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When We Were on Fire (A Review)

“We were homesick for something we could not name, but we were slipping. The structure of the evangelical church service was not big enough to accommodate the deep questions of our hearts.”

It’s been a week now since I read When We Were on Fire, and I still haven’t come up with a good way to write about it.

The truth is, it feels like a bruise on my soul, a soft spot that’s still aching and tender to the touch. I didn’t expect that.

I expected to really, really like this book. I’ve only been reading Addie Zierman’s writing for a few months, but she’s quickly become one of my favorite writers. I expected nostalgia, and good storytelling, and redemption. And When We Were on Fire has all that, so much.

What I didn’t expect was that I would feel it throbbing under my skin, still all purple and black and blue, a week later.

I’ve stayed away from other reviews of this book until I’ve been able to write my own, but I keep hearing my friends whispering about how much they saw themselves in this book. And I did too. I don’t know how one person could write a story that was so very much hers but also all of ours, but Addie did. So of course I was smiling and nodding and reminiscing as she talked about WWJD bracelets and teen missions trips and True Love Waits and everything else that made up the 90’s evangelical subculture.

But any one of us could write a nostalgic story about growing up evangelical. When We Were on Fire is so much more than that. Addie invites us into her story with piercing insight and raw intimacy that make it hard to put down, even after we’ve read the last page.

It really is the piercing insight, I think, that I appreciate so much about how Addie unfolds her story. It’d be easy to make this a jaded rant against churchy culture, to paint the church people and the spiritual bros as the villains. But she doesn’t, not at all. She writes with a sort of seasoned compassion, where she sees all the hurt and the confusion through the lens of grace and time . She writes with gentleness for them as much as for herself.

And it is the raw intimacy that haunts me after I’ve finished the story. Addie takes us to some very dark places, and as we sit with her there in the aching loneliness we feel a little less alone ourselves. This is where the book gets good — in the second half, after the tales of youth groups and college romances, when we walk with Addie through the seasons of disillusionment and despair that are so familiar to those of us who grew up on fire.

It took me a month to get through the first chapter (because I’m lazy), but once I started Chapter 2, I couldn’t stop. As I finished up the book late that night I felt like I had just experienced something very sacred. I really had. An entire life wrapped up in these pages. Not just Addie’s, but mine too. All of ours, really.

[ Buy When We Were On Fire ]

I’m giving away a copy of When We Were on Fire this week. So here’s the deal: share this review on Facebook or Twitter or the social network of your choice. Then leave a comment here on this post. On Saturday (October 19), I’ll randomly select one commenter to receive the book, and will notify them via e-mail. Good luck!  Congratulations to Rita Christine! You were randomly selected to receive a copy of When We Were on Fire.

This week I’ll also be sharing a bit of my own story for Addie’s synchroblog, as well as an interview with Addie about the book. Make sure you check back to see those too. 

published October 14, 2013

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