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Book Review

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by Bethany Turner 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

Sarah McDermott, née Hollenbeck, was divorced over three years ago. Her ex-husband, Patrick, ran off with one of his mistresses, a 24-year-old who is now pregnant. Sarah finds herself with plenty of time and money but nothing to do. Harnessing her anger over her husband’s affairs, she begins writing steamy romance stories. Her book club accidentally gets their hands on several pages of her rough draft, and they’re hooked. All of them but Piper.

Piper is the one book club woman who sees Sarah for what she is: lonely, self-absorbed and needing a friend. When Piper realizes what type of book Sarah is writing, she’s not impressed. The other book club women downplay Piper’s opinion, explaining she’s offended because she’s a Christian. Months pass, and the club members urge Sarah to find a publisher. She begins writing under the pen name Raine de Bourgh and selling her trashy novels worldwide.

Sarah loves the attention, until she realizes it is Raine they all love, not her. Even her ex-husband wants to have an affair with her now that she is famous. Piper sticks with her through her emotional crisis and is able to share Christ with Sarah. Sarah gives her life to Jesus but finds herself in a sticky spot. She’s still contractually obligated to go on book signing tours and do other publicity to promote her racy books. She’s also under contract to write another book.

Meanwhile, Sarah tries to learn what it means, in practical terms, to be a Christian. She attends church with Piper. On her first Sunday, she literally runs into a man she thinks could be the love of her life. It doesn’t take her long to discover he’s the church’s new pastor, Ben Delaney. He has a 5-year-old daughter and reveals his wife died when Madeline was a baby. He also admits he’s as taken with Sarah as she is with him.

Sarah begins to realize that being a Christian doesn’t mean strong sexual desires go away. She and Ben decide they need to approach their relationship carefully in order to honor God and stay sexually pure. Sarah begins to ponder writing a new kind of Christian romance novel. She’s seen the tame historical stories, but she wants to explore the passionate feelings of a modern couple striving to maintain a God-honoring dating relationship.

As Sarah and Ben’s relationship intensifies, Sarah has several concerns about the people in their world. She worries the congregants will discover her lurid past and cause trouble for Ben. She also feels a sense of discomfort with his old girlfriend and current parishioner, Laura. Ben sees Laura as an old friend and is oblivious to her obsession with him.

Ben gets word that the media are flocking to his church. Someone has leaked a story to the press about his relationship with Raine de Bourgh. What’s worse, the same person has accused Ben of fathering a child out of wedlock. The accuser turns out to be Laura.

Ben assures Sarah he never slept with Laura. Together they confront Laura before dealing with the press. Ultimately, the media learn Laura’s accusations about sleeping with Ben are false. Another parishioner, who had been embezzling funds, and Sarah’s assistant were also involved in initiating the media circus.

Ben and Sarah decide to marry in three months. At the wedding, Sarah’s ex-husband shows up and tries to convince her to come back to him. Her mother also urges her to reconsider marrying a man with whom she’s never had sex. Sarah is undaunted and marries Ben. The two can’t wait to leave the ceremony and start their honeymoon. Thanks to the public’s positive response after the media firestorm, Sarah’s publisher allows her to write a Christian romance book to fulfill her contract.

Christian Beliefs

Sarah attends a Catholic college to be with her Catholic boyfriend, Patrick. After she marries him, she goes to confession to keep up appearances. She baits the priest by telling him she doesn’t believe in God. The priest jokes that God doesn’t believe in her, either.

After that, Sarah feels she can be genuine in her conversation with him. Sarah’s book club tries to convince her that Piper’s opinion of her writing doesn’t matter because Piper is a Christian. When Piper doesn’t support her writing, Sarah is offended because she thinks Christians are supposed to be understanding and compassionate about everything.

After Piper leads Sarah to Christ, Sarah tries to learn about the Bible and her new faith. She and Ben work hard to keep their romantic relationship pure. She also feels called to write a Christian romance novel that shows the passion and benefits of married sex.

Other Belief Systems

Sarah’s agent says he doesn’t care if she worships God, Buddha or the Snail God.

Authority Roles

Sarah’s mother tries to convince her she shouldn’t marry someone with whom she’s never had sex. Ben’s parents are kind to Sarah, but Ben’s closest parental relationship is with his former wife’s strong Christian parents. They welcome Sarah into the family.


The words crap and freaking appear.


Sarah catches her husband making out with a woman in the room Sarah hoped would someday be their nursery. Sarah convinces herself her husband cheats on her because she’s not good in bed. She doesn’t want to consider that it has anything to do with who she is but only who he is.

Sarah secretly nicknames one of her book club women “Boob Job Bonnie.” Sex is mentioned frequently, as Sarah’s books are full of it. For media interviews, she pretends some of her material is based on her personal sexual experiences. Sarah says her sex life with her husband actually ended about two years before their marriage did. She has slept with a few men in her life, but she has to develop a new framework for viewing sex once she becomes a Christian. She wonders, in retrospect, whether she and her ex would have survived their dating relationship if they hadn’t been sleeping together.

As Sarah gets to know Ben, she realizes sexual desire doesn’t disappear when someone becomes a Christian. She and Ben put safeguards in place to keep them from giving in to their temptations for one another. She discovers the kisses she shares with Ben are the most passionate and meaningful of her life. She tells him she can’t wait to make love to him and that their kisses give her a little taste of what it will be like when they’re married. He says that when they’re married he plans to knock her up every chance he gets. The text depicts several tense moments in which Sarah and Ben reluctantly say goodnight to one another to avoid breaking their vows of premarital chastity.

Sarah wants to write a Christian romance novel in which the eroticism stems from the built-up sexual tension of waiting until the wedding night. Ben’s ex-girlfriend, Laura, tells the media that Ben fathered her child. She ultimately confesses she had become pregnant by Ben’s younger brother. Sarah’s mom is afraid Sarah is making a mistake by marrying someone without having premarital sex. She fears her daughter will be stuck in a marriage of sexual incompatibility. Sarah’s mother has had four husbands.

Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments/Notes

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

18 and up


Bethany Turner






Record Label



Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group


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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