I’ve enjoyed meeting with many book groups to discuss Into the Free and When Mountains Move. I’ve joined chats across nearly 40 states now, either on location or via Skype, plus engaged in online chats with groups in Australia, Germany, Canada, and the Netherlands.
Three very special book groups were the first to welcome me to their discussions when I launched my debut novel, Into the Free. I’m excited to share their happy smiles with you and hope you’ll share your club’s thoughts about Millie’s adventures with us as well.
When the Beach Babes of Baton Rouge, Louisiana discussed an advanced copy of Into the Free, the conversation led to sincere examinations of personal faith, childhood experiences, and the choices we make as women. This savvy group shared some of their thoughts about the book for those of you who may be interested in choosing this as your next book group selection.
“I like Mabel because I think she played such a big influence on Millie. She was the mother she didn’t have.”
“I liked (Mabel’s) values. She had very sound judgment.”
“I really liked Millie. She touched my heart. She was my favorite.”
“She (Millie) had dreams but she was grounded. She knew things could be better.”
“I liked her honesty, particularly in her relationship with God. How she would honestly question. She was smart beyond her years.”
“Yes, and her faith was real. She would not still be alive if she had not had that faith. That resilience.”
“I also liked Sloth. I felt like he was more of a parent to her. He taught her, nurtured her, loved her, and gave her a safe place to be.”
“I actually had some sympathy for Jack. Even the grandmother had a softness but she was just not strong enough to fight her husband for (what was right).”
“I like how the characters weren’t always what they seemed. It’s just like how you have to look at the person’s past to see how they became who they are today.”
“Yes. Some people can wow you, but I like how it discusses the importance of taking time to see the real person.”
“I loved the description of the gypsies. I never thought of them as being how they are in this book. Maybe I stereotyped them from my own experiences in my own life. But I was intrigued, so I just recently went to a gypsy cemetery because of this book, in my hometown. It was well tended, and I looked at the names on the tombstones and some well-respected people in our town may have had relatives that were gypsies.”
“When I was a kid, a girl had passed away, and she was a gypsy. I remember all this food and toys and beads and some of the things that were mentioned in the book. So, I had something to kind of relate to.”
“I kept wanting to read more about the gypsies. It was so interesting.”
“I love that River came back for her and that he had waited a week. He wasn’t just ‘some drifter.’ I was glad she had options.”
“I don’t remember the Choctaw living in town, but there was a reservation about thirty miles outside of town and they would come into town on Saturday to sell their baskets and stuff.”
“When I was a small girl, I spent hours and hours and hours up in the top of a fig tree. That was my favorite place to be. There was a closeness to God I always felt in that tree.”
“There was so much symbolism, like the trees, and one of the saddest parts was in the beginning, the mother dog and the puppies, but I know that happens.”
“I loved how ‘He’s a good man’ was woven throughout the story. Everybody had their own definition of what ‘good’ is.”
“And of course, Mabel’s definition of a good man was the one I liked.”
“I liked how River said, ‘But God still believes in you.’ He had that faith, and we don’t really know where it came from, but it was a good way to respond when (she said she didn’t know if she still believed in God.)”
“I also sense God so much in nature. It was later in life that I came back to church in a much more open mind, and you know, we’re all just people. With maturation you learn that we all have so many faults. What I have gained from my church is the sense of community and outreach.”
“I think everybody has to find their own path with God. God is so much bigger than any of us can possibly imagine that I just don’t think there’s one specific way that we all experience the richness of his relationship with us.”
When the Porch Pals in Longmont, Colorado met to discuss the advance copy of Into the Free, they agreed to share their reaction with other groups who might be interested in the book. We hope you enjoy a peek into the conversation with this lively group who named themselves after the Women of Faith.
As you’ll see from these select quotes, the book led this group of friends to discuss many personal topics including domestic violence, child abuse, race relations, addiction, lost loved ones, as well as true Christian faith and the issue of free will.
Did you like this book?
“Loved the book. Loved the book!”
“Once I picked it up, I didn’t want to put it down. I read it in one day.”
“Me too. I think it took me two days.”
What did you like about it?
“You drew us right in. Like how the dog buried the puppies, it was like her life.”
“I loved how you incorporated characters such as the angel that would help her out.”
(In response to a reader’s concerns about Millie’s mother’s behaviors): “I have a brother who is a drug addict, and I know how much he loves God. I know how much he loves people, but I also know he’s an addict and no matter what, he has an illness and it gets in the way of his life. I can see how the mother loves her daughter but she just couldn’t kick that because it’s an illness. We have free will to choose, and because of that free will that God gives us, unless (the person) chooses it, it’s not going to go away.”
