To be completely honest, I am not sure how I grew up in Los Angeles as a member of the LDS faith without ever participating in a road show!? Most of my older siblings were in some, but for whatever reason, when I was finally old enough there was a road show drought.
Regardless of my lack of road show experience, I still readily enjoyed Braden Bell’s first novel entitled The Road Show. It was uplifting and full of hope. It was a quick and enjoyable read, a book that made you want to finish before setting it down. In fact, I often read while I am on the elliptical trainer and bike at the gym, and I added more time to my machines so I could read longer. I even stretched for a few extra minutes so I could finish the last eight pages.
One of the first things that pulled me into this book was the scripture shared at the very beginning, Isaiah 61:1-3, one of my all time favorite scriptures.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.
“Beauty for ashes” – I knew there would be depth to this book with this kind of introduction. “Beauty for ashes” is such magnificent imagery. And it is the perfect way to describe the power of the atonement.
Even though this book fits the genre LDS Fiction, don’t let that scare you. This book is well written and the characters well developed. Any Christian would appreciate this book. Many would call this book life changing.
The Road Show deals with a plethora of heavy topics – addiction, sin, depression, health problems, loneliness, pride – but it is written in such a way that the reader can relate to nearly all of the characters’ imperfections. It is easy to see yourself in them. And if you don’t see yourself, then you can easily recognize your neighbor, a friend, or your sibling as the one who is struggling with a similar issue.
I am grateful that Braden didn’t sugar coat these topics either and make them seem as if they are easy to overcome. He wrote the book in a way that shows how hard these struggles are to defeat.
This book is about forgiveness, repentance, understanding the all-encompassing healing power of the Atonement (it is NOT just for sins!), and learning how not to judge others, especially when those judgments are often based on misconceptions and misunderstandings.
But be forewarned, you might get hooked.
And just for kicks, here is a brief interview I had with Braden Bell:
Me: What made you decide to have the power of the Atonement as a center point in your book? Was there anything in your life experience that persuaded you to write on this topic?
Braden Bell: That’s a good question. The story came to my mind first, and then I began to see the healing power of the Atonement as the theme that unified all the different characters’ stories. So, I began to try to develop the theme more explicitly, including using the scripture in Isaiah about beauty for ashes. That’s always been one of my favorite scriptures.
In terms of my own personal experience, there were definitely things that have persuaded me to write on this topic. As a very flawed mortal, I’ve had to draw on the Atonement many times myself. But, during most of the time I was writing the book, I was serving as a bishop. I saw people healed through the power of the Atonement–but I also saw people not avail themselves of that power and it made me incredibly sad. I think the book grew in part out of my conviction as a recipient of Atoning grace, but also a bishop’s desire to see other people get the help that is possible.
Me: What would you like readers to take away from The Road Show?
Braden Bell: Above all, I hope it’s a good story well told. I hope they like the characters. But I would also be thrilled if they close the pages feeling a little more compassionate to people who struggle, and with a renewed hope in the possibilities the Savior offers us.
Me: I know you are an educator (I also used to teach before I had children). What is an unexpected benefit you have gained from being a teacher?
Braden Bell: I had no idea how enriching and fulfilling it would be. I had no idea how deeply I would love and be loved by my students. There is a sweet and special relationship there (or at least there can be). I’ve also learned a lot about the gospel as I’ve taught–insights here and there into various thing, particularly the nature of God.
Me: What do you like most about teaching music? Theater? Do you prefer one over the other?
Braden Bell: I love them both. I have more training and expertise in theatre, so I suppose I’m a little more comfortable there. But I think I would be bored to death if I could only teach one of them. I teach middle school, which is possibly the least musical age, at least vocally. Physiological changes and social pressure make it a tough time for kids to sing. So, the thing I love most is when I’m able to coax a student or a group past those limitations. There are sublime moments when a chord or a passage or a whole song will be truly beautiful. I get chills at those moments. I love theatre because that is who I am. It’s what I have done forever and what I will probably do until I die. I love to watch the ugly ducklings become swans, to see confidence built, and to see a 13 year old nail their performance in a way that surprises their friends, the audience, and especially, themselves.
Me: Do you prefer writing over teaching?
Braden Bell: No. I feel like they are each different sides of the coin of my personality. I find that I need to do both to feel happy. If I were to make millions of dollars from writing tomorrow, I suspect I would probably still feel the need to teach, at least part time.
Me: Do you still perform?
Braden Bell: Very rarely. I wish I could, but with family, work, and church, there just isn’t time. I did take a cameo in one of our school plays last year and enjoyed it quite a bit. I put pictures of myself in my cat makeup on my website in the “photo” section.
Me: What is it like to live in Tennessee?
Braden Bell: Tennessee is as close to heaven as we are allowed in this life, I think. I really love it. We live about 45 minutes out of the city in a quiet, peaceful place and every day, as I drive to and from work, the beauty and serenity fills my soul. The people are wonderful. I consider myself a Tennessean now–although I miss my family.