THE YADA YADA PRAYER GROUP, Jackson's debut solo novel, garnered glowing reviews from myself and countless others when it came out last year. Jackson's voice was so fresh and her concerns were relevant covering issues that often are not addressed. While the first Yada Yada book could easily have stood by itself, there was plenty of material in it for at least one sequel, and maybe more.
I opened THE YADA YADA PRAYER GROUP GETS DOWN eagerly since I had enjoyed the first book so thoroughly and wanted to see what Jackson would explore here. Sure I had some trepidations about this second novel since I am all too familiar with the sophomore slump that many authors experience. Looking at the cover I saw the new shot of dancing feet that was much like the delightful line of feet in brightly colored socks on the cover of the first book. This screamed to me that the books were being packaged together. I then had concerns that Jodi Baxter, the protagonist of this "package," would therefore wind up as a packaged person, whose quirks and flaws would become frozen in time.
I should have trusted more in Jackson's God-given talent and inspiration, because she has delivered a second novel that builds on the first and, in some ways, surpasses it.
As it opens, Jodi and her family are in the midst of a steamy city summer. Their home, or "two-flat," in downtown Chicago is about as far from the Gold Coast as you can get, and unlike many characters in Christian fiction who seem to be effortlessly upper-middle-class, the teaching couple struggles for money (Denny still doesn't know whether or not his contract for the upcoming year will come through) and participates actively in their local culture.
The members of Yada Yada, as fans will know, are an eclectic bunch both ethnically and sociologically, including an elegant South African faculty wife, a very young ex-con baker, a middle-aged Messianic Jewish bubbe, and a permanently indignant African-American salon owner. It's the latter's aging mother whose troubled past provokes a rift in the prayer group, and it is this rift that forces Jody and Denny to confront their present-day beliefs.
Those beliefs affect their daughter, their son, and Jodi's quiet Iowa parents, as well as the Yada Yada members, their families, and an unwelcome new acquaintance, Becky Wallace. But what makes this book work is not necessarily this brand-new action, but the interactions of Jodi and her sisters in Christ as they get to know one another for better and for worse. Jodi is not a perfectly cheerful cardboard Christian --- she doesn't always cook with love, she holds grudges, and she argues with her husband. Instead, she's a struggling, contemporary woman of faith whose life reflects her most cherished beliefs. I closed this book wondering how Jackson will further explore this group in future books.
--- Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick