A New Kind of Normal
by Carol Kent

Thomas Nelson, 2007     252 pages   

Review by Jeffrey Hillard March 2008


Carol Kent and her husband Gene were living a successful, blissful life. Carol, a celebrated author of Christian-living books, had a full speaking schedule. Gene, a gifted businessman, was also the center of support for Carol’s ministry. They had a model son in Jason, a man who had accomplished so much in his young life.

Then there was the phone call on October 25, 1999.The phone call changed Carol and Gene’s lives within minutes. Their thoughts of Carol’s ministry, of reaching out to help people, of business, of living inspired and generous lives, of being focused on their son’s new family, and of simple day-to-day plans altogether took an abrupt turn. It is an experience no parent wants to confront.

Jason had committed a homicide. Jason was on a fast track in the U.S. Navy: U.S. Navy Nuclear Power School and Special Operations, included. Now he had been arrested. His life would never be the same, either.

Jason Kent was arrested, tried, and convicted for the murder of his wife’s first husband, Douglas Miller Jr. The lead-up to the homicide seemed even more complicated.

It ranged from possible problems Jason may have incurred from deep sea diving to the tense divorce proceeding between Jason’s wife and her first husband, to Jason’s new stepchildren.

Carol Kent continues to explore the difficult parts of this family tragedy in A New Kind of Normal: Hope-Filled Choices When Life Turns Upside-Down.

Her first memoir, the best-seller When I Lay My Isaac Down, captured the early months when the family’s lives were shattered by Jason’s case. It was likely cathartic for her to write, since she was dealing with the anguish the Kent family went through during Jason’s trial, Carol and Gene’s relocation to central Florida, and the realization they would indefinitely be visiting their son Jason in a maximum Florida prison.

When I Lay My Isaac Down contained the kind of passionate writing you might expect. Yet it never delved into sentimentality, nor did the tone evoke pity. Ms. Kent’s horrific story shakes you so frequently simply because of the magnitude of the crisis. When I Lay My Isaac Down served the perfect balance of utter despair and hope, certainly hope as found in the peace and promises of Jesus. It was the Kent’s faith that sustained them, and it was Jason’s faith that allowed him to accept his sentence. (A born leader, soon after he received his sentence of life without possibility of parole, Jason began to influence inmates to gather in a Bible study and group discussions. He established a real rapport with the prison chaplain.)

A New Kind of Normal carries a similar narrative weight. It is a fantastic book. It chronicles the years since Carol and Gene relocated to a suburb near Orlando after the trial and restructured their lives around Jason’s incarceration.

Ms. Kent continues the story of the Kent family loss and of Jason’s imprisonment. She writes movingly about losing Jason, seemingly forever, to the Florida penal system. She writes about her struggle that is never self-defeating, but intertwined in her already-extraordinary gifts of speaking, writing, and mentoring. She and Gene, through answered prayer, she writes, initiated an organization to help loved ones and children of incarcerated individuals, especially at Hardee Correctional Institution, where Jason is incarcerated.

No matter the uncertainty of tomorrow, Ms. Kent emphasizes that her choices are going to be constructive and hopefully liberating. As a result, each of the eight chapters showcases her primary choices (“relinquishment when nothing goes as planned”; “perseverance when she wants relief from unrelenting reality”; and six others).       

A New Kind of Normal is cleverly structured. Ms Kent accentuates her own story of loss and hope by offering parallel reflections on Mary the Mother of Jesus’ own struggles  and by using excerpts from her husband Gene’s intense, eye-opening journal. These two strands work very well to keep the reader’s attention heightened. They allow us to understand that Ms. Kent could find solace in knowing Jesus’ mother similarly had to withstand the struggles and incarceration of her own son.

For example, Ms. Kent writes, “I wish I could be more like Mary [Jesus’ mother] every day. My heart longs to trust God the way she did – ready to serve, no matter what the gossip, the criticism, and the misunderstanding from others, in spite of the ache of my soul every time I think of my son.”

Each chapter concludes, too, in discussion questions. The thought is that the Kent’s pain stemming from a personal crisis is still comparable to others’ pain. There are those in need of similar answers that Carol and Gene have received. Readers facing a similar circumstance or pain can allow the questions to release in them some previously isolated thoughts and feelings, thus allowing for some healing. This helpful addition to each chapter does not obstruct the well-paced, intriguing story.

Unfortunately, there is not necessarily a happy ending to the Kent’s story. Jason’s wife, by the end of the book, has departed to another state. His wife has cut off contact from Carol and Gene and does not permit them to see her children. This distance is numbing. Whether or not Jason is still in contact with his wife – at the time of this book’s publication – is not clear. Another kind of loss for Carol and Gene. They had faith that the family could weather this crisis.

Still, the Kents keep their regularly scheduled prison visits. They attend to some needs of people who have incarcerated loved ones. They pray. They write. They work diligently on their national speaker’s bureau and their nonprofit organization, Speak Up for Hope (www.speakupforhope.org).

Read this book. Carol Kent’s second memoir on her son’s unexpected incarceration is her second major effort at supreme truth-telling in memoir. It does not trivialize the nature of losing a loved one to life imprisonment with no possibility for parole. Carol and Gene were in the thick of the trial action, too, and though it’s been about eight years now, you get the feeling that the Kents are just starting to come out of it. It’s a daily coming-out and it’s endless.Yet they find utter peace in God, and only peace from the words and presence of Jesus in their lives. That’s endless, too.

A New Kind of Normal