Fifteen Minutes by Karen Kingsbury
1. Biographical Information
Kingsbury, K. (2013). Fifteen Minutes. Howard Books (division of Simon & Schuster).
Zack Dylan is a good Christian young adult (age 23) who has spent his life on a horse farm in Kentucky. He’s engaged with Reese, a girl who works as an equine therapist (using horses to treat children with developmental issues). They are completely committed to each other. Zack lives with his two parents, Grandpa Dan, and two younger siblings, his brother Duke and his sister AJ, who has Down syndrome. Zack’s family is going through financial difficulties, and this is a motivational factor for him to try out for Fifteen Minutes, an American Idol/Voice-type show. His genre is country, not gospel or Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), but he will use Fifteen Minutes as a platform to share the Gospel. Zack also insists Fifteen Minutes will not change him. Needless to say, his time on the show does change him. He soon attracts the attention of the judges and of a fellow contestant, Zooey Davis, who while only 18 has fallen hard for the handsome Zack. He doesn’t encourage Zooey’s attention but doesn’t discourage it strongly either. Their relationship gets confusing for Zack: sometimes friendship, sometimes romantic. Reese and Zack’s family can only watch as his appearances on Fifteen Minutes shift him into someone slowly being corrupted by fame. Also watching is Chandra Olson, one of the judges and a former Fifteen Minutes winner. She is haunted by what success has done to her. Chandra believes she is now in the prison of fame and regrets going on Fifteen Minutes, which was responsible for much tragedy in her life. Another judge, Kelly Morgan, has drifted from her Christian upbringing and become obsessed with staying and looking young, and her marriage has come undone. While Kelly has an open affair with a womanizer ten years younger, her husband and children are waiting, as is her father, a pastor dying of cancer. Zack’s slow descent affects everyone in his circle, some for good, some not. However, what in the end is the cost of Zack’s Fifteen Minutes, and will he find his way back home (metaphorically and literally)?
3. Comparison of Characteristics
Fifteen Minutes falls squarely within the boundaries of Christian fiction. The story centers on how Zach has wandered away from his love of Christ to compromise his beliefs and principles and how, after a ‘dark night of the soul’ where he loses the girl he loves and becomes a stranger to his family, he finds the only really important thing in life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Similarly, while Kelly does not end up returning to her Christian roots, she does appear to be drifting in that direction. Kingsbury also stays strictly within boundaries when it comes to the Zack and Zooey relationship. It is a very tame romance and Kingsbury does have Zack and Zooey come dangerously close to indulging in the pleasures of the flesh but pulls back. There is kissing but it stops before it can go into actual sex. Some readers may be surprised at how strong the near-seduction of Zack is, but his stopping before it can go deeper reaffirms the Christian view of no sex outside marriage.
4. My Reaction
In a case of ‘he doth protest too much’, every time Zack said a variation of ‘Fame isn’t going to change me’, I smirked. When that gets repeated a lot, you KNOW fame IS going to change him. Fifteen Minutes starts a bit heavy-handed in its portrayal of the almost saintly Zack (perfect soul, perfect body, and perfect voice) to where you almost want him to fail. Reese too starts out as a girl who finds it rational to give up an opportunity to work in London, doing what she loves, to stay with her man (especially since he pleads for her not to go). However, as the story moves you start to see how Zack could begin to shift so quickly and how fast the show took over his life. The major characters become real: Zack’s realization that he’s strayed from his core beliefs, Reese’s realization that Zack isn’t who he thought he was, Kelly’s that being ‘perfect’ isn’t as important as being ‘good’. The minor characters still annoyed me (AJ and Grandpa Dan were one-dimensional and only there for emotional reaction and moralizing), and there are questions about Zack’s intelligence. Why didn’t he tell Zooey he wasn’t interested in the beginning? Why didn’t he seek what is called an ‘accountability partner’ (someone he can turn to when facing temptations)? Fifteen Minutes mentions at least one contestant who wasn’t changed and remained Christian, though he was mentioned at the end. This both undercuts Kingsbury’s idea (fame corrupts even the strongest and show-business is no place for real Christians) and makes me wonder if the other character was so open and true, why didn’t Zack turn to him? However, by the end Kingsbury manages to have us genuinely care about the characters because they start becoming real. We see this especially in Kelly’s journey because her problems (failing marriage, difficulties with disapproving and dying parents, balancing home and work) seem more realistic than Zack trying to be a superstar and forgetting his Lord. It wasn’t a bad read, apart from a clunky beginning.
5. Comparison to Other Genres
Christian readers I think will enjoy Fifteen Minutes. It reaffirms the idea that one must stay true to one’s faith, and seeing Zack’s redemption after he slips from his faith is an interesting and optimistic journey. Fifteen Minutes might qualify as a romance since the love story between Zack and Reese is a major part of the plot.