When asked to read and review Dear Bob by Annie Porthouse I did a little research in preparation. I was particularly concerned as this title has generally donned prime position in the ‘youth’ section in my shop and so I wondered whether I was qualified to take on the task. But on discovering that being an entertaining read for all ages and specifically aimed at those aged 18-30 I felt more relaxed. Whilst clinging on to this age bracket by my fingernails I felt confident diving right in.
The book is a work of fiction based around the main character, Jude, as she discovers the joys and challenges of freshers’ year at university. It is written in a diary style not dissimilar to such titles as Bridget Jones’ Diary and Theodora’s Diary (not forgetting the Sacred Diaries of Adrian Plass for those of you who can remember back that far!). Rather than being a diary, it is, in fact, a series of letters addressed to ‘Bob’, that elusive young man that all teenage girls think about every second of every day – my husband-to-be whom I have not actually identified yet! The book instantly appealed to me as I like prose that is laid out slightly differently: I find it keeps my attention and has the added advantage of breaking down the chapter into little chunks for those of us who don’t have time to sit for long periods of time to indulge in a bit of reading. We are taken on a journey through friendships, love interests, parental disputes, and ultimately a search for faith in a new and often lonely existence.
I want to congratulate Annie Porthouse! My personal university experience was rather short-lived, but within the pages of Dear Bob Annie has successfully captured every single emotion and experience that I had. This time in any young persons’ life is an amazing journey of discovery as they experience independence on a new level, but also how this independence impacts their friendships, relationship with parents and siblings, and also their faith. As well as being often full of good fun times and shared experiences that stay with you forever, it can also be a time of incredible pain as you juggle feelings of loneliness, home-sickness and soul-searching. When a young Christian enters this journey there is of course a level of discovery about faith and church which nothing in Sunday School has ever prepared you for. To travel with this character through her struggles and see a glimmer of hope emerge on the other side is incredibly gratifying and releasing, as well as good fun at times.
So who should read this book?… Well I came away very surprised at how much of the story I found I could relate to. There is obviously a lot of substance in the book that will appeal to those in their years following leaving school (whether heading to university or not). Also, those like myself who still have a glimmer of a memory of this experience will find it an entertaining journey down memory lane! But beyond the main character there are many others that have quite some depth and can speak into many situations. I found myself particularly drawn to the main characters’ older sister who is married and has 2 small children (the life phase I now find myself in). The author has managed to successfully portray the challenges that come to this character as well: emotional, psychological and physical experiences that can eventually take its toll in this tricky phase of life. I would also recommend it to any parents who have children leaving home. The experiences of the main character and the feelings alongside it are depicted incredibly accurately and so parents would do well to be prepared for these.
I personally found it hard to put this book down, mainly because it actually became a personal journey of discovery and healing as I reminisced about this time in my own life. I question its shelf-life based on its regular use of pop culture references, but it is a well written and fun book. Whilst leaving the reader satisfied that Jude will take on the rest of her university experience in a more positive place faith-wise, the question of the identity of ‘Bob’ is never revealed. So I shall be picking up the sequel Dear Jude shortly…
Joy McIlroy, June 2010