Young, W.P. (2007). The Shack. Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media.
Hardcover $25.00, Paperback $15.00, Kindle $8.00, 272 pages
Author’s Website and Interviews:
Annotation: The note was from “Papa” but was this some cruel joke, a killer’s taunt, or really God himself?
Summary (Warning Spoilers): After receiving a strange note in his mailbox from “Papa,” the nickname his wife calls God, Mackenzie (Mack) Philips decides he must take a weekend long trip to the shack in hopes of gaining some answers as to what really happened to his daughter Missy four years earlier. The story begins with a retelling of the events that led up to Missy’s disappearance. Mack decides to take his three youngest children (Missy, Kate, and Josh) on a weekend camping trip to Wallowa Lake near Joseph Oregon for Labor Day weekend. On the day before they are due to head home, Josh and Kate nearly drown in a canoe accident. Mack unintentionally leaves Missy at the campsite while he rushes to the lake a few feet away to rescue his son who is tangled in the canoes ropes. When he returns to the campsite with Kate and Josh, Missy is nowhere to be found. With the help of newly befriended campers Mack searchers the campground but there is no sign of Missy. The police are called and it is determined that Missy has been abducted by a well-known serial called the “Little Ladykiller.” The only trace of the killer’s presence in the Philip’s campsite is a lady bug pin stuck between the pages of Missy’s coloring book, the last activity Mack saw his daughter doing before he ran off to rescue his other children. In their search for Missy, the police come across an abandoned and dilapidated shack that holds evidence to Missy’s abduction, her little red dress ripped and bloodied on the fireplace. This one event plunges Mack into a time he refers to as “The Great Sadness.” Back in present day, Mack discovers the note in his mailbox asking him to meet “Papa” at the shack and believes against all sanity that the note may actually be from God who he has not had a relationship with since his daughter’s disappearance. He does not tell his wife Nan about the note and sets out for the shack alone, armed with only a pistol given to him by his friend Willie in case the note turns out to have been written with a more sinister intent. As Mack approaches the shack, it looks the same as the day he identified his daughters clothing. Suddenly the shack is transformed and before him stands a welcoming cabin surround by beautiful gardens. Upon entering, Mack meets three individuals who refer to themselves as the Holy Trinity. An African American woman who calls herself both Elouisa and Papa is a manifestation of God, a Middle-Eastern carpenter is actually Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit is embodied by an ethereal Asian woman named Sarayu. The three engage in conversation and a series of events that transforms Mack’s faith and helps him to heal. With the help of God, he discovers his daughter’s remains in a marked grave, bringing closure to a four-year long period of sadness. As he leaves the shack renewed and restored by God’s love, he is involved in a drunk driving accident and is rushed to the hospital. Upon waking he learns that the crashed happened on a Friday, the day he left for the shack, leaving him and those around him questing whether his time at the shack was a mere hallucination or an actual conversation with God.
Evaluation: I thoroughly enjoyed this book and instantly connected to the plight of Mack’s character in his journey for truth and restoration of faith. I liked that the author provided back story not only into Mack’s life, but the relationship he has with Mack and his reasoning for writing this story. The story progresses in a way that facilitates an intimate connection with the characters and the language used is extremely descriptive which helps you feel as if you are there experiencing the pain and the joy right along with them. I thought the portrayal of Missy’s disappearance was descriptive yet allusive enough to keep you hanging on and wanting to know more. Each page I turned elevated my level of excitement and desperation to know what was going to happen. I do not have a lot of experience reading Christian Fiction other than the Left Behind series so I was unsure how I would feel about a book so deeply rooted in religion. There was a moment midway through the book during a conversation between Papa and Mack that left me slightly confused and disconnected from the storyline as it heavily referenced scripture that I was unfamiliar with. However, the author did attempt to frame it in a way where people from any faith could find commonality in his words and by the end of that section, I was right back to the same level of connection and dedication that I had when I read the opening sentence. The book progressed at a steady pace and took me the reader on an emotional roller coaster. I was left with many questions but questions that encouraged me to read the book again in search of answers that I know may never be answered fully. I highly recommend this book not only to those who enjoy Christian Fiction but anyone who loves mystery, suspense, and who yearns to becoming emotionally invested in the character’s lives, reliving their journey as if it were their own.
Genre: Christian Fiction
Appeal Factors: This book is a page turner, suspenseful, compelling, and has a beautifully crafted narrative. It is thought-provoking and inspirational.
Read-alike Titles and Authors:
David and Goliath by Bryan Hathaway
Paper Angels by Billy Coffey
Jesus on a Park Bench by Shari Broyer
Hike to Heaven by Gary Martin
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
USA Today bestseller
2008-2010 New York Times Bestseller
2009 Diamond Award Recipient
- Ask questions that transport the audience into the life of Mack. The theme of the book is grief, loss, and loss of faith, so ask questions that play upon their emotional experience and connection.
- If you received the same note in your mailbox what would you do? Let the audience come up with various possibilities and outcomes.
- In order to hook the audience, read an excerpt from an emotionally charged and/or mysterious passage and cut off right before a big reveal. Hook and bait your audience with a cliffhanger in order to make them want to find out what happens next.
Book Discussion Questions:
1. If God had the power to save Missy, why doesn’t he? Do you think God’s response to Mack is sufficient?
2. Do you think the meeting between Mack and his father aids in his ability to forgive? After knowing the father’s abusive history towards Mack and his mother, are you surprised that he is one of God’s children?
3. Is Mack’s weekend at the shack a dream, hallucination, or coping mechanism for grief after we discover his accident happened on his way to the shack? Does this detract from the validity of his story/experience with God, Jesus, and Sarayu?
4. Is Missy’s death foreshadowed by her love of insects and wanting to bring them on the camping trip after a lady bug pin from the killer is discovered in her coloring book?
5. Do you struggle with your own faith and belief that God is good in light of knowing that God “allowed” Missy to die? Does the justification for not intervening suffice?
6. What if any is the significance of God leaving a note for Mack in his mailbox and why was it signed Papa, a nickname Nan has for God?
After researching Christian Fiction books on Amazon, I stumbled across The Shack and was immediately intrigued by the brief synopsis which suggested this was a book about tragic loss and confronting one’s nightmares in search of answers. I immediately loved the premise of the book and had to know exactly what caused Mack’s “Great Sadness” and the circumstances surrounding his daughter’s disappearance. I can’t even image the grief a parent experiences when they lose a child, but I was curious to see how this father’s faith was shaken and if through the shack, it could be restored. The cover art also drew me in and created a very peaceful yet haunting portrait of a place that at once was both haven and hell.