Thank you to Westbow Press for sending us this book to review!
Eleanor MacLellan and her husband, Ig, were out of options when their son Patrick began having problems. From bad grades to school suspensions, Patrick was on a road to nowhere fast. During his junior year in high school, Patrick totaled the family van in an unauthorized road trip. The breaking point, however, was when he was caught for shoplifting and thrown in jail. The end result was a change of scenery for Patrick. He was sent out of state to repeat his junior year at an alternative school for at-risk youth.
At Hyde School, not only were students expected to perform with high standards, but parents as well. While a senior project is normal for any student entering their last year in high school, his parents learned they also needed to complete one. The goal of the senior project was to operate beyond your comfort zone while doing something worthwhile to help your community. Ig decided on a community service trip to El Salvador. Eleanor, on the other hand, embarked on creating a large canvas labyrinth to donate to her church. As Eleanor reflected on her life leading up to this as well as researching the project, she discovered the labyrinth was symbolic of life itself as there are no straight paths or dead ends such as with a maze; all the surprising twists and turns carry you on a walk towards the rose center, which represents the soul.
With one family crisis after another, Eleanor's passage also led her to become more confident and stronger as a Christian. She didn't do it alone however. Obviously, she had her family but she also had a group of close friends who helped her with funding, designing and creating the labyrinth. Together these special companions journeyed through life's toughest battles including many hardships, pain, loss and grief.
The author cleverly wrote each chapter chronologically in "circuits" to coincide with the labyrinth path from the entrance to reaching the center. For example, Circuit One is primarily the beginning of the story and upon entering the labyrinth, a brief description of the path is provided. Accompanying each chapter also includes a small diagram of a labyrinth. This has two shades of gray. The darker shade displays the previous path taken while the lighter shade displays the current path the chapter is about.
While the intro was interesting, admittedly, it took awhile to really get into this book. At first I found the story dry. There are small anecdotes about Eleanor's family including divorce from a previous marriage and then having to manage a blended family, her work as a trial lawyer, and church service. Although the book follows a labyrinth path, I kept wondering to myself, "Well what about the creation of the labyrinth itself?" The labyrinth is discussed in greater detail in Circuit Five. As Eleanor gets painfully honest with herself and realizes she needs help, she reaches out to five church members and bares her soul. These five women not only became her closest friends but also become known as the Labyrinth Ladies.
Although a large portion is written about Patrick's triumphs and struggles, his story becomes vaguer as the book continues. Patrick is eventually kicked out of Hyde School two months before graduation. At one point there is an occurrence of an ethics violation early on, however, no clear reason is provided for getting kicked out and not allowed to graduate. I found it odd that the author skimped on providing more information about this particular detail.
The only other issue I had with the book is Eleanor went to a New Age book store in order to find out more about labyrinths. It is no secret that New Age and Christianity oppose each other. The memoir occurs in the early 2000s. She could have looked in traditional bookstores and even the library. It's not to say that a labyrinth is strictly tied to New Age spiritualism. Many churches, including orthodox and nontraditional, have labyrinths on display. However, with information about any subject easier to obtain nowadays, why research in a nontraditional method especially for a Christian?
Returning to the review, I admire her group of friends. To have close friends who you can share secrets with yet won't abandon you when you're struggling through the darkest of days is something each person hopes for but very few have.
As with many, the completed labyrinth was a marvel to behold. It is a thirty-six foot square of purple canvas. The path was hand-painted not only by the Labyrinth Ladies but by church and Hyde School volunteers. It was a concerted effort that reinforced the concept of community. In fact part of the actual labyrinth made serves as the cover of the book.
Probably one of the reasons I struggled with reading the book is it's not a straightforward memoir. There is so much detail to digest here. It's not only Eleanor's struggles with her family but her friends are given a fair amount of time as well. Each person you read about is real and walk their own labyrinth path, which is skillfully depicted in the book.
If you are looking for an in-depth memoir that encompasses the many paths people take towards their own God-inspired center, please give Sole to Soul by Eleanor MacLellan a try. It's available on Amazon for $3.99 electronically or for $24.95 on paperback. (Affiliate Link)