Well-written books for teenagers in which young people ask explicit questions about their faith or struggle with issues in which faith has a role are often hard to find. Young adult fiction frequently falls at extremes on the spectrum : a stereotypical conservatism or an outlook so bleak that there is no hope at all. It has been a personal search of mine for some time to recognize and buy young adult books for the seminary library that are both good literature and take questions of faith seriously.
For the next six weeks, on Monday, we will be running a series of reviews that deal with teenagers whose faith or faith questions are an important part of the story. One of these books has been around almost 50 years; another was published just this fall. They deal with different situations-autism, immigrant assimilation, abuse of leadership, racism, abuse of trust-but faith is a central theme in all of them. For the next four weeks, full reviews of books with suggested questions will be offered, followed by two weeks of shorter reviews to whet your interest in reading more. We envision that these books could be used in confirmation classes, as supplements to a youth program, or as suggestions to offer young people you know.
All of the reviews are written by Virginia Thomas, author of Children’s Literature for All God’s Children, and a frequent contributor to our blog.
Ann Knox, Director of the Instructional Resource Center, William Smith Morton Library, Union Presbyterian Seminary
Title: The Bronze Bow
Author: Elizabeth George Speare
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Co.
ISBN: 0395137195 (Paperback); 254 pages
Audience: Ages 10 and up
Summary: As a young boy Daniel bar Jamin had seen his father and uncle crucified by Romans; he lived to get revenge, to drive the hated Romans from Palestine. Apprenticed to a blacksmith, he had escaped the cruel master and had run to the hills outside the village of Ketzah. There, Rosh, the leader of a band of Zealots had befriended him and there Daniel, forgetting his grandmother and sister, Leah, in Ketzah, made his life – mending weapons, raiding caravans, waiting for the day. His grandmother’s death compelled him to return to village and care for Leah but Daniel continued to recruit patriots and plot. Through his friend Simon the Zealot, Daniel heard about a new and exciting rabbi, Jesus. Could this be the leader the Zealots await? When Simon leaves to follow Jesus, he gives Daniel the use of his blacksmith shop. Daniel’s activities involve him in a raid that results in the death of two friends. He is drawn to Jesus who tells him he must give up his hate to become a follower. Is this possible when he has taken a vow to fight for God’s victory? He is enraged to find that his sister has become friends with a Roman soldier who talks with her through the gate. His violent anger causes her to withdraw even further into illness. Daniel is left with his vow and his hatred and a dying sister – until Jesus comes.
Literary elements at work in the story: The Bronze Bow won the 1962 Newbery Medal. It is a skillfully written story conveying life in 1st century Palestine, with enough action and suspense to appeal to upper elementary and middle school readers. It is Daniel’s story yet is still a model of biblical fiction: accurate historical and biblical details, a picture of Jesus, vibrant and compelling, yet restrained. The concluding sentence is powerful, memorable, the perfect end to a moving book.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Despite all the limitations placed on women in Jesus’ day, Malthace, Daniel’s love interest plays an active role in the story. Hatred between Romans and Jews is the very fabric of life. Some class distinction is evident between children of a rabbi and a common worker like a blacksmith. These are all conditions affected by Jesus’ teaching.
Theological Conversation Partners: The title comes from Psalm 18:34. “He trains my hands for war so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.” Three aspects of this book will engage the reader. One is the intense hatred that holds Daniel and how it affects his life. A second is the issue of physical warfare and vengeance as a way to peace. A third is Jesus himself, the impact of his life and teaching. The book ends before the cross so the emphasis is not on the theology that grows from this but on the personality of Jesus, on his ability to inspire loyalty and devotion, to change people.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Is The Bronze Bow a good title for this novel? What does the bronze bow represent?
- Can you think of situations in the world today where hatred simmers between people nationally? Personally?
- What are the results of hatred in Daniel’s life? In the life of those around him?
- Daniel describes a number of things for his sister that he has heard or seen Jesus say and do . For example the story of the good Samaritan, the healing of Jairus’ daughter, feeding the 5,000. How well do these this tally with the gospel story?
- Why does Jesus insist that Daniel must give up his hate to become a follower?
- What impact does Jesus have on Simon the Zealot? Joel? Thace?
- Daniel does not follow Jesus when he leaves the house after healing Leah. Why? What do his actions tell you?