"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

24 February 2011

Rid of My Disgrace

Holcomb, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011.

I have been searching for a good, solid Christian book about recovery from sexual abuse. The Christian community has spent far too much time ignoring this problem or attempting to wish it away with Romans 8:28.  A survivor of sexual abuse does not need platitudes, guilt trips, or more shame. 

Because the church as a whole has been unwilling to face the reality of this problem, many survivors are forced to seek help outside the church.  I can recommend several very good secular books for survivors, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to find a Christian book that is helpful instead filled with superficial saccharine.

The fact is that sexual assault of any kind leaves some very real scars and that these issues need to be addressed.  These issues simply cannot be solved with a "Take two Psalms and call me in the morning" approach. 

This book is a refreshing change.  Finally a book has been written from a Christian perspective and addresses the real issues that survivors face. Consistent biblical advice and counsel is given in appropriate measure.  If I were to speak with a survivor today, I would recommend this book in conjunction with several others. 

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual abuse or assault, I would recommend that you read this book.  Also consider visiting the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network's website.  You are not alone.

23 February 2011

Weapons of Mass Instruction

Gatto, John Taylor. Weapons of Mass Instruction. Canada: New Society Publishers, 2009.

I used to be an English teacher.  Actually, I used to be a fairly decent teacher; my students usually enjoyed my class, and it seemed to me that they were learning a lot.  I had good feedback on my observations from the administration and good test results from my students; I felt pretty successful.  However, there was always a nagging thought at the back of my mind:

When are these students going to use this information in real life?

I completely understand the real-life applications of strong writing skills or reading comprehension skills, but what about the more technical aspects of grammar?  If you are in a profession other than education or linguistics, has anyone ever, ever asked you to underline all the adjectives in a sentence?  Has your supervisor stopped by your desk and requested that you recite the characteristics of American Romanticism? Somehow I doubt it. 

Gatto, himself a former English teacher, questions not only the material covered in schools, but the methodology of schooling itself.  He posits that children who have been in school for 12+ years have not been educated, but rather trained into passivity and consumerism.  And I think he has a point. 

This book is fascinating, thought-provoking, and a bit discouraging.  I am so glad I was not reading this book while I was in a classroom, although it doubtless would have changed the methods I used.  I do agree with Gatto that school as we know it is not working.  The countless programs and dollars and methods and books thrown at schools every year - with little to no change in results - is evidence of that. There isn't a quick or easy answer to this problem, but it definitely is a problem that warrants addressing.

If you are an educator, a parent, or a student, I strongly recommend you pick up this book.  It is well worth your time.

22 February 2011

Chanda's Wars

Stratton, Allan. Chanda's Wars. New York: Harper Teen, 2008.

Ever since Chanda's mother died of AIDS, she has been tasked with raising her younger brother and sister and taking care of their African home.  Her dreams of finishing high school and winning a scholarship are put on hold for the time being as she works as a teacher at the local elementary school, cleans the house in the evenings, and makes sure her brother and sister get to school on time.

All of this changes when a rebel general enters the country and begins wreaking havoc everywhere he goes.  Suddenly the job of caring for two little ones in addition to herself becomes a battle for survival.  Chanda has to track down the rebel general and his army of child soldiers and rescue her brother and sister.

I enjoyed this story. Stratton was able to create a realistic cast of characters, and I was rooting for Chanda as she tracked the rebel general through the bush, avoiding alligators, hippos, and other dangers.  I was so glad that she was able to rescue her brother and sister.  I also appreciated the author's treatment of their adjustment to "normal life."  Chanda's little brother and sister experience many difficulties returning to living in a house, attending school, etc.  Only when they are able to talk to Chanda's friend, whose face is scarred due to an attack/rape that she endured years before, are they willing to adjust to normalcy once more.  The children see Esther's scars and her ability to face the morning sun every day and begin to open up about what happened while they were in the rebel army.  Their healing begins when they are willing to bare their scars and share their burden with their family.

21 February 2011


Rich, Naomi. Alis. New York: Viking, 2010.

Alis lives in a very strict, very secluded religious community.  When her parents inform her that she has been pledged to marry the 50-year old leader of the community, Alis decides she must flee.  She escapes to the city where she finds her brother and manages to survive for months by joining his gang of thieves.  When disaster strikes, Alis decides to return to the community and find Luke, the boy she would have chosen to marry had the choice been hers.  Upon her discovery that Luke has died, Alis is convinced that she is being punished for her disobedience, returns to her parents, and begins her preparations for marriage.

I've said this before: strict religious sects are in vogue right now.  I cannot tell you how many books about the FLDS church, the Amish, or other strict religious societies grace the shelves of the library I frequent.  I've yet to determine exactly why these stories are so popular. 

