Francine Rivers’s lastest book, Bridge to Haven, tells the story of Abra Matthews. Found abandoned beneath the bridge to the small town of Haven as a newborn, Abra spends the first five years of her life with the town pastor’s family. But after the pastor’s wife dies, Abra is shuffled to a new home in which she grows up, discontented and unhappy.
When a handsome young man comes to town and lavishes Abra with attention, she runs away with him, which turns out to be a terrible mistake. During her years in Hollywood, more than one man manipulates her for his own ends, and Abra eventually realizes that she will not find fulfillment at the end of journey to stardom. She makes bad decisions along the way until she at last returns to Haven, broken and weary. Abra must finally face those she left behind and choose to accept God’s love for her.
I have always loved Francine Rivers’s books. From A Voice in the Wind to The Scarlet Thread, her books draw me in, and I become emotionally invested in the characters. She tackles hard themes and situations that people face in the real world, and as her characters overcome by the grace of God, so she offers hope to her readers.
That said, Bridge to Haven was thoroughly disappointing. The characters did not ring true for me, the plot felt contrived and ripped off from several of her other books, and the writing itself is sloppier and far less than what Rivers is capable of.
Abra and the man who loves her, Joshua, are both fairly stock characters. Neither of them has a truly distinct personality or unique response to situations. Joshua and his father, the pastor, are the perfect Christian men with no human flaws or frailties. They wait patiently for Abra to return and promptly forgive her without struggling at all. Even when Joshua learns some of the darker moments of Abra’s years away, he responds with only love and reassurance, never any anger or distress. Honestly, he’s the type of man some Christian girls and women fantasize about, that does not exist because no one is perfect. I was not pleased to find that type of character in one of Rivers’s books.
I felt that several of the characters’ motivations were bizarre or lacking. The pastor allows his wife to take in the abandoned baby even though another family wanted her, despite knowing that taking on the burden of a baby would devastate her health. Lo and behold, his wife dies from the health problems, and the pastor promptly passes on the little girl to the family who wanted her in the first place. That whole chain of events is stilted and contrived. Abra struggles with the emotional damage through the rest of the book, yet the pastor is never indicted for his actions by any of the other characters. Even when Abra reconciles with him, the burden of apologizing and asking forgiveness is all on her. The pastor’s actions are never painted as anything other than positive.
At the end of the book, Abra’s struggles are far too easily resolved. Although she spends years in Hollywood, making one bad decision after another, culminating in a truly terrible moment where I finally felt sympathetic, once she returns to Haven, there are no consequences, emotionally, physically, or relationally.
I did enjoy the piano teacher forcing Abra to memorize hymns that came back to her at her darkest moments. Characterwise, I also like Penny Matthews, Abra’s sister, who is one of the most unique characters in the book, and a few of the people Abra meets in Hollywood.
Ultimately, Bridge to Haven covers no new thematic territory for Rivers. I was strongly reminded of her best seller Redeeming Love throughout the entire book, and occasionally of The Atonement Child. This book is by far not her best work.