J. E. Solinski. In the Father’s Hands. AMOC Publications, 2017. Print.
In the Father’s Hands is a sequel to A Matter of Control. It is a standalone story, however. It is not necessary to have read the first book to understand this one. Still, if readers related to any of the characters in the first one, they would learn about some of them fifteen years later.
Last time we read about a high school in a tough Detroit neighborhood. This is set in the same high school only fifteen years later. The biggest change in those years seems to be that many of the people have cell phones. Also some students can earn money after school tutoring other students.
Two returning characters are Martha Richards and Travis Johnson. English teacher Mrs. Richards is planning on retiring at the end of the school year. Mr. Johnson is now the principal of Montgomery High School, his alma mater. The first day of school he takes four freshmen wearing the same jacket into his office to warn them about gang activity. He wants to nip any such threat in the bud. One boy who appears to be their leader has knife in his sock which Mr. Johnson confiscates.
What the principal does not know is that this boy, Gabriel, is homeless. His drug addict mother has disappeared, and Gabriel took his eight year old sister into an abandoned apartment building where they are living with little to keep them warm or fed. Contemporary Detroit, alas, has many such abandoned buildings.
No one knows about Gabriel’s problems except for one bitter Montgomery junior named Claire, and she does not know Gabriel personally at all. Claire has her own problems. She was attending an exclusive school for the arts in Los Angeles. Her father left her mother who had to move back to her mother in Detroit. She went from sophisticated film classes with Hollywood connections to a ghetto high school that the school board is considering closing.
Mrs. Richards soon gets a sense of what Claire’s English class is like and encourages Claire to keep up her filming. Soon Claire decides to make a documentary about her new high school and happens to come across Gabriel picking food out of trash cans in an alley.
Destiny is one of a small group of Christians on campus. She and three friends make it point to befriend students who seem to be on the outs such as those sitting by themselves at lunch. Destiny becomes friends with Claire after some tentativeness on Claire’s part. Soon their roles would be nearly reversed.
Destiny is a state-champion cross-country runner. She is even closing in on a high school record for the state. Also a junior, colleges are beginning to notice her. Then, as she is finishing a race, she ruptures an Achilles tendon. That might very well be the end of her track career and hopes for an athletic scholarship. Having seen her possible future vanish, Claire can identify with Destiny’s moroseness, but can she help?
As judging from the title, a big question throughout this book is the simple “Where is God?” Broken homes, broken families, broken dreams—doesn’t He care? A hard question, a tough city, but God does not mind either hard questions or tough cities. Still, Solinski effectively gets across the idea that there are not necessarily easy answers, either. Still, Solinski reminds us that God’s people are his hands and feet on earth these days.
Anyone reading this would at the very least care about Gabriel. He is misunderstood. He really needed that knife for survival, not for gang fights. He is doing his best to stay away from gangs and keep his sister safe. But what can he do? School gives him some hope, earns a little money as a tutor there, but when some adults from the school discover his abode, he retreats. For the sake of keeping him and his sister together does not return to school. What can he do?
This reviewer could not help but make one small observation. The principal has a picture with a Bible verse on his desk at school. Perhaps the Detroit School District is more tolerant than those in my state. Even smaller indications of religion have gotten teachers fired here. Let us hope that is a sign that our educational system will become more inclusive and less intolerant. Make that one a prayer.