Posts tagged ‘Religion’

The Great Good Summer

Great Good Summer.jpgTitle: The Great Good Summer
Author: Liz Garton Scanlon
ISBN: 9781481411479
Pages: 218 pages
Publisher/Date: Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2015.

God is alive and well in Loomer, Texas, so I don’t know why Mama had to go all the way to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida to find him, or to find herself, either.
Daddy says she went to get some of the sadness out of her system. He says it like it should be as easy as getting a soda stain out of a skirt. A little scrub, a little soak, one quick run through the machine—good as new and no big deal.
Every day since Mama left, Daddy’s been trying to convince me that things aren’t all that bad, even though Mama’s become a Holy Roller and has disappeared with a preacher who calls himself Hallelujah Dave. Meanwhile I’ve been trying to convince Daddy that things are truly and indeed all that bad. Hallelujah Dave, for goodness’ sake. (1)

Ivy Green’s mother has followed a charismatic preacher named Hallelujah Dave from Loomer, Texas to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle, Florida. Her father seems to think that eventually she will “get it out of her system,” whatever it is, and return to them in her own time. But that isn’t soon enough for Ivy, and with the encouragement of her friend Paul, whose dreams of becoming an astronaut have also been dashed with the closure of the space program. Getting to Florida sounds easy, but the trip is filled with trials and troubles, and it’s not so easy to get to Florida or to get back to Texas.

Every year seems to have its own trend in publishing that no one is able to guess until it’s almost passed. This year, it appears to be ultra-religious sects and communes. I don’t think any of the titles have become blockbuster best sellers, but here are some titles that have come to my attention recently. Liz Garton Scanlon’s first attempt at a novel is an exception to this list because it’s geared for a younger audience. It’s been said that children need these books because they need a variety of experiences to be able to empathize and sympathize with the rest of humanity. Some kids struggle to see themselves portrayed in publishing because they are a minority in some way compared to the majority of children. Ivy’s specific family situation is definitely one that only a small minority of children experience, but her insistence that her mother will return is probably typical of children who suffer from the absence, abandonment, or loss of a parent, regardless of how it happens. In this way, I may be able to convince children to read it, by book talking it as “Ivy’s mother has left, and Ivy is determined to find her and bring her back.”

Ivy’s voice is filled with old world, southern twang that sounds much older than her age. In a way, she is naïve and sheltered and frustrated with her failing faith in her father’s ability to set things right. In other ways, she and Paul are self-sufficient and street smart, having enough knowledge to research the trip, pay for a ticket, avoid detection from almost everyone, and maintain hope that things will work out. But they are also extremely lucky in their journey, and the ending is so pie in the sky happy that younger readers might think that all stories will end happily if you have enough hope and heart.

Lailah’s Lunchbox

Lailah's LunchboxTitle: Lailah’s Lunchbox
Author: Reem Faruqi
Illustrator: Lea Lyon
ISBN: 9780884484318
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Tilbury House Publishers, c2015.

”Lailah, did you forget your lunch?” asked Mrs. Penworth.
Lailah opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out.
Samantha volunteered, “I’ll share my lunch with Lailah!” (unpaged)

Last year, when she lived in Abu Dhabi, Lailah watched jealously when her friends were allowed to fast for Ramadan. A year later she’s living in Georgia with her family, and her mother is finally letting her participate. But a note to her teacher makes her realize she’ll be the only one, and is afraid of looking weird. How is she supposed to avoid eating and explain her fast to her classmates and teacher?

This is a very simplistic way of explaining fasting to a child. I wish there was slightly more explanation behind the meaning of Ramadan, the reason they fast, and/or the religious significance of the holiday, but that also would have made the book much more didactic. The beauty of this book is its simplicity. It’s also important that the book explicitly shows that Lailah is doing this with the supervision and support of her family, which distinguishes it for children who might be tempted to try it themselves. Notable for its focus on Ramadan, as non-religious stories are few and far between, but not something I would find myself recommending if it didn’t include that diversity element.

Spirit Fighter

Spirit FighterTitle: Spirit Fighter
Series: Son of Angels: Jonah Stone #1
Author: Jerel Law
ISBN: 9781400318438
Pages: 243 pages
Publisher/Date: Thomas Nelson, Inc. c2011.

“Investigators?” Jonah repeated. “Like. . . police? Dad, what’s wrong?”
Benjamin glanced at the woman, who nodded. He sighed loudly, pulling the glasses off his face. “Mom’s been taken. Someone’s kidnapped her.”
Jonah froze, trying to understand the words his father had just said.
“What do you mean, kidnapped?” he said, and then crossed his arms. “How do you know?”
Jonah stared at the two strangers. “Who are you? Are you really police? Where’s your patrol car? If it’s true, shouldn’t there be a dozen cops scouring this place by now? Where are they?” […] “You aren’t police, are you?” (65)

Seventh-grader Jonah has no idea what is happening to him when he acquires abilities like super-strength and speed. But instead of finding out he’s a superhero in disguise his parents explain that he is one-quarter angel. His grandfather (who no one has seen for years) was one of the fallen angels that revolted against God all those years ago. When he comes home from school to discover his mother has been kidnapped by those same evil angels, it’s up to Jonah and his sister Eliza to rescue her due to their unique position between the two worlds. Relying on evolving powers, their guardian angel, and a lot of prayer, Jonah and Eliza search New York City. Will their faith be strong enough to rescue their mother before she’s turned to the wrong side?

