Refuse to Drown (a review and a give away!) {Book Club}

This past year I have been on a voracious memoir kick. I think it started with a list of memoirs on some blog. I’m not entirely clear, because when I was returning to the States, I did my usual routine of looking at my “to-read” list on Goodreads and then requesting a ridiculous amount of books from the library. Often I forget what the books are and view picking them up at the library like a mini-Christmas. So, I was a bit surprised by the amount of memoirs I had. It turns out memoirs have been soothing for the soul as I have been allowed to walk for a while with a person down a path I (hopefully in many cases) will never need to walk.

I admire memoirists because they lift of the curtain and allow us a look behind the scenes. Last month when author Shawn Smucker asked his readers for volunteers interested in receiving an advanced copy of Refuse to Drown by Tim Kreider with Shawn Smucker, I put my hand firmly up in the air (which on the internet means I left a comment saying “YOU BET.”)


Here’s a brief summary from the Refuse to Drown website:

“Manheim Township, PA, was rocked by a seemingly random triple-homicide during the summer of 2007. There were no witnesses, very few leads and no solid suspects. As days turned into weeks and the crime remained unsolved, the small-town neighborhood was filled with sadness, questions, and a growing sense of fear. One month after the murders, Tim Kreider’s son Alec was committed to a mental health hospital. One of Alec’s best friends had been one of the murder victims, and Tim feared that the loss had pushed his long-troubled son over the edge. Tim didn’t realize that his world was about to come crashing down around him. Refuse to Drown is the true story of a father’s despair and the type of perseverance that can lead to hope and healing.”

The subtitle is “a father’s unthinkable choice” and though I doubt any of us have faced the choice he faced, we have all faced hard choices. The reason I wanted to share this book with you, is in our line of work we all need to hold the long perspective in light of the daily grind we face. If you have children who are not making choices you want to see them make, or have family members who struggle with internal demons, have some national friends who are going to need you to be in it for the long haul, or are facing a seemingly impossible situations, it’s easy to forget that others have walked challenging paths as well.

We are quick to share the victories. And I get it, I really do! They ARE exciting and encouraging and package easier than the messes and the disappointments and paths that seems to double-back on themselves so much it’s easy to get lost. Refuse to Drown is not brilliant literature, instead it is raw and real and Tim is able to walk with the reader through the experience from his perspective.

In a time where inexplicable things are happening both in your home and host countries, this is a timely book to say, “hey, bad things can happen to good people, good parents, good families AND God will walk through the valleys with you.”


In light of my love of memoirs and in support of Refuse to Drown any one who leaves a comment of support, a piece of their own story, or a memoir they recommend will be entered in a drawing for a copy of Refuse to Drown! You have all week to enter and the winner will be announced next Tuesday.

If you’re interested in my top ten (or so, I haven’t made the list yet) memoirs I’ve read this year, I plan to share it in my quarterly Messy Middle newsletter that will go out the end of March. It’s easy to sign up for 🙂


P.S. As a brief reminder, this month we are talking all things books! The first Tuesday of March we will start our next book The Gift of Imperfection by Brene’ Brown. You can get read more of the details and watch two (potentially) life altering TED talks Brene gave.

Photo credit from the Refuse to Drown website

Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazonany purchase you make supports this site.


  1. Kate February 17, 2014

    I *just* posted my first attempt at writing memoir, and loved it so much that I’ve decided to start a new series on my blog called Memoir Monday.  Also, funny enough, my first memoir post is about the day I almost drowned.

    Though the topic is vastly different from the book you describe, I did find it somewhat comical that you would post on memoir *and* a book called Refuse to Drown today.  Thanks for this post, and I would love to read that book.

    1. Amy Young February 17, 2014

      Hey Kate, fun to read your post … and I grew up rafting so have many happy (and hairy) memories :).

  2. Jennifer Dorr February 17, 2014

    Wow, I’m not sure that I can compete with Kate, who sounds like the book should be hers.  However, I am serving in South Africa and I love to read.  I will read anything and find memoirs interesting because they are so “real”.  I blog but often the best stories are the ones I don’t tell.  They are too raw and too hurtful but are the kind that would help others on their journey.


    1. Kate February 17, 2014

      Jennifer, where in South Africa do you work/live?  I’m married to a South African, and spent ten years living in Cape Town.  Planning to move to NorthWest province in a few years, Lord willing.  Love, love, love that country.

    2. Amy Young February 17, 2014

      Jennifer, I understand what you mean by “the best stories are the ones I don’t tell” (or that enough time hasn’t passed to be able to share :)). What’s one of your favorite memoirs?

