The Former Things by Allen Steadham is a must read for fans of both contemporary fiction and adult, clean romance. I listened to the audio version of this book. The beginning of the story takes a little bit to pick-up. But after the first twenty minutes or so, I found myself invested completely in Sean’s story.
What is The Former Things About?
The narrative begins as Sean Winter, a recent college graduate, starts the first day of his new job in Oklahoma. The day is far from typical as the area is ravaged by a tornado. During a power outage caused by the storm, Sean’s new co-worker, Keith, prays during the tornado’s rampage. This act enrages Sean for reasons revealed later in the story.
Sean’s anger toward Keith’s prayer stems from a traumatic past; a past he keeps close to his chest. Not only is Sean an atheist, but he feels animosity and loathing toward people who identify as Christian. Hurt he faced at the hands of those who loudly identified as Christians helped shape his current feelings. In the aftermath of the tornado, Sean crosses paths with Jenny Lou…The girl who broke his heart.
While Sean is trying to figure out if he and Jenny Lou have a second chance to be together, he meets someone new. Sean has to figure out how he feels and what he wants. Which is trying where he is also navigating the scars of his unhealed trauma, the aftermath of past choices as well as new choices. In addition, mental health struggles with depression and adjustment disorders make parts of Sean’s life even more challenging. And while trying to figure everything out, an unlikely friendship develops between Sean and Keith. Will his new friendship help him balance all he is trying to juggle?
Ultimately, Sean must let go of the former things that threaten to consume him. He must let go in order to build the life and future he wants.
Who Will Enjoy This Book?
It is a refreshing clean romance in that it is realistic, relatable, and believable rather than being weighed down with “fluff” and exaggerations that often come with popular romance tropes. The book depicts real and flawed humans with their own scars trying to navigate life while providing authentic hope for romantic love that is true versus a fabricated fairy-tale created that can give readers skewed views on both romantic relationships and people. It is clean in that there is no graphic scenes, though sexual relations are alluded to, and it is free from inappropriate language. Because of the content, this book is recommended for adult readers only.
My Thoughts on The Former Things
One thing about this book that I particularly enjoyed is that there are traces of popular tropes, like second-chance romance and a love triangle. But, unlike a lot of contemporary romance novels, these concepts weren’t overplayed or overexaggerated to create something that isn’t seen in real life. Everything that happened in Sean’s story is something that is believable and realistic. Running into someone from your past in the same town you went to college together in? It can happen. Having to decide how you feel about someone romantically and making a decision on how to proceed? It happens. Facing repercussions in the present because of past hurt that has impacted present personal agendas? It, too, happens. Like I previously stated, The Former Things, is a refreshing addition to romance books in that it shows a love story that can happen in real life.
The Relatability of The Former Things
The layers of this book are poignant and profound, but the story is relatable. Though not everyone can relate with all of Sean’s experiences or beliefs, most people can relate to the everyday struggles he endures. The relatability is found in Sean’s trying to form friendships and connections as an adult, trying to date/build healthy relationships, trying to find one’s self and figure out what you want your life to look like, etc.
Through this relatable narrative, Steadham weaves together many lessons for readers to take away. These lessons, though rooted in biblical truth, do not come across as self-righteous or ‘preachy.’ Because of this, The Former Things is a great novel for diverse readers. Readers in various parts of their religious walk, and readers who might have strayed from Christianity or even have never identified as a Christian, can gain valuable reflection from Steadham’s work. I highly encourage readers to buddy-read or read with a group or book club in order to better converse about the various questions raised and concepts touched on within this novel.
What Does it Mean to Have Faith?
Within the scope of religion, The Former Things really prompts the reader to think about faith. What exactly does it mean to be a Christian? Is it enough to call yourself a Christian, say grace before meals, and attend church? How do your actions and words impact both your own faith as well as pull or push those around you toward or away from God? Where does mental health fit into the conversation about faith?
This past year, I have had several conversations with others about faith. These discussions have included what it is and what it looks like in daily life. Something that has really stuck with me, and has been reaffirmed through this book, is that faith is NOT a bartering system. Having faith is not labeling yourself as a believer in expectation of happiness. We don’t have faith so that hopes and desires are then handed out. Rather, faith is understanding that there will be good and bad days, things will happen you won’t understand, and you won’t get everything you want in your heart, and, yet, you believe anyway.
Other Themes in The Former Things
In addition, under the umbrella of faith, concepts of relationships and witnessing to others are addressed. For example, while reading, Christians can reflect on how we should witness to non-believers as well as navigate relationships with people we care about who do not believe. Further, a huge yet subtle layer in this novel is that we need to differentiate what is truly God’s plan and what we hope is God’s plan. And, once this is done, how do we cope with the often inevitable realization that we were wrong about God’s plan as our own life plan falls apart?
Outside of themes directly related to faith, The Former Things touches on concepts of forgiveness, grace (offered both to others and to yourself), second chances, and redemption. Again, there are so many talking points and areas on which to reflect. This book is a great book club pick or buddy-read!
Not everyone’s story in this book is tied up nicely, but that’s just something that makes this book so great. Not everything in real life has perfect closure. Steadham is working on a companion novel. Personally, I really hope Steadham also writes a companion book that follows Jenny Lou one day.
In closing, I highly recommend this book to adult readers. The Former Things is a clean, Christian romance that I believe a diverse audience will enjoy. It will be most enjoyed, in my opinion, as a buddy-read. Meaning, read and discussed with other readers. This is a book that will elicit believers to engage in reflection and tough conversations. Simultaneously, it will help them deepen their walk with Christ. It is also a book that will prompt non-believers to explore big life questions and concepts of faith. Further, it will, prayerfully, lead them to explore more about the Bible and what Christianity truly is.
It’s definitely 5 stars for me because it prompts thoughtful reflection and its just an enjoyable story. I truly do hope to see Jenny Lou’s own book in the near future. I look forward to reading more books by Allen Steadham!
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