An Annotation on “The Shack”

The Shack – if you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, I highly encourage you to! I had wanted to read The Shack for years, but I came across in on TV before I ever had the chance.  I was a little hesitant to watch the movie prior to reading the book because most movie adaptations are so far removed from the truth of the book that I was afraid I would be disappointed. Surprisingly, the movie did not disappoint, and it made me that much more excited to dive into the pages that inspired it. Not only is W.P. Young a brilliant storyteller, but he is also spectacular with words.

I wrote a detailed annotation of The Shack for school this semester and I will share part of that with you here. Before I do, I should probably explain why I have Mercy Me’s “Even If” plastered above this post.  This song has pretty much been my anthem the last two years.  I absolutely LOVE everything about this song, and when I read The Shack I kept going back to it; the relevance is undeniable.


Reading Journal

The Shack

(William P. Young)

On Metaphor

Excerpt 1 (p. 66):

Although no one involved was left unmarked by the tragedy, Kate seemed to have been affected the most, disappearing into a shell, like a turtle protecting its soft underbelly from anything potentially dangerous…Mack and Nan both worried increasingly about her but couldn’t seem to find the right words to penetrate the fortress she was building around her heart.


Young is an absolute artist using Metaphor.  I give multiple examples of how he uses it throughout the book.  I could drive you nuts with all the brilliant metaphorical sentences he uses, but I am going to hold back, listing only a few. The image of a turtle disappearing into a shell describes Kate’s emotions perfectly.  I particularly liked the concept of words penetrating a fortress around her heart. I can’t image a more powerful way to depict precisely how she was feeling.

Excerpt 2 (p.76):

He had pushed away any thoughts of the place since Missy’s disappearance, sequestering his emotions securely in the padlocked basement of his own heart. … He had tried to avoid thinking about what he was doing and just keep putting one foot in front of the other, but like grass pushing through concrete, the repressed feelings and fears somehow began to poke through.


Young really likes to use metaphor when it comes to issues of the heart.  In Excerpt 2 you can see it again as he paints the illustration of a basement within a heart being secured with a padlock.  Simply genius.

Excerpt 3 (p. 80):

And finally, his heart exploded like a flash flood, releasing his pent-up anger and letting it rush down the rocky canyons of emotions.


Here we have another one of Young’s brilliant sentences showcasing his use of metaphor.  I always appreciate a writer’s ability to paint pictures with words, and metaphors lend themselves to this.  I would love to construct sentences similar to the one Young has herein; the type that leaves the reader in awe of his work.

Excerpt 4 (p. 85):

He had already been perched precariously on the precipice of emotion, and now the flooding scent and attendant memories staggered him.


I enjoyed his use of three words that start with the letter p in sequence: perched, precariously, and precipice.  His application of these words stood out to me instantly.  Sometimes I find myself writing sentences that incorporate many words that start with the same letter, and I wonder if they sound weird.  At times I leave them, other times I feel odd about it and change them.

On Using Italics for Emphasis

Excerpt 1 (p.32):

“Honey, she didn’t have to die. She chose to die to save her people. They were very sick and she wanted them to be healed.”

Excerpt 2 (p. 69):

There are times when you choose to believe something that would normally be considered absolutely irrational.  It doesn’t mean that it is actually irrational, but it surely is not rational.

Excerpt 3 (p. 91):

“You’re not supposed to do anything…That won’t get you any points around here. Go because it’s what you want to do.”


Some may find it a little distracting, but the use of italics to emphasize specific words was something Young did throughout the entirety of the book, and I really appreciated it.  Since emotions can get lost in written words, I find myself inclined to do the same.  The simplicity of italicizing a single word helps immensely where inflection of the voice gets lost.

On Style

Excerpt 1 (p.20):

With not a little effort he was finally able to stand and gingerly inch his way toward the house, humbled by the powers of ice and gravity.


In Excerpt 1 and 3, I noticed a nuance in Young’s writing: he prefers to use “with no little effort” instead of “with great effort,” “a lot of effort,” or any variation thereof.  Although a little unusual – maybe because he is Canadian –  I liked it!

Excerpt 2 (p.25):

But Mack had already left the room to wrestle with his dreams; maybe tonight there would be no nightmares, only visions, perhaps, of ice and trees and gravity.


I found this to be a unique way of saying he was asleep and likely having nightmares.  Young is a talented wordsmith, and I never seized to be impressed by his writing style.

Excerpt 3 (p. 65):

Shelving lined the walls surrounding an old table, a few chairs, and an old sofa that someone had hauled in with no little effort.