  3. Elisa February 17, 2014

    Wow!  So much to comment on and yet, against my nature I need to make this short. 🙂  I like Kate found the title of this book to be extremely timely.  I’m fairly young to some and very young to many in my line of work BUT I’ve found many times, especially in the past three years of my life both the Father saving me from drowning  completely and me refusing to drown in a good way.  “Me refusing to drown”… that’s a hard one to define.  But it can be small like coming back from a very long but amazing working trip in China to way too much on my plate with a brand new Newspaper Reading class to prepare a curriculum and teach for.  Which leads to some bigger  things like me refusing the Father and His timing (not trusting Him enough to rest and Sabbath) so He lays me out on my back with a migraine or I get the worst cold known to man at what I think is the worst possible time.  (Really though, in all of this I just need to just lay it at His feet daily/momently.  I just need to practice what He urges us to…I just need to trust Him more than me. And cling with white knuckles to the truths found especially in the NT about who I am b/c of the Son and who He is!)
    In trying to keep this “the Elisa version of short” 😉 I will “quickly” conclude with…
    1) Amy, great post!  So glad you put this up today.  I always am blessed to see how He uses us all as tools but especially b/c  I FOLLOW THE MESSY MIDDLE.
    2) If I post more comments does my name get put in more times?  I’m pretty competitive.  Plus, I love books and free stuff about as much as I love American ice-cream…a.k.a…I’ll post way too many comments to win, so I might have answered that question for all of us 🙂
    3) Amy, is Brene Brown the same Brene Brown that I think I remember listening to TED talks in member care training meetings?  If so, YEAH!!!!  She’s hilarious and has some interesting insights for sure!
    Ok, finally… 🙂 The End. 🙂

    1. Amy Young February 17, 2014

      Oh Elisa, you make me smile! Long or short, I’ll take any Elisa I can get :). And how about people can enter up to five times?

  4. Christie Hagerman February 17, 2014

    I’ve just begun to appreciate memoirs, too.  This one sounds intriguing.

  5. Julie B February 17, 2014

    The title captured me too!  Refuse to Drown – that’s where I am right now… the midst of making some unexpected health care decisions here in Asia (although from what you describe  my issues are relatively minor in comparison with what this father must have faced).  I have a feeling that this book needs to be on my list for this year as it seems to fit with my One Word for 2014 – STEADFAST – I’d love to read this book!

    1. Amy Young February 18, 2014

      Julie B, one of the few downsides of hearing others’ stories is that we are tempted to downplay our real (and to us) difficult situations. Unexpected health care decisions are NOT FUN. And I’m sorry :). And yes, this would go well with steadfast! 🙂

  6. Polly February 17, 2014

    Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face is fantastic.  From Google Reads: “This powerful memoir is about the premium we put on beauty and on a woman’s face in particular. It took Lucy Grealy twenty years of living with a distorted self-image and more than thirty reconstructive procedures before she could come to terms with her appearance after childhood cancer and surgery that left her jaw disfigured. As a young girl, she absorbed the searing pain of peer rejection and the paralyzing fear of never being loved.”

    1. Amy Young February 18, 2014

      Polly, I’ve heard of Lucy’s biography, but haven’t read it. I have read the story of her friendship with Ann Patchett (Truth and Beauty) — written after Lucy had died unexpectedly. I’ll need to check out the autobiography you mention. Truth and Beauty, though beautifully written, is a poignant reminder of how lost, lost people can be. Have you read it? Anyone?

      1. Polly February 18, 2014

        Nope, I haven’t read Truth and Beauty, but I have heard of it.

  7. Sarah Rideout February 18, 2014

    Oh…drowning!  I feel like I am coming close to that often…def not in the same way it appears this author did, but that’s the beautiful thing in reading a memoir…your lifea don’t have to be the same and yet you learn incredible things and draw wonderful illustrations from “walking with someone in their life” for just a short time .  We are currently drowning in unrelenting issues with our project and I am dealing  with my own set of issues that are deep and deal with so many cultural  stuff that I can’t seem to wrap my mind around; specifically what is my role in certain life experiences here on the field. So much to think about ! Thanks for  faithfully serving here in this forum!!! heres to hoping I win!!

    1. Danielle Wheeler February 18, 2014

      So glad you’re here with us, Sarah!  I hope Velvet Ashes a place to help you process all that you’re going through.  I think you’ll find in us a group that can relate.  Hope to see you here more, and to have you unpack your story with us.  I think you’ll especially appreciate the posts coming up next month.  Praying for you tonight, sister!

