These three short reviews by regular contributor Virginia Thomas mark the end of our 6 week series on books that reflect experiences of teens and faith. We’d love to hear your suggestions about other books we didn’t review!
Title: Ordinary Miracles
Author: Stephanie S. Tolan
Publisher: Harper Trophy Book
Audience: Ages 10 and up
Summary: Mark and Matt Filkins are identical twins, 8th graders, whose lives are so closely intertwined that they often have the same dreams. An equally strong bond is their conservative, evangelical faith. Their father is a minister in an independent church and they are destined to be fourth generation ministers in a family of ministers. Matthew is excited about this; Mark is having reservations. When he meets Dr. Colin Hendrick, a Nobel prize winner in science, his life takes a new direction. Dr. Hendrick has been invited to help with the 8th grade science class and Mark is completely enthralled by his exposure to new knowledge, including genetic engineering. Mark’s father disapproves, saying that God is the creator, not man. As Mark tries to reconcile his family’s faith with Colin’s lack of belief, he learns that Colin is dying of pancreatic cancer. Now his belief about prayer is tested and when Colin dies he must re-think his faith and find a more independent relationship with Matthew.
Colin is a dedicated scientist who loves the world; he can only believe in what can be tested and proven. Mark’s family, though generous and charitable in their dealings with others, has deep convictions. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and Colin will not choose this way. How do we know what to believe? There is no scientific proof for the Christian faith. Colin sees ordinary miracles all around him in the natural world. Mark is looking for a different kind of miracle, that God will spare Mark’s life. This is a sensitive, thoughtful book that faces the conflict that is often seen between science and religion. The ordinary miracle that helps Mark after Colin’s death may not satisfy everyone but the total experience of living with sincere believers and a sincere agnostic is powerful.
Title: The Boy Who Dared
Author: Susann Campbell Bartoletti
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Audience: Ages 9 and up
Summary: Seventeen year old Helmuth Hubener was the youngest person executed for treason by the Third Reich. The story begins with the chilling words, “The Executioner works on Tuesday.” The ending is a foregone conclusion; this is, after all, fictionalized history but Helmuth’s memories of the events and the growing convictions that brought him to this place hold our interest.. He is convicted for listening to a shortwave BBC station that gives accurate news about the war and distributing this news through pamphlets that he and three friends distribute secretly. His testimony in court guarantees that his three friends will not be executed but seals his fate . Helmuth was an active member of the Mormon Church, organized by American missionaries, and his trust in God sustains him through his trial and death.
The Boy Who Dared raises a number of issues that Christians as citizens should ponder. Throughout the rise of the Third Reich many German Christians claim Hitler is a leader supplied by God; opposing this idea is at first difficult, then truly dangerous. How do we decide what good citizenship is? Helmuth’s brothers argue that his actions will harm the family, that to oppose the German government is a pointless act of folly. How and when does one choose between prudence and daring action? How does a government like the Third Reich rise to power? What motivates Helmuth to risk his life? At one point in the story Helmuth wonders about the purpose of his life in this situation. His decisions make inspiring reading.
Title: Caleb’s Wars
Author: Davis L. Dudley
Publisher: Clarion Books
Audience: Ages 14 and up
Summary: The time: summer, 1944, prior to the Civil Rights movement. The place: rural Georgia. Caleb, a 15 year old African-American, is engaged in several wars: the war in Europe where his brother Randall is a prisoner of war; a war with his domineering, abusive father who wants Caleb to work in his carpenter shop; a war with the white culture which limits and demeans him; and a war that centers on his faith and God’s call. The book begins with Caleb’s baptism in which he hears God name him as his servant. The call has little meaning for him as blacks in the south have always been servants. He knows he has heard a voice, externally and internally, but he tends to ignore it as he goes to work in the Dixie Belle restaurant, defying his father. Andreas, a German prisoner of war is brought in from the prisoner of war camp to work in the restaurant and Caleb establishes a tentative friendship with his brother’s enemy. Scattered through the book are incidents of physical conflict with bullying white boys, of verbal conflicts with a racist waitress and a patronizing white man. Caleb is led to pray for two persons who need healing and, to his amazement, his prayers are answered. Is this what it means to be a servant? The answer seems to come when Caleb has the courage to demand to be served in the Dixie Belle in the name of his brother Randall.
Here is a picture of the South during World War II with all of its prejudices and injustice. The author does a commendable job of showing what this culture does to a person who suppresses the anger the treatment creates. Caleb’s father has no faith in a God who lets such conditions exist. Caleb’s Ma makes a strong case for the failure of male violence to lead the world to peace. Caleb’s struggle with God’s call is a thread throughout the book. He prays but hears nothing. In the courage to oppose an injustice in the restaurant, Caleb seems to understand God’s call and to anticipate a continuing struggle to be a servant. In keeping with the times, African-Americans are referred to as “niggers” and “colored.” This book has good possibilities for young people in confirmation classes. It could prompt a discussion on which is the greater gift-the ability to heal physically or the courage to oppose injustices?