Commentary: See commentary for Excerpt 1.

Excerpt 4 (p. 68):

Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?


I found this chuckle-worthy despite it being a heavy topic.  I greatly enjoyed the play with words.

Excerpt 5 (p. 69):

Perhaps there is a suprarationality: reason beyond the normal definitions of fact or data-based logic; something that makes sense only if you can see a bigger picture of reality.


I found this to be a fascinating sentence.  The use of a colon and semi-colon in the same sentence is always impressive! Young even made up a word here: suprarationality is not in the dictionary.  When all else fails: make up a word and give it a definition.  We have to applaud that!

On Diction

Excerpt 1 (p.17):

And unlike illness, it is largely a corporate rather than individual experience.


I had to take a pause when I read this sentence and ask myself why he used the word corporate. I understand it, and yet, I am not sure that I would do the same.

Excerpt 2 (p. 27):

The weight of its presence dulled his eyes and stooped his shoulders. Even his efforts to shake it off were exhausting, as if his arms were sewn into its bleak folds of despair and he has somehow become part of it. He ate, worked, loved, dreamed, and played in this garment of heaviness, weighed down as if he were wearing a leaden bathrobe – trudging daily through the murky despondency that sucked the color out of everything.


As seen here and throughout the book, Young’s diction is praise-worthy.  This has examples of metaphor and is written in a way that allows the reader to visualize his demeanor.

Excerpt 3 (p. 81):

Mack sat in his emotionally spent stupor, weighing the options in the feel of the gun.


Saying that he weighed the options in the feel of the gun made me pause yet again.  I sat there for a minute and asked myself, why would he use those words? Instead of saying he weighed his options, or he weighed his options as he held the gun, for example, he chose the distinct phrase, “in the feel of the gun.”  I like this sentence a lot.

On Research

Excerpt 1 (p. 35):

Wallowa Lake State Park in Oregon and its surrounding area has been well referred to as the Little Switzerland of America. Wild, rugged mountains rise to almost ten thousand feet, and in between them are hidden innumerable valleys full of streams, hiking trails and high-elevation meadows overflowing with sprays of wildflowers. Wallowa Lake is the gateway into the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area and Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, which sports the deepest gorge in North America….

Seventy-five percent of the recreation area is roadless, with more than nine hundred miles of hiking trails. Once the domain of the prevailing Nez Perce tribe, the remnants of their presence are scattered throughout their way to the West. The nearby town of Joseph was named for a powerful tribal chief whose Indian name meant “Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain.”


This is one of the first examples I came across in the book that showed an exorbitant amount of research.  The excerpt above was about one page, yet there is so much depth to what he shares herein.  I love all of the detail that he gives, and even though the author is familiar with the area, you can tell that he did a lot of research in order to provide backstory.

On Leading and Foreshadowing

Excerpt 1 (p. 34):

Mack’s heart broke as he understood what this conversation had really been about. He gathered his little girl into his arms and pulled her close. With his own voice a little huskier than usual, he gently replied, “No, honey. I will never ask you to jump off a cliff, never, ever, ever.”

“Then will God ever ask me to jump off a cliff?”

“No, Missy. He would never ask you to do anything like that.”


Excerpt 1 is foreshadowing at its best.  From the foreword alone, to all the mention of The Great Sadness, we know that something horrible happened to Mack.  We get the feeling it was the loss of a child; in one sentence early-on in the book, I recall reading of a daughter in the past tense making me assume it was related (I didn’t mark it in the book, so I don’t have an exact reference). I’m not sure if my perception was skewed a bit because – I’ll confess – I had seen the movie before I read the book.  All that aside, I tried to read it with a fresh mind that didn’t know what to expect or what might come.  Nevertheless, I noticed the writing to be very “leading” as in what to expect when it comes to the ultimate tragedy.  What is unique, however, is that this tragedy is not really the peak of the book.  The real substance is once he arrived at the shack three-and-a-half years after the loss of Missy.

Excerpt 2 (p. 41):

Mack did not know it then, but within twenty-four hours his prayers would change drastically.

Excerpt 3 (p. 44):

A potential crisis had been averted. Or so Mack thought.


To lead or not to lead? If that’s even the right term for what Young is doing here. I did this a lot in my own work and I ended up removing it based on comments from my professors. I think overall, it takes away from the book.  I would have to agree with the assessment I was given before on my own work.  I would rather it not be said, and we simply find our way into the story without the expectation.


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