    2. Amy Young February 18, 2014

      Sarah, as Danielle said, may we in small ways throw you a life preserve and offer to bobble with you in these uncertain waters. If you want me to pray more specifically for you email me at [email protected] … and if you don’t no worries. God will guide me as I pray 🙂

    3. Elisa February 20, 2014

      Sarah we might not know each other but I’m so thankful for what you’ve shared. I’ve just taken time to lift you up.   I don’t want to pelt you with pieces of the Word.  I just want to cheer you on…  You are a daughter of the Most High King and He KNOWS everything and will bring about victory (always) for what’s going on in your heart and even in the cultural struggles around you. Your Abba’s got you and He won’t let you go.  He’s orchestrating everything for your good and His glory. Find your rest in Him.

  8. Sarah Rideout February 18, 2014

    I also reccomend “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier”.  It hits places that few have experienced, but many of us can feel the pains of and gives us hope to keep persevering under unheard of traumatic experiences.

    1. Amy Young February 18, 2014

      I second that! Reading his/their stories made me feel so many things. Sad, grateful, horrified at what we can do to one another, relieved God/his grace and redemption CAN reach into any situation!

  9. Danielle Wheeler February 18, 2014

    One of my favorite Christian memoirs – Brennan Manning’s “All is Grace.”  His books altered my life in high school.  To read of the life he was living at the time he wrote those…  Well, rather than become disillusioned, I grew to love grace more because of this book.

    One of my favorite “other” memoirs – Jeannette Walls’ “Glass Castle.”  What. a. story.  Couldn’t-put-it-down kind of good.  Makes you re-think life, while the whole time you’re slapping your forehead saying, “People really live like this??”  Brilliant look into family relationships.

    1. Amy Young February 18, 2014

      Couldn’t put it down is a GREAT way to describe it!! The forehead slapping, I know, right?!

    2. Elisa February 20, 2014

      YES!  One of my best friends told me last summer that it was a great book.  She also said it made her want to go back and re-read all of his books through the lens of  his memoir.

  10. Jennifer February 18, 2014

    Refusing to drown… Refusing to be overwhelmed… Standing firm and refusing to give up when giving up simply seems the best option and the easiest way to find peace. Walking through days, weeks, months when it can seem difficult to take even one step, yet somehow still being sustained by a God who never lets go, who never walks away, who never rejects as we walk through times of deepest challenge. Glimpses of light, glimpses of hope, glimpses of peace. Walking on one small step at a time, words of hope, words of I hear you, words of walk on you can do it. Taking time just to be with God, just to be me, just to be still. Walking on one day at a time, unexpected acceptance, unexpected praise, unexpected hope, unexpected peace. To me a miracle!  Part of my recent story.

    1. Elisa February 20, 2014

      Jennifer, thank you so much for sharing this!  It’s beautiful!  What you have written is something we can all resinate with.  I love His WORD and His TRUTH because they are unchanging and always true and what show us hope. They are what push us on.  They are “our true North” that resets our heart compass back to the Most Important One. But in the middle of our times seeking Him out.  I know I  feel more like the one tossed about by the waves. 😉  The beauty of your post is that there was more truth than waves. 🙂  It helped remind me to ride the waves of life with my armor on! 🙂

      1. Jennifer February 20, 2014

        Thank you for those words of encouragement. It simply came to be written when the words “Refuse to drown” and Amy’s suggestion of sharing part of our story being a way to respond this week came together. As I began I was actually going to simply say that it resonated deeply with me and the last 18 months because there is no way yet I can tell my story. I began to write and a few minutes later I had something with not only told something of the deepest reality of my story for the first time but also challenges me deeply with almost every sentence telling something of it and what I believe God has done, ending with this week, which will forever be a significant week in my story, the week of miracles, one thing after another, beginning with a friend simply prepared to pray. God is great.

  11. Amy Young February 18, 2014

    Jennifer, as always, thanks for offering a piece of yourself :). That is a gift!

    1. Jennifer February 20, 2014

      Amy, Thank you. “Refuse to drown” simply resonated with me and I recognized that this is at a deep level the reality of my experience the last 18 months. The picture just came to me of simply being in the water yet holding onto the edge of the boat and simply refusing to let go, despite what the people in the boat were saying.

  12. Mikkin Helvig February 20, 2014

    I love memoirs!!  My all-time favorite is “Girl Meets God” by Lauren Winner.  I read “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed this past year and that was a good read too.

    1. Amy Young February 23, 2014

      YES!! I love “Girl Meets God” and her follow-up “Silent.” Have you read it?

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