I had completed my first draft of HIDING when I came across The Shack. Its gritty storyline, paired with a real and present picture of the Triune God rocked my world. At the time I seriously doubted that I could find either a publisher or a readership for a novel that had brutally honest shit going down and a vivid, personal Jesus together in one story. The Shack broke new ground, bending genres to combine suspense with spiritual formation - and millions of readers snapped it up, hungry for that picture of a God who is present in our pain.
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, by Stephen King
I am Stephen King's flinchiest fan - his brilliant characterization and effortless dialogue draw me in, but as soon as it gets too scary I have to hand the book to my husband to tell me how it ends. 'The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon' is one of King's books that I can finish myself, and with a 9-year old protagonist, it would fit well into a YA fiction category.
Stephen King's writing taught me so much about paying attention to the way people talk - his dialogue captures the slang and rhythym of real people. And, of course, King is the master of the horror genre, arraying the horror of our real world events and supernatural evil against ordinary people fighting for ordinary good.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by JK Rowling
In the seventh and last book of the HP series the pacing and conflict have come of age along with the characters. While the magic of Rowling's Hogworts captured us in the first books, it's the enduring friendship of Harry, Ron and Hermione that ground these books and make them classic.
As the series progresses, JK Rowling deftly teases out the threads of Harry's inner turmoil - his fear that he might have more in common with Voldemort than the Order because of the bad things that happened to him, his deep hole where the love of his parents should have been. In the midst of this incredible fantasy setting, Rowling shows real insight into the heart of an young abuse survivor, and makes us love him all the more.
Till We Have Faces, by CS Lewis
This is Lewis' last and most mature work of fiction, the retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. As a girl, I loved any version of the story 'Beauty and the Beast,' and this feels like the adult version. What grabs me about this story is the about-face of the narrator, Queen Orual, midway through the novel. She begins writing to accuse the gods of all the wrongs they have done her - her anger and self-righteousness are so prickly as to be difficult to read. Her abrupt realization that she has been wrong and acted wrongly for a lifetime is wrenching. Orual takes the reader on a journey of self-recognition, confession, repentance and finally into love and embrace as she quite literally journeys to the mountain of the gods to make her case.