Nonetheless, this story did capture my interest.  The descriptions of this religious community are intentionally generic, so we never discover exactly what strict sect Alis is disappearing from.  I appreciated the careful line the author walked between describing the community Alis was living in and condemning it.  As in all other religious communities, Alis's home was populated by both "good guys" and "bad guys." 

I cheered for Alis when she managed to escape to the city.  I was glad when she took up thievery as her occupation, rather than the multitude of other options available for a young girl who is in desperate need of money. I was sad when she chose to return to her house, knowing she would soon be married to someone three times her age.  And the ending of the story was satisfying, if predictable.  As far as books of this genre are concerned, I did not mind this one at all.

20 February 2011


Knox, Elizabeth. Dreamhunter. New York: Square Fish, 2005.

Laura's parents are dreamhunters, and she is determined that she will become a dreamhunter as well as soon as she is old enough to do so.  Dreamhunters are tasked with entering the Place and collecting dreams which they bring back with them and share with those around them.  Dreamhunters are able to share their dreams with those who are in the same building or same neighborhood and are asleep at the same time as they are.

Before Laura is able to become a dreamhunter, though, her father disappears, leaving her a cryptic message and a sandman servant.  Laura must unravel the mystery of her father's disappearance and the disturbing dream he discovered, and time is running out.

I enjoyed this story.  It took me a while to get into the story itself, but once I did, I understood the sharing of dreams to be similar to the Giver sharing memories with Jonas in Lois Lowry's classic work.  I figured the dream Laura's dad had found was a disturbing one in that it told the future and that people needed to receive the warning from this dream.  I was excited when Laura was successful in returning to the Place, finding the dream her father had found, and sneaking into the Rainbow Opera to share this dream with the hundreds of patrons there.  But then the novel stopped.

There was no explanation of what the dream meant, what would happen next, how the government officials reacted, what Laura planned to do, etc. etc.  The story ended with more loose ends than a Part 1 normally has, and the plethora of questions now running through my head do not entice me to pick up Part 2 of this book.  The concept is really neat, and I enjoyed the fantasy aspect of this story, but I was too frustrated by the ending to choose to do that to myself a second time with the sequel.

19 February 2011

Blind Faith

Wittlinger, Ellen. Blind Faith. New York: Simon Pulse, 2006.

Death and dying seem to be fairly common topics in young adult literature. It's as though authors everywhere have decided that teens do not have the skills to cope with death and dying and that these skills are best taught through novels that the teens may or may not check out of the library. 

Liz is coping with the loss of her grandmother, Bunny, and her mother's insistence that her Spiritualist church helps her to stay in contact with Bunny.  Enter Nathan and his little sister, who move in across the street from Liz so they can live with their grandmother while their mother is dying of leukemia. Liz and Nathan both question what they believe about God, about heaven, and about life and death as they wrestle with a slough of difficult emotions.

The plot in this story wasn't super interesting, even though I was intrigued to see how the author would choose to end everything.  The story is much more emotion-oriented than action-oriented.  The characters are believable enough, though, and I did find myself feeling sorry for the teens as they faced death a lot sooner than they likely would have chosen.

17 February 2011

The Solitude of Prime Numbers

Giordano, Paolo. The Solitude of Prime Numbers. New York: Penguin Group, 2009.

This novel follows the lives of two "prime number" people who for various reasons choose to spend much of their time alone.  Each is battling childhood demons and each chooses to face those demons in different, destructive ways.  This story shows the intertwining of the lives of Alice and Mattia as they head toward adulthood and face the consequences of their actions.

This story was okay.  I kept hoping that Mattia would meet up with his sister by the end of the novel, or that Alice and Mattia would fall in love, or that something exciting would happen.  Nothing did.  The plot was, well, practically nonexistent.  So I finished the book, but I was pretty disappointed in this story.  The title is great - that's what grabbed my attention over the stack of books I was already holding in my arms - but it did not live up to my expectations.  Better luck next time.

13 February 2011

Surviving Sexual Brokenness: What Grace Can Do

Hunter, Thom. Surviving Sexual Brokenness: What Grace Can Do. Bloomington, IN: West Bow Press, 2010.

I purchased this book on recommendation from the author himself and was surprised to discover how much we had in common. Both of us saw our parents divorce when we were very young.  Both of us spent time waiting by the curb in hopes that Dad would come back.  Both of us were molested at a young age.  Both of us have struggled with homosexuality. Because of these similarities, I was very interested in reading Hunter's book.  I wanted to see how he approached the issue of homosexuality and Christianity. 

