Book Review: Straining Forward

Today, I'm sharing a true story. For those who enjoy Christian non-fiction, this is one book you will not want to miss.

On a personal note, I had the wonderful privilege of meeting the author of this book, Michelle Layer Rahal, in Florida at the 2019 Readers' Favorite Awards Ceremony where she won an award for her book Straining Forward. During the meet-and-greet, everyone looked for people to converse with—all of us strangers. But something drew Michelle and me to each other. Or perhaps, more accurately, Someone caused our paths to cross. Having just met, I didn't realize Michelle's amazing gift of writing. The book she wrote is an incredible story that will not soon be forgotten.

Book Description:

In the early morning hours of January 31, 1968, Minh Phuong watched in horror as the Vietcong bombed her home and gunned down her father and two siblings. Though she escaped death that night, abuse, prison, and torture would follow. The tragedy of Minh Phuong’s childhood would lead her to question God’s very existence and purported goodness. 

Straining Forward is the true story of Minh Phuong’s dramatic escape from war-torn Vietnam as well as dangerous and unhealthy relationships throughout her life.  Readers will not only be stirred by the horrors and roadblocks she encountered on her journey, they will gain powerful insight into the plight of refugee children around the world who flee war-torn countries in search of peace and belonging.  

A riveting journey of hope and healing, Straining Forward reminds us all that even in our darkest and most desolate moments, we are never truly alone. 

My Thoughts:

This is a spellbinding story that grabbed my attention from the first paragraph. I intended to read it over the course of one week. But once I started, it was difficult to put down. I finished it in two days!

It's troublesome to imagine that anyone would have to face such atrocities, especially a child. Minh's life went from hardship to hardship. People who should have protected and nurtured, used and abused her instead. There were points in her life where she had to choose between the lesser of two evils. This reads like a suspense novel and even a horror at times, yet it's actually the life Minh Phuong had to live.

Minh's story takes her from war-torn Vietnam to France, Australia, and the United States. I found myself rooting for her, wanting things to go well for Minh. Hoping she would meet people along the way who would lend her a helping hand. There were times my heart squeezed tight as I saw Minh thrust into another impossible situation. And other times I felt elated that there were still kind and caring people to be found in this world.

This is a story of survival and a spiritual journey. In the midst of everything, God's patient drawing was evident. It took years, but Minh finally realized that her help truly only comes from a deep relationship with God.

This book will give the reader a glimpse into Vietnamese culture. It's a memoir. I wish with all my heart Minh would have made all the right decisions once she reached adulthood. Her life could have been less painful sooner if only she had. Unfortunately, Minh's life was complicated by the painful trauma of her past—even as far back as her childhood. But God saw her, cared for her, and patiently wooed her by the people she encountered and through the Holy Spirit gently tugging at her heart.

Straining Forward is the perfect title for this book. It's what Minh's life was and still is. And isn't it true about us too? "I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us." Philippians 3:14 NLT

This book expands the mind to deeper contemplation. When tragedy strikes in foreign lands, pictures of people flashing across news screens often leave us feeling somewhat detached. Until we meet Minh and comprehend that there are so many others like her.

About the Author:

MICHELLE LAYER RAHAL is the award-winning author of Straining Forward. She is a former radio news reporter, elementary school teacher, educational consultant, and published educator. She holds degrees from Hofstra University and the University of New York at Buffalo. She currently lives in Northern Virginia where she teaches Bible study classes, cooks gourmet meals for fun, and can often be found curled up with a good book. She is married to Greg, who makes her laugh every day.


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January 19, 2022