From Homeless to Heaven
by Jeanne Ann Off
LitFire Publishing

"'By the way, if you stood before God and He asked you, “Why should I let you into my heaven,” what would you answer?'"

When Cody Cambres learns that his order at the labor office for additional help on the ranch is fulfilled by Alan Purdy, a formerly homeless man in search of opportunity, his first act is to take Alan to the store for warm clothing. As the book progresses, the respect Cody and Alan have for each other shines through, and their friendship seems to be a match made in heaven. Alan, due to his personal experiences, refuses to attend church, while Cody and his family attend church regularly. After probing, Cody discovers that Alan’s disdain for the church is mired in Alan’s own traumatic experience as a foster child bouncing around from home after home and being bullied for being a foster child at one of the churches he was forced to attend.

While the author clearly builds a narrative revolving around a heartwarming tale of redemption and persistence—a classic scenario in Christian fiction—she also does a commendable job of weaving in many contemporary issues at the forefront of the debate between secularism versus religion. In this extremely easy-to-read and well-flowing effort, the writing style lends itself well to the numerous faith-based questions that the characters pose throughout the novel. In particular, it is Alan’s initial lack of faith that comes to light when he becomes the first in a string of random shootings in and around the Cambres’ farm. Alan is forced to reevaluate existential and spiritual concepts such as life after death and origin stories. On a universal level, this novel will have readers paying closer attention to words such as mortality and eternity.

Interestingly, the author tackles notable themes, but one of the more prevalent is the treatment of the homeless and opportunities available to them to start their lives anew. For instance, even the homeless should have something as basic as health insurance, so they don’t have to endure the same financial duress as Alan. More importantly, through Alan’s journey, she demonstrates the humanity of the transient population. Indirectly, her work seemingly suggests that one should not view the homeless man or woman based on their tattered clothing or meager belongings but by the fire and resolve they have to get back on their feet.

A sense of serenity permeates the author’s work as she provides a lens through which audiences can experience life on a ranch and be privy to organic experiences depicting the life cycle of farm animals, such as the birth, illness, and the death of calves. In a time when society is overrun by technology, there is a nostalgic feeling at the mention of the Cambres’ family hobby of reading and not utilizing a television. Even from an educational perspective, there seems to be more attention given to the group of students who are homeschooled by Sadie, Cambres’ wife, than students in public education. Unsurprisingly, there is a strong focus on how students are being educated and the potential for students, particularly those afflicted with adversity early in their lives, to slip through the cracks.

Similarly, the character arc that another prominent individual in the narrative, Aimi, faces as she grieves over the senseless murder of her husband and the burning of her home is that of trials and tribulations but, ultimately, of persistence, resolve, and faith. All the characters undergo their own challenges, but their faith in the Lord is the key to them seeing through their obstacles. Overall, this work of Christian fiction is an engaging and meaningful experience that is a testament to one’s faith paving the way to the promised land, both on earth and life after death.

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