I’m not sure I can even express how wildly Beyond the Point surpassed my expectations, but I’m sure going to try. I’ve always had a lot of respect for our military, and for the people who sacrifice their time, dreams, bodies, and lives in its service. I also have a lot of empathy for the family of those who serve, as I can’t even begin to imagine how terrifying it must be to watch someone you love with your entire being fly into a war zone, and how insanely stressful it must be to wait and hope for their return. But this book has increased all of those feelings for me. Witnessing military life from the inside, from the perspectives of three girls as they graduate high school, attend West Point, and embark on their careers thereafter, made for a moving and eye-opening experience.
“Some wounds are invisible. It doesn’t mean they’re not real.”
The trio of protagonists are all three very different girls with very different motivations: Dani is hyper-competitive, Avery desperately wants to prove her worth, and Hannah has this deep desire to serve. The three girls share two things: a love of basketball and an insane drive to be the very best they can be, whatever their motivations may be. I shouldn’t have favorites, but it was impossible for me not to fall in love with Hannah. Avery had my sympathy, and Dani was engaging, but Hannah is one of the purest, sweetest souls I’ve ever come across. The fact that she chose the Army as her way to serve somehow only reinforced that purity. She was in no way naive or weak, but her strength was laced with this intentional innocence that I adored. Hannah’s faith reminded me so much of high school Celeste. It’s fierce and wholesome and something I wish I could recapture. I think this is why I love Hannah so much: she helps me recapture that fresh faith while I’m with her. Also, her love story was incredibly joyful and so sweet to experience alongside her.
“If you think you’re important, if you feel that your life matters, all you need to do is spend some time in nature, Hannah thought. Stand before an ocean. Climb a mountain. Stare out over a canyon. Creation–wild and untamed–reminded her of her size in this universe. But feeling small did not send her into despair. She was like a child, trusting her Father when He said the storm would pass.”
Speaking of faith, that was probably my favorite element of the novel. This is not Christian fiction, but it spoke more honestly of the faith I hold and had more spiritual resonance than almost anything I’ve read in that genre. The way Christianity is presented in the lives of those who adhere to it in the novel is raw and honest and real in a way I’ve seldom seen in fiction. Or even nonfiction, actually. The questions of the nonbelievers were never belittled or shrugged off. The faith of the believers in this book feels sincere and like an integral part of their characters. In the face of the grief that comes in the back third of the novel (which you know is coming from the first chapter), this faith could have seemed trite or brittle. But it never did. You can still believe in God with your whole heart while feeling betrayed by Him, and that angry faith felt incredibly valid in light of what they were going through.
And then there’s Wendy.
I want to be her when I go up. She was the surrogate mom for the girl’s basketball team while our three protagonists were at West Point, and she’s one of the most loving, welcoming, dependable women I’ve ever read. And her faith is insanely strong. She shares this faith constantly without ever once preaching at others. Sometimes the ways she shares this faith is with a Bible on her lap, and sometimes it’s serving meals without expecting a word of thanks, or letting someone cry on her shoulder without offering the empty platitudes that most of us can’t keep from falling off our tongues in such situations. Her faith and the way it oozes from her is something I desperately want. And her willingness to admit that she doesn’t have the answers is so respectable. Upon finishing the novel, I discovered that the author had based this character after her mother, who had served in a similar capacity when the author’s father was stationed at and teaching classes for West Point, which made the characters and setting even more poignant.
“Maybe faith was having the humility to scream at God and the audacity to get up off the floor.”
About that setting. The first chunk of this novel is technically a campus story. I’ve never read a campus novel quite like this one. West Point is fascinating. It’s so far removed from other universities. The lack of frats and parties and pajama-clad upperclassmen, mixed with the academic and physical rigor expected from every single student, was such a departure from every other college campus I’ve encountered in real life or literature. I loved getting to learn more about it and follow Dani, Avery, and Hannah around through their time there, but I freely admit that I would have never been able to hack it.
“I wanted perfection. But it turns out, here on earth, we don’t get perfection; we get people.”
Besides the characters, the faith element, and the setting, the other main building block of this novel was grief, and how you deal with it. I’ve read some fantastic books that deal with grief in ways that felt honest and insightful, but this one tops all of those. Gibson presents grief in such a raw, brutally honest way, and her representation of how her characters dealt with that grief, and how that varied among them, was masterful. I also really appreciated that the reader knows from the first 5 pages of the book that something terrible has happened. This made the grief, when it finally came, feel less like something inserted from shock value and sensationalism. This writing decision gave the intense sadness more honesty and resonance.
“She felt like a part of her body had been ripped off. The fact that everyone didn’t stare seemed absolutely impossible. How could a loss that big be that invisible?”
I also have to talk about the writing itself. I find it almost impossible to believe that this is a debut novel. The prose is fantastic, and the Gibson managed to perfectly balance lovely writing, intensely deep character development, engaging plot, and thoughtful contemplations on philosophy and faith. Not only was I never once bored, I highlighted probably a quarter of the text. I annotated so much, in fact, that digging through and narrowing down the quotes I wanted to include was crazy difficult. I’m blown away by how polished and powerful and purposeful Gibson was able to make every single chapter of this novel.
“Love starts in the body. It starts with the tingling of toes and the rushing of blood and the lightness in the head. It feels a lot like pain… There are convulsions, nausea, heartburn, and breathlessness. There is a physical ache you feel when you’re falling in love. It’s your heart making room for someone else, like a gardener is there, digging out a hole for a new plant. There is pain, and there is fear. The fear that the hole might stay forever.”
I would have never guessed that a novel about West Point and military life would end up as one of my favorite novels of the year. It’s the 130th book I’ve read in 2020 and, as of this moment, it’s second only to Ghosts of Harvard. And it’s a pretty close second. It made me think and feel deeply after months of being emotionally and intellectually numbed by real life events. I also finished reading this on Veteran’s Day, which made both the day and the book stand out more in my mind. Beyond the Point is a gorgeous novel that I can’t wait to share with my family.
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