Jonna Lightfoot MacLaughlin has moved from Denver, to New Orleans and, now, New York pursuing her career as a religion reporter. In the process, Lightfoot finds despair and heartbreak and new faith in the most unlikely and unexpected places.
Jonna Lightfoot MacLaughlin has moved from Denver, to New Orleans and, now, New York pursuing her career as a religion reporter.
Along the way, she’s had her profession, her faith and her heart stretched, tested, broken and reformed.
Lightfoot, in her mid to later 20s, smokes and promises God she’ll quit. She’s still trying. She promises to improve her diet. Go to the gym. She hopes to find man. But one heartthrob became a Catholic priest. One date, a fellow professor her brother set her up with, didn’t work out. A real estate developer caught her eye in New Orleans, but there’s always danger in the confluence of power and money.
Through it all, Lightfoot keeps trying. Trying to be a better person. Trying to use her position as a journalist to do good and protect the innocent. Sometimes she succeeds. Sometimes she fails. But she always remains open to the possibility of finding good in people and finding their spirituality — even if they’re Wiccan.
In the process, Lightfoot finds despair and heartbreak and new faith in the most unlikely and unexpected places.
That’s the world Beverly novelist and Gordon College faculty member Jo Kadlecek created for the heroine of her Lightfoot trilogy.
“I wanted to put faith in a character that is flawed,” said Kadlecek. “I think people relate so much more to the flaws in a character. Someone who is holy and sinless. I’ve never met anyone like that. I wanted a character who is messy and doesn’t have it all together. She was going to be real — ‘This is who I am.’ It’s not always easy.”
The last book in the series, “A Minute Before Friday” (NavPress, Colorado Springs, Colo.), just came out.
The book concludes the series, which Kadlecek originally conceived during a long, late-night plane trip. The first book, “A Mile from Sunday,” takes place in Denver. The second, “A Quarter After Tuesday,” in New Orleans. And “A Minute before Friday,” takes Lightfoot to New York.
The trilogy went pretty much as Kadlecek originally intended. She knew Lightfoot would start in Denver. Go to pre-Katrina New Orleans. And end up in New York.
“The themes of loss and displacement in the second book were all pre-Katrina,” said Kadlecek, noting the irony of life imitating art. “What surprised me in the novels wasn’t what happens to Jonna, but the secondary characters that enter her life. They often surprised me.”
Each title in the series references the location, “mile-high” Denver, New Orleans’ French Quarter and the “New-York minute.”
Each also references a religious tie. Sunday. Tuesday, the end of Mardi Gras and the beginning of Lent. Friday, they day of Jesus’ crucifixion.
This blending of the religious with the secular — of finding religion not only in neatly choreographed services, but also on messy streets where motivation manipulates faith and what seems good may not always be so — ties the three books together.
For Lightfoot faith remains a murky grope, fueled by hope as much as conviction.
Without giving too much away, Kadlecek once again brings elements of the mystery novel into Lightfoot’s life, weaving several plots lines among stories her reporter pursues, stumbles across or that find her.
“An old friend, a museum archivist, working at an Ivy League school finds an old endowment that was supposed to be used only for theological education, to send its graduates out into New York City to make it a better place, is instead being used for everything and not what it was originally intended for,” said Kadlecek.
Hmm. Money. Power. Abuse of money. Abuse of power. Sounds like Lightfoot has another great story on her hands — if she can just track her sources, get the documentation and get the right people on the record.
Kadlecek does a good job of portraying the often shaky and muddled world a reporter navigates when pursuing a story. Whom to believe? What’s fact? What’s speculation? What’s the truth? Who’s manipulating whom? Beating the competition to the story.
Journalism, theology and diversity all collide in Lightfoot’s world.
“So many things I am about made it into these books. That surprised me,” Kadlecek said. “What journalism is supposed to be about is in these books.”
In “A Minute before Friday,” Lightfoot suddenly finds her new paper being bought out by investors who will turn it into more of a tabloid.
“So, she’s asking, ‘How can I stay true to the ethics of what I believe?’” said Kadlecek. “It’s easy to blame others for all these things, but it comes down to who we are in those moments.
“I don’t think we have enough of these kinds of people. I don’t think that many journalists know how to have those conversations. Yet religion is in the news everyday.”