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Book Review

The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Modern artist Roman Velasco is haunted by the events of his past — growing up in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. After his mother, a prostitute, disappeared, Roman (then known as Billy Ray) was shuttled between foster homes. Although loath to commit violent crimes or deal drugs, Billy Ray managed to find a family within one of the gangs in his neighborhood. He did this by “tagging,” spray-painting gang graffiti on buildings throughout the city. Roman still finds release by breaking the law and creating art on public buildings and bridges.

Grace Moore is a young divorcee with a baby. She had supported her husband while he obtained his college degree, with the understanding that he would then work while she finished school. However, not long after he graduated, he took their savings and left to set up house with another woman.

Devastated, Grace sought solace in her faith except for one night when a friend convinced her to join her at a bar. After drinking, Grace found herself dancing with a handsome man. Intoxicated and lonely, she accepted his invitation to go to his condominium. That one night of rebellion ended in pregnancy.

Originally, she planned to give the baby up for adoption. However, once she held Samuel, she could not let him go. She has lived with the people who were chosen to adopt him since Samuel’s birth, but longs to find a place of her own with her son. Selah, the woman who wanted to adopt Samuel, is growing more attached to him every day.

Grace accepts a temporary position as Roman’s personal assistant. She is immediately on guard, as Roman reminds her of her ex-husband, a good-looking player who breaks hearts. Roman tries to assure Grace that she is not his type, but he does appreciate her organizational skills and her coffee. With her in charge of his affairs, he is free to finish the paintings for his next gallery show.

Over the next few weeks, Roman finds himself attracted to Grace, as much for her good looks as for the peaceful quality she exudes, even when he exasperates her. When she finishes the work she was assigned to do, he convinces her become his permanent assistant. To sweeten the deal, she can move into the guest cottage in the back of his property. Grace arranges for her church friends to vet both Roman and the situation.

In the end, she agrees as Selah is becoming more possessive of Samuel. Selah will keep Samuel during the week, but Grace will pick him up every Friday for the weekend, until she can find reputable childcare near the cottage.

Grace moves into the cottage. While Roman is away finishing a mural for a San Diego hotel, he calls her several times, trying to get her to come visit him. She refuses. She can tell he is drunk and lonely. She tries to talk to him about her faith, but Roman has not forgiven God for allowing his mother to die. Years after Roman thought she had abandoned him, he discovered she died of a drug overdose.

While Roman is away, Grace’s friends set her up on a blind date with a widowed youth pastor named Brian. Although initially against the idea, Grace finds Brian easy to talk to and interesting. She also knows that although he is handsome, she is not physically attracted to him. She does not have to keep up her guard with him as she does with Roman. Brian invites her and Samuel to go on a beach excursion with the kids from his church, and they all have a great time.

Roman is surprised by a visit from an old friend, Jasper, who has come to attend Roman’s new gallery show. Jasper had been his teacher at a court-appointed group home. Roman is preoccupied at the show's opening by Grace’s appearance. She is beautiful in her black cocktail dress and long hair.

Grace brings Brian to the gallery, which makes Roman jealous. At home, he watches Grace and Brian kiss goodnight. In the morning, Jasper confronts him about Grace. He encourages Roman to get to know her as a person, not just an employee. The gallery owner calls to tell him that a police officer had been at the art show and asked a lot of questions about one of the paintings.

The painting in question was of blackbirds, reminiscent of the graffiti he used to do. Nervous, he decides to take a road trip on the pretense of checking out a new mural. He insists that Grace come along and promises to get her home in time to pick up Samuel for the weekend.

Over the next few days, Roman introduces Grace to the beautiful scenery in Northern California. In a rare moment of authenticity, he brings Grace to the group home he had lived at as a teenager. The owners, Chet and Susan, are thrilled to see him after so many years.

Jasper is also there. While at the ranch, Grace gains insight into Roman’s troubled past. She also finds herself liking his foster family and their obvious love for him.

Roman insists Grace take him to meet Aunt Elizabeth, the woman who raised her after her parents died. Grace knew her aunt resented her because she looked like her father. Her aunt hated her father, especially after he killed Grace’s mother. Elizabeth’s friendly demeanor surprises Grace. Roman is uncomfortable with the way they talk about God, but he appreciates Elizabeth’s warning that he better not hurt Grace.

After they leave, Roman suffers a heart attack and dies on the sidewalk. He is attacked by demons that drag him down toward hell. Roman calls out for Jesus. He is pulled out of hell by a bright light that he knows is Jesus and is brought back to life. Grace stays by his side at the hospital. Once home, Roman struggles to accept what happened to him.

Grace and Brian mutually break off their relationship, as they feel only friendship. Roman uses the opportunity to ask Grace to move in with him, not understanding that the invitation violates her faith. She quits her job and moves up north with Samuel. She begins to rebuild her life, going back to school and enjoying a loving relationship with Elizabeth.

Roman seeks out Brian, and the two men talk about Grace and faith. A deep friendship develops, and Brian mentors Roman. Over the next months, Roman sells his house and moves into an apartment by Brian’s church, a converted warehouse in the city. Brian commissions him to paint a mural, and Roman enlists the help of several ex-gang members for the project.

The mural becomes an internet sensation. After feeling God leading him, Roman reaches out to Grace. Grace learns that he is now a man following God. They get married, and Roman creates art that expresses his newfound faith.

