As indicated by its title, Unconventional, by J.J. Hebert, is certainly not the average novel. In fact, rather than merely being entertained by a good story, Hebert managed to locate every belief and vulnerability I possess and then challenge it. The result is a heart-stirring journey the reader takes right along with an unforgettable protagonist who eventually develops an indomitable spirit.
Unconventional is the story of James Frost, an aspiring novelist who earns his living as a school custodian. A product of a broken home and stuck in a job he hates, James is plagued by self-doubt and subject to the criticism of others as he works to follow his dream of becoming a published author-a feat that is much easier said than done. In fact, the only thing going for him is Leigh, whose kind and gentle spirit provides a spark of light in his bleak world. After suffering rejection after rejection, loss after loss, James is on the brink of giving up hope. However, after a near-death experience, James is finally shaken by an epiphany-one that guides him through a spiritual journey that proves to be the most unconventional path of all.
The first quality I admire about Unconventional is the protagonist, James Frost. In today's society, when you turn on the television or even open a book, male characters are either morons with one-track minds or completely over-the-top Alpha males who are only interested in being "top dog," if you'll excuse the pun. Therefore, it would seem that another unconventional quality about this novel is a realistic, human male protagonist. James Frost is not a super model. He is not a Harvard scholar who works as a superhero at night. James Frost is an average male, who happens to be a gentleman (we forgot about gentlemen, didn't we, ladies?). He also experiences vulnerability and self-doubt. He even cries. Unfortunately, in today's entertainment industry, James might be considered a bit of a sissy. I consider him to represent true human frailty and the complexity that makes him a three-dimensional character. Furthermore, those qualities make him an excellent example to young men. James Frost's story proves that you don't have to step all over people or act like an egotistical jerk to get places in life. Rather, James Frost illustrates that achievement takes faith, hard work, and an indomitable spirit.
Secondly, Unconventional addresses the issue of superficial judgment and the destruction of "keeping up appearances." James Frost is a janitor, which he says repeatedly, is a job, not who he is. However, other people, including Leigh's parents, don't see his profession in quite the same way. Through much of the book, James if forced to overcome the stereotypes people place on custodians while they scoff at his pursuit of his dream. In addition, James follows the unconventional Christ-like life by providing unconditional love and help to others-even when those others have self-destructive or undesirable qualities. This aspect of Unconventional echoes so many beliefs I have regarding the injustices and cruelty that results from judgmental people. I would just like to say, "Right on!" to J.J. Hebert right now for bringing these issues to light.
Unconventional is the perfect novel for anyone who has ever had a dream or striven for purpose and then doubted him or herself along the way. Hebert beautifully illustrates the pain and heartache that accompanies creativity and talent, and as a writer, I found myself chuckling, shaking my head, and even shedding a few tears as I read this story. I have experienced the same shattered hopes, the same fury and anger and lack of understanding as the protagonist-but Hebert helps readers to make sense of all the rejection in the end by revealing a greater purpose. James Frost's journey of doubt, depression, hopelessness, and eventually, faith and joy, is one that will truly inspire readers who have ever dared to chase their dreams.
Even though my tastes usually lie in fantasy or paranormal novels, I highly recommend Unconventional to readers of all ages and from all walks of life. No matter what path you are on in life, Hebert's novel will speak to you on a soul-deep level, leaving you inspired and with a new sense of purpose.