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The Devil in Pew Number Seven

Rebecca Nichols Alonzo with Bob DeMoss

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. | 278 pages | $14.99

Reviewed by Jill Noel Shreve

rebecca nichols alonzo

“Even though Daddy struggled to appear brave, the anguish in his eyes spoke volumes. Splotches of blood stained his shirt just below his right shoulder. The inky redness was as real as the fear gnawing at the edges of my heart.” In her first memoir, The Devil in Pew Number Seven, Rebecca Nichols Alonzo opens her story in the kitchen of the house she grew up in, her father on the floor, shot by a man lurking in the front bedroom of her house, holding hostages, waiting. Alonzo’s father, fading in and out of consciousness, turns to her and asks the seven-year-old Rebecca to run. “You’ve got to be a big girl…you’ve got to run as fast as you can to Aunt Pat’s house…tell her to call the law.”

Set in the 1970’s in Sellerstown, a rural town in the southwestern part of North Carolina, Alonzo opens the door to her volatile life and to the years when a man terrorized her family. After hooking her audience with the armed man in her kitchen, she rewinds to two decades before, drawing her audience into the life of the Nichols family. She gives them a peek into her parents’ background and how they met and married, offering enough back-story so that her audience understands why her parents settled in this tiny country town.

 She communicates how both of her parents have a deep-rooted faith, about her father’s desire to go into the pastorate, and her mother’s desire to serve a community alongside her father. Alonzo reveals the perseverance of her parents when they believe they have received a call from God, and she shows their commitment to serve the town of Sellerstown. With all of this addressed early on in the story, Alonzo sets a clear and concise stage for the meeting between her folks and this “devil,” along with all the havoc he wreaks on her family before the scene in the kitchen

In the midst of the debacle, Alonzo invites her audience to look at the injustice brought about by this devil in a different, slightly uncomfortable light. She illuminates her story with a glint of forgiveness. While reliving the devastation, Alonzo recalls a conversation she had with her aunt. She shares with her aunt the pain and suffering reverberating through her life and Alonzo quotes her aunt, saying, “Forgiveness is a choice…not a feeling.” Then Alonzo showcases her own struggle with that concept as she moves through the story. She could have just stopped with the gruesome tale of a man terrorizing her family, but Alonzo takes it a step further by offering a narrative reflection throughout the work. It makes her a concrete character and adds depth and beauty to the story.

Alonzo constructs this intergenerational memoir with wisdom and precision by striking a balance between emotional and factual truth. She understands that memoir assumes and ignores most of one’s life, while focusing on a concentrated series of events. Alonzo found a way to stand with one foot in emotions and the other foot in the facts. With the factual information, she doesn’t get bogged down in trying to communicate every detail of every moment. Alonzo did her research, inserted what her audience needed to know and left the other stuff out. Juxtaposed against those facts, Alonzo divulges her heart’s location throughout the events with a vulnerability and authenticity that allows the reader to resonate with her, pulling off a tricky and seemingly effortless balancing act.

Along with attention to truth, Alonzo’s narrative structure and plot progression keeps the audience raptly engaged. She choreographs the memoir in a way that compels the reader to keep turning the page, desperate to know the outcome of the situation at hand. Alonzo uses tension and pacing in a way that resembles a roller coaster ride. Just when the patron thinks the ride’s over, the cars bank to the right and start up another hill. But unlike some memoirs, Alonzo doesn’t leave the reader stuck on the apex. She always satisfies her audience’s desire to know what happened next and she then serves a pure resolution.

The one thing I thought would make this memoir more successful would be the use of tangible language. In its current form, Alonzo opts for a religious vernacular rather than language all people can readily access. In this vein, on initial encounter, it seems as though she wrote the memoir for a particular, churched audience, rather than for a wide range of people. With that said, it might feel off-putting to some, making the memoir seem exclusive rather than inclusive. However, after reading the entire story, it’s evident that Alonzo wrote the memoir for all people to ingest and contemplate, not only for a particular sect or religious group.

I could resonate with the characters in this work, even the villain, not because of my background, but because of Alonzo’s intentionality behind rendering each character as accurately as possible. I could see, hear and understand all of the folks involved in this frightening and heart-wrenching tale. Because of that and the story’s plot, along with the way the narrator discloses her struggle as the plot transpires, I recommend this memoir. So, grab a copy in your local bookstore and walk alongside Rebecca Nichols Alonzo and her family as they stand eye-to-eye with The Devil in Pew Number Seven.

Reviewer Bio: Jill Noel Shreve teaches Creative Writing at Hunter College. You can read more about her at

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