ahead with her goals and tries to teach people about nutrition and environmental issues while struggling with her parents’ lack of contact.  Ever since Kat gave up being pre-med to pursue a career in education, she and her parents barely communicate.  The distance between them is intensified by Kat’s Christian faith, which is another thing her parents don’t understand about her.

For the most part, the characters in Stand By Me seem authentic.  Kat’s roommates, Brygitta, Olivia, and Nick, are not as fully-fleshed as Kat, but details about them aren’t necessary to drive the plot.  In some parts of the book, the dialogue seems unrealistic and some of the characters’ job situations are resolved too easily.  My only other complaint is that the love story involving Kat and Nick almost seems like an after-thought.

I enjoyed the discussions about prayer and seeking God’s guidance.  How can Christians ascertain what God wants them to do?  How do we know when events are mere coincidences or messages from God? The book explores these questions in a thoughtful and entertaining way.

I also liked reading about Kat’s growth as a Christian. She realizes that Avis and others at the church seem to truly know God, and she too wants to have a personal relationship with him.

Jackson expertly portrays how some people isolate themselves when experiencing stress.  Avis’ desire to be left alone is understandable, but it’s nice to see how she learns to lean on others, especially during difficult times.  The book also explores how people can be judgmental without even realizing it.  The author teaches these lessons in a gentle and non-condescending way and in the context of a fun and entertaining story.

Some characters from previous books by Jackson re-appear in Stand By Me, but previous familiarity with her work is certainly not necessary to enjoy this book.