Hunter's book reads much like a journal.  The chapters do not retell his life in a series of chronological stories, nor do they discuss his particular struggle and the changes it underwent as he learned to live with his "thorn in the flesh."  Because my brain thinks in outlines and diagrams, I found Hunter's book to be difficult to follow. I appreciated his insights, but I appreciated them the same way I do my own journaling: disjointed, unconnected thoughts that are good in and of themselves but do not necessarily follow a logical progression.

What I do appreciate is that Hunter is willing to be transparent about his struggles and that he, along with a growing percentage of Christians, embraces the idea that homosexuality is not a disease to be cured or a lifestyle to be embraced.  There is a third option: it is entirely possible for a person to trust in Jesus for salvation, struggle with homosexuality for his/her entire life, and choose not to act on those desires or struggles. This is not the easiest option; a person in this situation could face criticism from both Christians and homosexuals alike.  I am grateful to Hunter for sharing his journey, and I do hope that his words will be encouraging to other strugglers.

If you or someone you know is struggling with homosexuality, please visit the website of Living Hope Ministries.  You are not alone.

12 February 2011

Father Brown: The Essential Tales

Chesterton, G.K. Father Brown: The Essential Tales. New York: Random House, 2005.

I love mystery stories.  I have gone through phases where I read every Sherlock Holmes story, every Agatha Christie story, etc. etc.  Mysteries are just fun, and it's amazing to me how these stories can stand the test of time.  GK Chesterton's Father Brown stories are no exception.  I thoroughly enjoyed the short stories in this collection, and I am looking forward to finding another Father Brown book during my next library trip.

06 February 2011

Working in the Shadows

Thompson, Gabriel. Working in the Shadows: A Year of Doing the Jobs [Most] Americans Won't Do. New York: Nation Books, 2010.

I picked up this book on my way past the "new non fiction" shelves at the library.  Even with the economy in its current state, there are still jobs in this country that most people are not willing to stoop to.  These jobs are generally taken by immigrants, usually immigrants who look at a life of poverty in the United States as something still better than what they had in their home country. 

Thompson spent two months as a lettuce cutter in the southwest, two months working in a chicken processing plant in the south, and two months as a takeout delivery person in New York City.  Each job demanded long, grueling days of backbreaking work.  Each job paid well below minimum wage.  At each place he applied, Thompson was offered alternative positions, as no one seemed to think that he would be able to handle the difficult jobs given to immigrants.  No one thought he would last more than a day.

As Thompson did, indeed, return to work day after day, he earned the trust of his coworkers and was able to see life through their eyes.  This book is the culmination of his work.  It is an eye-opening picture of jobs that are being done behind the scenes, jobs done by people invisible to the rest of society. 

I appreciated this book, both in that it is a voice for the immigrants working at substandard jobs and that it gave me a renewed appreciation for the job I do have.

05 February 2011

On the Right Track

Jones, Marion. On the Right Track. New York: Howard Books, 2010.

This memoir chronicles the story of Marion Jones, Olympic track star, and her choices both to lie about using performance enhancing drugs and then to come clean about her lies.  Jones details her fears as she considered telling the truth, her life in the prison system, and what she is doing now that her track career has ended.

I appreciated her candor and willingness to tell the truth even when it is costly.  I applaud her courage in facing six months in prison and away from her two sons.  I am glad that her sons can look up to her as an example of one who will tell the truth and take whatever consequences are given, no matter what.

This book was an interesting look into the world of performance-enhancing drugs and life in a women's prison. Were I still a teacher with a classroom, this book would be on my shelf.  Students who prefer running over reading might be able to sit still long enough for this book.

01 February 2011

Girl Talk with God

Shellenberger, Susie. Girl Talk with God. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011.

This book is aimed at tween and teen girls who find it difficult to talk with God.  Each chapter is a conversation between God and a girl on a particular topic.  The topics range from acceptance by peers and  forgiveness to eating disorders and cutting.  Some chapters discuss particular problems a teen might deal with; other chapters focus on emotions a teen might feel regardless of the situation.

It took me a while to get used to the style of this book.  I suppose this is a sign of my age, as I don't think in IM or chat-speak, so the idea of reading a dialogue was a bit odd to me.  Once I got past my initial hesitation, though, I found this book to be very insightful.  The anonymous girl conversing with God is very real, and God always brings her back to Scripture so she can see the words He has written for her.  I appreciate that this style of writing might make God seem more real to the teen girls who read this book, and even those of us who are beyond our teen years can benefit from this reminder: God loves us and He desires a relationship with us, a relationship as real and close as any human relationship we have.  He longs to communicate to us and to listen to us. 

If I still had a classroom or a ministry with teen girls, I would make this book available to them.  It would definitely be a great conversation starter for some of the more difficult discussions that, although awkward, are completely necessary.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.