Christian Beliefs

God’s message of love, grace and forgiveness is woven throughout the story. Grace is a character with a deep faith and often prays, reads her Bible and questions her actions. At one point she briefly thinks God might be punishing her for her sins.

She tries to talk to Roman about her faith. She tells him he has a God-given talent. Roman has questioned religion for many years. A sign in the Tenderloin claimed that Jesus saves, but Jesus could not save himself from dying on the Cross nor did He save Roman’s mother.

Roman toured the St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. Although beautiful, he wondered whether the sculptures and paintings were done to honor God or to show power. Roman wondered how much it costs to get to heaven.

Elizabeth struggled to forgive Grace’s father and told a friend she hoped he was burning in hell, even though she knows God teaches she should forgive him. An angel visited Grace after her parents died. The glowing figure comforted her when she was scared and helped her sleep.

When Roman has his heart attack, he dies for several minutes. He is taken to a dark tunnel by two demons. The tunnel leads to hell. Roman calls out for Jesus and is saved. Although Roman knows the truth after his experience, it is not until Brian starts to mentor him that he chooses to be a disciple of Jesus.

Other Belief Systems

After his time in Europe, Roman develops a cynical attitude about life, believing people should be allowed to believe whatever they want to believe.

Authority Roles

Roman’s mother loved him, but was addicted to drugs. She became a prostitute to support her habit and provide for her son. Roman believed she had abandoned him but discovered later that she died of a drug overdose.

Chet and Susan, owners of a ranch for troubled boys, became role models and parents for him, showing him God’s grace. Grace’s father was a violent man who accidently killed her mother when he pushed her, and she hit her head on the kitchen counter. He then killed himself. Elizabeth saw Grace was provided for physically throughout her childhood, but not emotionally. Elizabeth apologizes to Grace for her behavior, and the two develop a more loving and healthy relationship by the end of the book.


We are told that Roman swears but not what he says. He remembers people using Jesus’ name as a curse, but not in the way that Grace says it. The words b--tard and h--- are used. Objectionable words are Holy Jehoshaphat, bull and darn.

Growing up as Bobby Ray, Roman learned to never back down from a fight. He would not start one, but if provoked, he would hit hard. He would beat his enemy until he stayed down.

One of the men his mother brought home for sex once threw Billy Ray across the room. His mother had jumped on the man’s back, and the man had hit and kicked her before he left. Billy Ray joined a gang for protection and a sense of family. He knew some of the members had killed people in the past.

Bobby Ray began tagging for the gang so he would not have to run drugs. One boy fell to his death while trying to help him paint graffiti. Rival gang members shot two of his friends. Billy Ray set fire to the garage in one foster home, chucked dog feces into another family’s hot tub and kicked dents in another foster family’s new van.

Grace was hiding in the closet when her parents fought in the kitchen. She heard a thump and then her father crying. He opened the closet the door, and Grace saw him take down something shiny. He shut the door again, and she heard a loud bang. Later she learned he had accidently killed her mother and then shot himself.

Roman suffers a heart attack and dies for several minutes. During this time he is taken by demons into the mouth of hell. Many other decaying creatures taunt him with vile names and terrifying descriptions of what they will do to him. He sees thousands of people screaming as they are carried into a dark abyss. He calls on Jesus for help, and someone pulls him back. A demon claws at his leg as he is being freed, leaving him with a permanent injury.


Grace and Brian share several kisses, but they are not passionate kisses. Grace is not physically attracted to him. Before marrying, Grace and her first husband dated for several months before he kissed her at prom. They kissed again in his apartment at college. He manipulated Grace into having sex with him, saying it was not fair to lead him on and then deny him. When she became pregnant after they were married, he wanted her to have an abortion. He bought champagne when she miscarried their child.

Grace came home early from work one day and found him with another woman. Neither had on more than their underwear. After her divorce, Grace accompanied a friend to a bar. After dancing with a man, she went to his house and the two had sex. This stranger is her son’s father. It is hinted that the boy could be Roman’s, as he used to frequent the bar and remembers one girl with a story similar to Grace’s.

Billy Ray notices that the head of the gang has several children by different mothers. His own mother was a prostitute and sometimes brought the men home to their apartment. Billy Ray knew on those nights he had to sleep out on the couch rather than in the bed he shared with his mother. He considers his own father nothing more than a sperm donor.

He assures his roommate at the ranch that he is not gay. Roman uses women as a way to escape his problems and loneliness. He considers picking up a woman in a bar just to have sex with her. Roman and Grace share several passionate kisses but make a point to physically separate themselves before they lose control, as they want to honor God in their relationship.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: Several characters drink alcohol. Roman drinks to excess in order to ease his loneliness. Grace became intoxicated at a bar. One of Billy Ray’s foster fathers drank beer. Grace remembers several occasions when her ex-husband drank beer or champagne. A friend of Grace’s gets very drunk at a bar after she breaks up with her boyfriend.

Drugs: Billy Ray’s mother was often high. He delivered several packages of pot for his gang. Another gang member was on meth. Roman was high the last time he slept with a stranger at a bar.

Crime: Roman started creating graffiti as Billy Ray. He becomes addicted to the emotional release he gets from tagging for a gang, even though it is against the law.

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

18 and up


Francine Rivers






Record Label



Tyndale House Publishers Inc.


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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