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As the circle of LDS authors widens, so does their subject matter, along with a broadened variety of approaches to familiar topics. Whisperings isn’t the first LDS novel based on healing from childhood abuse, but I believe it is one of the first to be written as a psychological drama instead of as an action/suspense/mystery tale.
Psychological drama or suspense generally means much more is happening in the characters’ heads than in their actions, and this is true in Whisperings. This type of story requires strong character development as character is more important than plot. Bailey gives the reader an inside look at the thoughts and feelings of her characters, making them real, but she doesn’t go as far as some authors of this genre do. There is no sense of being overwhelmed by the characters’ thoughts as is sometimes the case in this type of novel.
Jessie Winston is a therapist with a positive track record in helping her patients, especially children, deal with emotional trauma, but when she begins having panic attacks, blacking out, and awakens night after night, screaming from horrible nightmares, she knows she must find a way to deal with her own tragic childhood. Knowing she needs help and allowing someone else to help her are two different things. She can’t bring herself to take the necessary steps until her boss and former romantic interest forces her into a situation where she must either allow him or a retired therapist, Dr. Ryan Blake, to work with her. She chooses Dr. Blake, but resists allowing any meaningful therapy sessions. Meanwhile the reader discovers the former boss has an ulterior motive for forcing Jessie into therapy.
Ryan has his own emotional baggage, filled with guilt and regret. Long recognized as a top therapist who retired at the peak of his career, Ryan’s willingness to work with Jessie puzzles her and raises questions which she struggles to find answers to. He has an inflated sense of his own abilities and finds himself greatly challenged by a patient who is a therapist herself, who studied the same text books he did, and who knows the questions and blocks them before he can ask them. In the process of working with Jessie to unravel both the nightmares which haunt her now and the mystery of her past, he learns he hasn’t dealt with his wife’s and son’s deaths or the loss of his parents at an early age. It is difficult for him to recognize that he has transferred much of his self-anger and guilt to the Mormon church because his wife before her death had become involved with the Church and was living according to a different standard than he was.
Slowly these two major characters’ pasts are revealed as their awkward therapy sessions proceed and they interact with the grandfather and great aunt who raised Ryan. Trust doesn’t come easy and they resist the attraction they feel for each other since neither one is ready to risk caring deeply for another person. Ryan’s past follows a fairly predictable outline, but Jessie’s past is not at all what the reader expects. Not until almost the end of the book is the truth revealed, though the clues are there, they don’t point the direction they first appear to.
Sister Bailey’s first novel is an unusual book in that her characters’ thoughts, feelings, and past are more important than their current actions. At times neither of her major characters are even likable, still she manages to keep the story flowing and the reader interested enough to continue to care what happens to them. Though there is romantic interest between Jessie and Ryan, Whisperings is not a romance and there is no romantic resolution to the story, though the door is left open for this to develop eventually.
This book isn’t filled with a lot of psycho-babble, nor does it offer a quick-fix for deep-seated emotional problems. If anything, it suggests childhood trauma isn’t forgotten or outgrown easily, but can be healed through the double means of good, honest therapy and deep, loving faith. It also shows there is no magical moment of being healed, but that good emotional health requires time and patience.
I found the greatest flaw in the story Jessie’s mother’s reasoning. I won’t go into greater detail because it might affect another reader’s enjoyment of the book, but suffice it to say, a mother of a five-year-old should know her child better than this mother did and probably would not leave so much to chance.
Whisperings is an interesting book, written in an interesting style, and quite definitely a contrast to the majority of LDS novels. It doesn’t end with everything tied up nice and neat, but the ending does fit the story.