Bungle in the Jungle
The Sunflower from author Richard Paul Evans
Richard Paul Evans is the Utah-based novelist who is known for his weepy, heart-tugging novels. It's a formula that works: Evans' books are often bestsellers and there are more than 11 million copies of in print. Evans will be at Boise's own Barnes & Noble on December 5, at 7 p.m., to discuss his latest release.
A small book with a large theme, The Sunflower is a relatively quick read that does not delve too deeply beneath the surface.
The Sunflower is, in part, a love story: Christine's fiance calls off the wedding one week before the lavish event is to occur. Christine is more than obviously devastated, sinking into despair and refuses to leave her apartment. Her feisty best friend, Jessica, the daughter of a U.S. congressman, is determined to rescue her friend. In order to do so, she comes up with a plan for the two of them to fly to the jungle in Peru to engage in humanitarian work. Apparently, the theory being put to the test here is that in order to correct or adjust one's view of the world, one should consider the larger picture and not wallow in one's own miniscule place in it.
As part of a group of caring and adventurous people, Jessie and Christine receive a tiny amount of training, pack a minute amount of gear and fly off to Peru. Once there, Christine meets Paul at the orphanage he operates in the jungle. Paul is a doctor who has left the United States for personal and devastating reasons of his own. A few years previously, Paul worked as an emergency room doctor in Florida. One disturbing night just before Christmas, Paul's world crashes around him and he loses not only his job, but his fiancé and his confidence in himself. The road is, of course, rocky. Paul and Christine must not only face the physical perils of life and work in the jungle, but the emotional obstacles of loving and trusting again.
However, this book is also about faith and hope and events larger than oneself. Each chapter is prefaced with a snippet from Paul's diary. (Interesting that the author would have the masculine love interest create the diary, usually relegated to the feminine role, to keep readers posted on what the chapter has in store for the reader.) Paul is a bit of a philosopher, as well as a deeply religious--or at least spiritual--man. He is the constant around which the book revolves and his back story and family ties in America are as integral to the plot as the scenes of the other characters dealing with the perils and pleasures of the jungle.
Overall, the The Sunflower is disap-pointing. The characters did not come alive and though the book could have been excellent fiction, it was treated as fluff, never scratching below the surface of the story. I was left wondering what book I would be reading next before I had completed the last quarter of this one.
The work for the orphaned street children of Peru and the orphanage portrayed are based on real life experiences of the author. He and his teenage daughter completed a mission there and it is obvious how sincerely the experience touched the author, even if it doesn't save the story. But in giving the reader a love story with a bit of a twist, Evans perhaps at least opens some eyes, or maybe even avenues of action, for millions of people who enjoy his offerings.