Friday, May 1, 2015

Review + GIVEAWAY: Side by Side

Side by Side
By Jana Kelley
New Hope, 2015


In the dusty, Islamic country of Sudan, Mia's life collides with that of another young woman.

A young Christian American mother, Mia finds more than one dark secret on the streets of Khartoum. She finds Halimah, a young, upper-class Arab student with a bright future in her family's business whose risky and secretive decision has put her life in danger. What happens when the path of young mother intersects with that of a spunky Sudanese student? God transforms them both . . . forever.

Part of New Hope® Publishers' contemporary missional fiction line, Side by Side opens the reader's eyes to the life of Muslims in Sudan as well as some of the struggles that Christians face when living under Islamic law. The reader will be inspired to pray for those who are persecuted for their faith as well as pray for the salvation of those who persecute.

My thoughts

Side by Side is an unusual story, filled with hope, entertaining and compelling at the same time. In writing fiction that is inspired by real-life events, Jana Kelley fleshes out characters and scenes drawn from her 13 years in North Africa and the Middle East, bringing to life events that most of us only hear about in the news. Side by Side speaks to us with its powerful message, raises awareness of the persecuted church, and I don't see how anyone could not be impacted in some way by this story.

Jana has a writing style that flows easily across the page and her love for the Muslim people shines throughout. I appreciated the realism Jana conveys - all the way from barbaric Muslim customs, such as the practices of female circumcision or stoning a son/daughter to regain family honor, to cultural glimpses of joyful celebrations, family meals, and the forming of unlikely relationships.

The storylines of Mia and Halimah run simultaneously until their paths eventually cross.  It's so easy to relate to Mia as a missionary because, while she and her husband came to Sudan with the goal of helping people, she makes mistakes, experiences spiritual warfare, finds that she and Michael are pulling apart, and wonders if coming there was a mistake. Halimah, an Arab student from a strong Muslim family, is pursuing an accounting degree so she can work in her father's business - yet she is secretly reading a Bible and has more courage than most of us could imagine.

It is so uplifting to journey with Halimah as, with great personal risk, she seeks truth through the Scriptures and connects with a small community of Christians. The contrast between works and the beauty of grace is vividly shown. And who of us, thinking back to when we first came to know Christ, can't identify with Halimah's emotions:   "She was in love: in love with Jesus and in love with His children."

Mia's situation calls to mind the phrase, "for such a time as this," for Mia was ready and willing to be used when Halimah needed help. In a country where conversion to Christianity is illegal and punishment severe, both Mia and Halimah faced danger, and I couldn't help but reflect on what I would have done in either of their situations. Would the cost be too great?

Jana has done a wonderful job conveying spiritual truths through her work of fiction. Imperfect as we may be, God can and will still use us. And even in the darkest of places, God is constantly drawing people to Himself.

At the back of the book, Jana writes that many people in the Muslim world today have similar experiences to Halimah's - and as a result of reading Side by Side, the Muslim people are on my heart and I am more committed than ever before to praying for them and for those who share Christ with them.

Jana says that she wanted "to write a story that would grab the hands and hearts of women in both of my worlds and bring them together" - and I believe she has done just that with Side by Side. I hope we see more from all the characters in this book. Highly recommended to all readers.


Jana Kelley
Jana Kelley is a Texan who hardly ever lives in Texas. Raised in Southeast Asia, Jana developed a love for cross-cultural living early in life. Her love for writing came soon after. Jana returned to Texas to attend college. She and her husband married a month after she graduated and by their second anniversary, they were living in a remote African town. Together with her husband and three boys, Jana enjoys travel and overseas living. After thirteen years in Africa and the Middle East, Jana and her family moved to Southeast Asia where they currently live.

Meet Jana online at, Facebook, and Twitter

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review, and also for this giveaway.

Litfuse landing page:



To enter the drawing for Side by Side, please leave a comment about this book or its message for us today.

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BE SURE TO LEAVE YOUR E-MAIL ADDRESS in a safe format - [at] and [dot] - for the drawing.

E-mail required for entry in the drawing. Contest ends at midnight PST on Monday, May 11. Winner will be chosen by and contacted by e-mail. Respond within 48 hours of notification or another winner will be chosen.

Eligibility: US residents, 18 and older

Congratulations to our winner, Jackie McNutt! I hope you find this book as enjoyable and moving as I did, Jackie.


  1. Jana's book, "Side by Side" is relevant to what is going on in the world today. I cannot wait to read her book and pass it along to my church library.
    Janet E.

    1. Janet, I think a "mission focused" fiction book like this one that will touch you and all who pick it up through your library. Best wishes in the contest.

  2. contemporary missional fiction line.. this is interesting to me.. I'd like to read this book! dkstevensne AToutlookDoTCoM

    1. I don't believe I've read many books of this type, Deanna, but I hope to read many more like Side by Side. I'm glad you're interested, and good luck in the drawing.

  3. Definitely sounds like a book that could be taken from today's headlines and would have a message for us today. It sounds like a really good one that I would love to read. abilene_nana(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. This book really is relevant for today, Ann. As I read it, I couldn't help but wonder if I would have the same courage in either of their places. Good luck in the drawing, Ann.

  4. I always like it that even though we are imperfect, God can still use us!

    1. That's always a powerful message to me, Beth. Good luck in the drawing!

  5. Such an interesting storyline, would love to read "Side By Side" and learn more about the Muslim life and it's challenges!! Thanks for your review, Carole, and the giveaway opportunity!!

    1. Oh, Bonnie, I hope you get to read this one soon because I'd love to hear your thoughts. It certainly gave me a deeper appreciation for the needs of the Muslim people, especially women, and the desire to pray for them. Best wishes in the drawing, Bonnie.

  6. I've seen quite a bit about this book now, and I really want to read it! I feel like Jana has the life experience to make it authentic. hull_danielle at yahoo dot com

    1. It was Jana's life experiences that gave her the desire to write this story, Danielle. It's a moving story that vividly conveys the life of Muslim women, especially those who are drawn to Christianity. I'm so glad that you're interested in reading it, Danielle.

  7. Maybe it's even because of our flaws and weaknesses that He is able to use us in such incredible ways, Kate. Thank you for sharing.

  8. This looks like a great book! I love it when an author's personal experience causes them to write a story...that is when the best stories are written!

  9. Thank you for this chance to win "Side by Side". As a missionary, I would especially love to read a missions focused book.


  10. WOW! This sounds like a book that could impact many lives. I have traveled to many places in this world along with my husband--where ever his job takes us, but never anywhere such as this, & I too wonder if I would have such courage. I would LOVE to read this book!
    Vmarney (at) hot mail (dot) com

  11. I come from an ethnic family, so the flavor of this book appeals to me.
    Info at heritageliterature dot com

  12. I would love to read this book ! an important topic for the time we live in now.
    Thank You

  13. This sounds like a deeply written novel. Would love to read. Thanks for the giveaway!

  14. Sounds like a very interesting book. I'm always interested in reading books with other cultures in it. Looking forward to reading this.