As I've mentioned before, I am not much of a re-reader. It doesn't matter how much I like a book, I'm very unlikely to go back to it. There are just too many books I've never read for me to spend time re-reading things I've already read. However, as soon as I finished reading The Sparrow, I knew that one day I would read it again. I actually kind of just wanted to re-read it right then. But there was a sequel, so I opted to go that route instead. That was many and several years ago, that first reading, and I have finally gotten around to that re-read. I'm happy to announce that it holds up, which is always the worry when re-reading a book, that it just won't hold up to a second reading.
I think the first thing to point out about The Sparrow is that, for a science fiction book, you probably won't find it in the science fiction section of any bookstore. Generally, The Sparrow is found in the literature section (or whatever they call it now), which is--I want to say impressive, but that gives the wrong impression--abnormal for a book with aliens and interstellar travel. I'm going to say that this is because the book is not about the science fiction; the science fiction is just the stage for the true story, the story of a man and his faith.
So, while there is a voyage through space, the real voyage is spiritual. And I've probably given the wrong impression about what this book is about at this point, because it's not some book of Christian ideology. It's a book that asks questions, hard questions, and doesn't really know what to do with them or how to answer them. It never falls back on "God works in mysterious ways." I really appreciate the book for that. And it's not going to give you a bunch of "answers" at the end, either. There's no "trust God and it will all work out" pat on the back, and I appreciate it for that, too. To put it another way, this not a book preaching a bunch of Christian dogma.
It's not a "Christian" book at all, in fact, not from that perspective, anyway. It's not telling you the answers to all the questions of the universe. It's more asking those questions for you. Or, maybe, asking the questions you thought you weren't allowed to ask. Then it leaves you to figure out what you think about them, which can be a lot more uncomfortable than you might think.
This is one of those books that really speaks to me. It doesn't shy away from all of the crap that life can give you, and it certainly doesn't say, "Well, if bad stuff is happening to you, God must be punishing you." And I really want to talk about the specifics, but I'm not going to, because I think you should go read the book. This is one of the few (three, in fact) books that I think everyone should read. Everyone should have the opportunity to confront the questions The Sparrow asks and figure out if they're going to try to figure them out for themselves or shy away from them or pretend they don't exist.
The structure of the story only adds to everything else that's going on with the book. You follow the main character, Emilio Sandoz, through two different time lines: the trip to Rakhat in the past and the investigation into the trip in the present. It generates one of those situations where you know, ultimately, what happened, but you are rooting for the characters, anyway. You want to know "what" and you want to know "why." It's much more gripping than if the story had been typically linear.
That said, this is no lightweight book. It has humor, but it also has pain. It has enlightenment, but it also has darkness. It has great joy, but it has greater suffering. This is not a Harry Potter "This is great!" recommendation. It's not an amusement park; it's a mountain. But the journey, and the requirement of the climb, is worth it in the end. If you can make the climb. And I do get that not everyone can and not everyone wants to (it's hard work) but, probably, you will not regret it.
There's a good chance that in another five or seven years I will read it again.