Zora and Nicky: A Novel in Black and White by Claudia Mair Burney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What do you do when you feel like a stranger in your own land?
That’s the question that Zora and Nicky face. They both grew up in the church, children of ministers. Their whole lives were about living and walking in the footsteps of Jesus. But when did it become a matter of trying to please their fathers more than Jesus? When did this require the sacrifice of their entire identities?
Both Zora and Nicky are adrift. Nicky is the prodigal son, returned to the fold to try to rebuild his troubled relationship with a father who never showed him the loving embrace that a dad should show his son, like Jesus loves His church. Nicky wants to be a writer, but the words won’t come. He feels so alone and trapped. His girlfriend is the perfect girl for the life that his parents want for him. But not for Nicky. And Nicky is dealing with three years of celibacy and sobriety, after wild teenage years of leading church maidens astray when he was asking for help from a family who left his cries unheard. When he goes to a bible study held by his boss, he encounters the beautiful, dark-skinned Zora, and feels a mix of emotions that do not strike him as healthy with everything else on his plate. Is it just lust or he could he be in love?
Zora is the daughter of a minister who preaches prosperity to those who can proclaim God’s word with faith. He has no tolerance for poor Christians or those who just want to get by. Although he gives her everything material she could wish for, designer furniture, clothes, and a Lexus, he controls every aspect of her life, and seems blind to the true unrest in his church. Zora walks out of church one day, praying that God would show her how to be poor in spirit. She goes to a bible study full of white people and feels that intense emotional connection with God that she feels like has been absent, but she’s embarrassed by the way she breaks down in front of the other bible study members. And then there is the gorgeous blue-eyed, blond rogue that she’s been warned about although they truly love Nicky. How can she be drawn to a troubled and rascally white man when she doesn’t even love the perfect black man hand-picked by her father, and groomed to be the future minister of his church? What does she do when her father takes everything away because he feels she’s in rebellion just by trying to be herself? And to her surprise, the white folks from her bible study, and the roguish Nicky, come to her aid when her family and most of her church turns a blind eye.
Zora and Nicky is a very moving romantic story, but it also strikes at the heart of a reader who grew up in the Christian faith, but is trying to find out where she or he fits into the flock of God’s church. I loved how Ms. Burney wasn’t afraid to get real. She showed how church is full of people who do one thing and say another, but it’s also clear that there are many who love God so much, but they just don’t know how they are supposed to go about doing that. I just loved both Nicky and Zora’s characters. Not because they were perfect, but because they were real and hurting and damaged. They both had a genuine love for Jesus, and they wanted to be wrapped in His arms in all their wounded, flawed selves. Not only that, they wanted to have fathers who knew how to love them, and accept them for who they were. Their troubled relationships with their fathers clearly affected their relationships with God, because they didn’t know that unconditional love that Jesus has for us, unused to feeling that in the model for His love that one’s father and minister should show.
The racial issues in this story are pertinent and handled well. Ms. Burney addressed the ugly things that normal people think and do on both sides of the racial issue. Although the way Nicky’s grandfather and father act about Zora was absolutely chilling, Ms. Burney also shows that black folks can be just as racist in their thinking as white folks. And neither is okay. Because humans are just human. And no person should be seen as the stand-in or representative for their race. It isn’t fair, because you can only be you. And Christians of all people should know better than to judge someone for the outside, the mere difference in melanin that means nothing to God. Although it was clear how powerful the bond was between Zora and Nicky, they had to work out their own issues about race so that they could see each other with the love that God put in their souls for each other.
Even with the sometimes mean things they said to each other, I loved how they seemed to get who each other was deep down, and supported that, even when people who should have loved, supported and understood each other didn’t. I loved that their relationship was passionate even with no sex taking place (just very passionate kisses), how they talked to each other, fought for each other, and dreamed together. I loved that they both shared a powerful love for Christ that was another thing that bound them together. They had the makings of a relationship I could truly see flourishing fifty years in the future.
Zora and Nicky was a book that made me cry. It made me angry in some scenes. It affected me deeply, and probed into the hurting places that I have regarding my own walk in the Christian faith; dealing with that feeling that you don’t fit into the body of Christ the way you should. That even though Jesus loves you the way you are and wants the best for you, others don’t think you measure up. Also seeing the superficial Christianity that seems okay for most, and how you want something deep and true and it feels like you can’t find it. I could identify so well with those aspects of this book. And the romantic in me loved the beautiful story of love found between Zora and Nicky. I felt that God did bring them together, and He was working in both of them for their good and for their emotional wholeness and healing.
I didn’t much care for either Nicky or Zora’s father. Actually, I think they failed in very profound ways. I did feel that at the end of the day, their mothers did show the love that both Zora and Nicky needed, even though it wasn’t enough to balance out the pain that each father caused them. I also liked Zora’s relationship with her friend MacKenzie. They stood by each other through tough times, encouraging each other to reach for their dreams.
I really appreciated the characters of Linda, Rick, and Billie, who are members of the bible study. Also Ms. Pamela, one of the members of Zora’s congregation. Who all represent Christians who are filled with the love of Jesus, and have made it their mission to show it, even though some Christians wouldn’t find them fitting or good enough to represent the faith. However, they represent Jesus in the purest way. Jesus was the despised, rejected man who owned nothing but the robe on his back, was born in a manger, and died on a cross. And He is the one who is able to save and love everyone. So that’s alright with me if a shabby person shows me Jesus in my everyday life. And they were there to show that love when Nicky and Zora needed it. Just writing this review is making me cry. I just loved this book. It was so meaningful to me. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
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