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If I Gained the World    by Linda Nichols order for
If I Gained the World
by Linda Nichols
Order:  USA  Can
Bethany, 2003 (2003)

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* * *   Reviewed by Melissa Parcel

When Lenore Vine started a relationship with Daniel Monroe, she never imagined it would lead to heartbreak. She is plain; he is handsome. She works in a fast food restaurant; he aspires to be a movie star. Their one common ground, other than their love for each other, is their son Scott. Though they both adore the four-year-old, it is not enough for Lenore any more. She asks Daniel to marry her, and waits an agonizing week for his negative answer. Knowing she can't stay with Daniel after that, she packs her meager belongings and leaves California with Scott. Although Daniel loves them, his longing for an acting career wins out over asking them to stay.

Lenore ends up in Seattle, exhausted physically and broken emotionally, depressed and barely able to care for Scott and herself. Through the loving care of her landlord, Mr. Caputo and some of his friends from a local church, Lenore is able to find a job and get back on her feet. She discovers that the longing for love and acceptance in her life can be found through Christ, whom she decides to follow wholeheartedly. She ends up moving into a house with a group of other single church members, who create their own supportive family. Daniel quickly rises to stardom in the movies and on television. He goes through a succession of women and material belongings, but nothing can fill the emptiness he feels inside. His visits with Scott are rare, and one ends in Daniel's arrest for drunk driving. Will Daniel ever find what he is searching for? Will he reconcile with Scott and Lenore?

If I Gained the World is a spectacularly written novel. Each word is carefully chosen and evocative. Lenore's character suffers tremendous heartbreak and depression, and then the reader experiences her joy and growth right along with her. None of the scenes involving Lenore come across as fake or superficially 'Christian.' She goes through the same ups and downs of life as any other person, struggling with forgiveness and dry periods just like the rest of us. Daniel's character will hit home with readers as well - his desires for success and notoriety and the sacrifices he has to make to achieve them.

The spiritual message is constant, centering on the theme of Matthew 16:26, 'For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?' That underlying theme resonates through the book, allowing the reader to ponder his or her own life in reflection. The book covers a fifteen year period in which all of the characters go through changes and revelations. It is written in the third person, alternating between Lenore's and Daniel's points of view. This helps us to see what is happening in each situation and gives perspective on both lives.

I rate If I Gained the World as one of my top reads of 2003. Linda Nichols is a gifted author with a talent for stunning characterization and contemplative plots. Put this one on your must read list this season.

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