“I loved the book. I identified with it a lot. There were a lot of parts that were very personal to me. I loved your analogies. I marked so many places. The comma, where she curled up like a comma. That was just so precious to me because I also lost my mom when I was young.”
Sloth, River, Bump
“I don’t want her to marry that gypsy. I like this cowboy. It’s the only awesomely, wonderful, good thing that’s ever come her way. And it’s consistent with the gentle, Christian side. He’s patient, kind. She can be free with him.”
Regarding some of the flawed characters and sad things that happen to Millie:
“That’s how life is. None of us are perfect. All of us are fallen. No matter how good we want to be, only God is perfect.”
“I loved how she hung out in the tree and thought about things and really cared, about the dogs, the puppies, and Sloth.”
“I loved the scenes in the tree, and with the horse, and with Sloth, and the gypsies.”
“I liked the baptism, the symbolism as she was washed clean. I would imagine she felt so violated and filthy and that was very powerful.”
“I loved Sloth’s unconditional love for her. He just loved her for who she was and not what she did.”
“For me, it was the scene when Mabel was talking to Millie. It just gave me exactly what I was looking for to talk to (my daughter) about when Mabel tells her (how to choose the right man). That’s what I needed to find and it was right here in the book. Thank you!”
“I liked when she saw the foal being born for the first time. Beautiful.”
What did you take away from the book?
“It made me stop and say, ‘What type of Christian do I portray to the outside world. What do people see when they look at me?’ So that was good. It was a great book.”
When the University Literary Circle from Oxford, Mississippi met to discuss the book, the group represented a wide range of religious backgrounds, including atheists, Catholics, protestants, and agnostics. They discussed the book in great depth, expanding on literary themes and debating the various levels of symbolism in the book. They called it a book they “couldn’t put down,” a “fascinating read,” one that “stuck with me after it had ended,” and the story led them to openly discuss their views on faith in a way that some later confessed they had never done.
We hope you enjoy some of the feedback this group provided about Into the Free.
“It’s a beautifully written story about a young woman’s determination to come to terms with the legacy of anger and despair passed on by her parents.”
“What drew me into the book was, of course, Millie’s story. My sympathy for the child quickly turned into admiration of a strong and inspiring young woman, and I was rooting for her each step of the way. But what I also enjoyed about the book was the introduction of characters and situations who were a part of Millie’s story and also a part of Mississippi’s history, like the “gypsy” travelers and the social morés that intersected the everyday. We pondered those during our discussion of this book, and found that this compelling story gave us a lot to talk about and much to think on beyond our time together.”
“The writing style in this book allows the reader to become a part of the book, as if the reader is watching the events unfold as they occur. The details are palpable, creating an incredibly engrossing experience. I couldn’t put the book down without finding out what would happen next.”
“This was an easy and engaging read full of incredibly interesting facts and history about the South of which I was previously unaware. This book is unlike anything I’ve read before and it is with anxious anticipation that I await a sequel!”
“Millie is a character I can identify with and for whom I find myself constantly advocating. Yet part of the revelation of the story is the realization for Millie that she doesn’t need an advocate; she unleashes her own seemingly infinite ability to advocate for herself. She is truly a survivor of her circumstances and not only does she survive but she overcomes.”
“The events of the story resonated with me and while disturbing at times, they were nothing short of an accurate reality for those living in a family marred by violence, anger, and unrelenting intergenerational dysfunction. This is a story of a child who all too quickly grows up in an effort to survive her childhood and decides with deliberate and determined intention that she is worthy of more; of a better life. She searches for change and guidance through various supplemental familial and romantic relationships and yet in the end she understands change for her can only come from within.”
“Into the Free will have you turning pages at lightening speed but slowing down to savor the beautiful imagery of Julie’s writing.
“Gypsies, Cowboys and Choctaws…Oh, My! It is wonderful to read a story set in the South which brings to light the richness of some of Mississippi’s lesser known cultures.”
“So glad I read this and, even more, I’m glad I read it with a group of friends. Millie is a strong, beautiful character and her strength awed all of us. Into the Free left us curious and inspired – to know what happens next in Millie’s life… to ask what we will do to help the Millies in our world.”
BIG thanks to all the book groups who have entered Millie’s world and helped her find her voice.