Heather MacDonald suffers from mysterious and uncontrolled fits of rage. When, at the age of fourteen, she realizes she is a threat to her family, she decides to run away from home. On the streets of Toronto, Heather finds a new family amongst the street people. She also comes face to face with grave danger and an evil that joins the blackness within her in trying to destroy her completely. But in Redeemed, Donna Dawson’s first novel, evil loses as the darkness is overcome and throwaway lives are put back together again by the power and grace of God.
Dawson’s characters are interesting. Main character Jekyll-and-Hyde Heather is joined by Hildy, Jimmy, Cyrus, Shorty and later the sinister Andy to make up a motley and colorful cast of losers. They are sympathetically though realistically drawn by Dawson, who goes beneath their rough exteriors to uncover the human side of these societal rejects.
Apart from short sections based in the present which precede each chapter, the events of the story are told in order and the plot moves along pretty smoothly (despite a slow start where Dawson tells the story of Heather’s parents). Those pre-chapter bits seemed designed to stitch the story together. However I found some of them forced and awkward in the way they led Heather to review past years in orderly flashbacks written partly in past perfect tense, which distanced me from the action. As a whole though, the story was nicely paced and easy to follow, with plot twists that kept my interest until the end.
Dawson’s writing style is lively with only the occasional overwritten passage that could have benefitted from an editor’s simplification. Another stylistic element was the use of multiple points of view (on one page I found myself in the head of a different character in each of four paragraphs). However, this happened throughout and though it gave me some mental whiplash at first, I felt Dawson carried off this tricky technique effectively. It certainly gave me, in several key scenes, a sense of immediacy and being in the know.
A strength of the story is in its themes and symbols. This is a tale of light versus darkness, good versus evil and, as the title suggests, redemption. Coming through also is compassion for the poor and homeless, and love and respect for all people no matter what their exterior. Near the end there is even a scene symbolic of Christ’s sacrificial death. The Christian message of God’s power to triumph over evil and change lives is delivered clearly and without apology.
Redeemed is a lively read that will have you walking some miles in the shoes of the destitute. But that road leads, finally, to a hopeful place.