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Author: Caryn Rivadeneira
Illustrator: Katy Betz
Publisher: Spark House Family
Publication Date: August 15, 2017
Audience: Ages 9-12
Summary: Rivadeneira tells of the lives of eighteen women of the Bible in short first-person stories. Some, like Hannah and Esther, are full of detail; others, like Lydia, Phoebe, and Priscilla, are much shorter and based on inferences from what is known of the time. The stories focus on how these characters showed courage and strength in the face of considerable odds. Each chapter also includes citations to the complete biblical story, historical notes on the character, discussion questions, and prompts for prayers.
Literary elements at work in the story: While all of these stories of biblical women are written in the first-person, Rivadeneira varies other literary elements so that the narratives never seem predictable. Some are told in the present tense, while other protagonists tell their life stories looking back over years to a turning point in their lives. Deborah writes her story as a poem; Hannah pens a series of letters to God; Ruth and Naomi’s story is a play; and Mary and Martha share journal entries with the reader.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Life as a female in the ancient Near East was not easy. When girls and women show up in scripture, they are often the pawns of a patriarchal culture, and on the surface of things, they have value only as procreators (Hagar, Hannah, Leah, Mary), objects of sexual desire to move a story along (Rahab, Esther, Ruth), or breakers of God’s plan (Eve, the Samaritan Woman, the Bleeding Woman). Rivadeneira does not shy away from these realities, but she imagines much richer personalities for her biblical protagonists and lets them show how God recognizes and uses their grit despite the boxes into which society has put them. In several stories (Ruth, the Samaritan Woman, Rahab, among others) the author also speaks to the boxes into which poverty and being a foreigner can also contribute but which do not define us in God’s eyes. Parents and teachers may want to note that while these stories are never graphic, several are clear that sex was an integral part of a woman’s role in society: of Hagar she writes, “ … not long after, Abram came to my tent and lay down next to me in my bed. And I became pregnant with his child.” (pg. 13)
Theological Conversation Partners: Grit and Grace will help young readers go beyond the surface level of biblical reading, giving them permission to wonder about real, live human beings in times far removed from our own. Throughout scripture, God interacts with people who feel completely unequipped to serve in Kingdom-building. The stories here convey the truth that girls and women have always been part of that history. Rivadeneira writes in such a conversational tone, it would be easy for modern-day readers to identify with these biblical women. This book would also provide interesting templates for similar exercises in writing imaginative backstories for other biblical characters.
Faith Talk Questions: Each one of the chapters includes open-ended questions leading readers to make connections between the biblical protagonists and themselves. Maybe even more importantly, these questions give readers permission to ask questions of the text themselves, surely a powerful jump-start to exegetical work of a most important sort.
Beth Lyon-Suhring, Union Presbyterian Seminary alumna and Director of Christian Education at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, Suffolk, VA, is our book reviewer this week.