I didn’t realize that this was Christian fantasy until this book came in for me from another library. I honestly don’t read a lot of explicitly Christian fiction, although I do occasionally read some “gentler” books that might appeal to moms trying to avoid the “drama” that fiction sometimes contains. So I’ll be the first to admit that I’m probably not the “target audience”. Upon reading this though, I immediately thought of a patron from my previous library whose parents were very guarded about what she could or couldn’t read, and considering her favorite genre was fantasy but it couldn’t have magic in almost any form (witches, spells, etc.), it placed a lot of limitations on what she could check out of the library. This would more than likely have pleased her parents, so if you’re looking for that kind of thing, this would be a good starting point. That being said, it’s not perfect.

The book’s description on the back cover states that it is based on the book of Genesis. That’s not the only thing that gets quoted though, as each part is introduced with a Biblical passage. The kids spout scripture like they are in a seminary, along with just about every other character in the story. Any time they are in a tight spot, or need extra assistance, they pray to God (or Elohim as he’s called in the book) and they receive help. Yes, I understand that’s one of the very obvious morals to the story that Jerel Law makes very apparent over and over again, and yes Jonah and Eliza’s father is a Methodist pastor, but it still struck me as unrealistic. I wish the kids could have struggled a little bit more to solve their own problems, instead of relying so heavily on the assistance of others. Weren’t they sent on this quest for a reason?

Because the morals are laid down so heavily, the dialogue and action comes across as stilted. While it was a fast read, the plot didn’t make sense to me. For some reason, the fallen angels wait all this time to capture Jonah’s mom and others like her in order to essentially brain wash them for their cause. Why wait all this time? Why not recruit them to the cause when they were younger and more easily influenced by their fallen angel parent? And why make Jonah and Eliza “quarterlings,” or one-quarter angel? It would have led more urgency to the plot if they were the half angels (called nephilims) and their younger brother had been captured instead of their adult mother. If the author hadn’t wanted an evil parent situation, then maybe the mother defected from the group upon having kids, and they’ve been in hiding ever since. That would have lent to some intrigue and suspense, and also character development to the story. In terms of super powers, I think Eliza drew the short end of the stick since she doesn’t have nearly as many as Jonah (although hers is still cool).

This being the first in a projected series, I’m assuming we haven’t seen the last of these angels, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to get rid of them that will aid Jonah and Eliza in their continuing conflict. So if you like to get beat over the head with how prayer is powerful and faith in God will guide you, this fantasy will do it for you. Otherwise, I’d pick up Chronicles of Narnia over this “Christian fantasy” any day.

Zen and the Art of Faking It

Title: Zen and the Art of Faking It
Author: Jordan Sonnenblick
Narrator: Mike Chamberlain
ISBN: 9780739371558
Pages: 264 pages
Discs/CDs: 5 CDs/ 5 hours 35 minutes
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, c2008 (print Scholastic, c2007)

San Lee has just moved to a new town (again) and has a chance to reinvent himself instead of being the adopted son of a con-man father who is now in jail and a mother who works long hours. So when the kids at school accidentally gets the impression that he’s some sort of Zen mystic, he decides to go along with it. Especially because his meditation in the snow catches the eye of Woody, a girl with her own history and drive to recreate herself.

I didn’t have the instant connection with Zen and the Art of Faking It that I did with Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie or After Ever After. The main characters of those other novels are introspective and mature and the stories are weighted with emotion. This story is less so, and at times San appeared abrasive to me. With the popularity of Wimpy Kid, I can see his attitude appealing to teen readers. He does work harder than Wimpy Kid in trying to accomplish his goals, however misguided those goals are since he’s encouraging his classmates to think of him as a Buddhist expert. San is extremely dense and essentially clueless, which got on my nerves. For example, something that bothers and troubles San for most of the novel I had figured out the first time they gave the clues, and was therefore yelling at my radio every time they mentioned it for the rest of the book. I did like that Sonnenblick took a chance at portraying Buddhism in a teen fiction book, since we see it presented so infrequently in literature. I thought applying the philosophies to every day events like basketball helped bring understanding and might encourage more exploration in the religion.

My apathy towards the book might have something to do with my listening experience. I had a hard time connecting with narrator Mike Chamberlain, with his efforts coming across as overly exaggerated and I can’t decide why. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t, but he didn’t have enough range to distinguish between all the characters, and I got confused over who was speaking several times.

Overall, this book is a coming of age story, and if older Wimpy Kids are looking for something similar I might hand it off to them. The “Happily Ever After” ending however is nothing like Wimpy Kid, and seems a little disingenuous with all the miscommunications that involve San. Personally, I would stick with Jordan Sonnenblick’s other novels.


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