The Thing with Feathers / by McCall Hoyle. 9.14.2018

Blink     ISBN 9780310758518

YA Grades 9-12     Rating: 4

The only impression Emilie Day had of high school came from movies. And as a teenager with epilepsy, she never imagined she could do something as normal as attend school.

After her father dies, she gets the chance she never wanted. Her therapist, convinced that socializing would lift her spirits, advises Emilie’s mother to send her daughter to high school. Emilie is mortified by the idea of having seizures and blackouts in public, and she begs her mother not to make her go. They settle with a compromise: a three-month trial.

Mom’s biggest condition? Emilie has to tell all of her teachers and classmates about her epilepsy.

Vowing to make her “prison” sentence as short as possible, Emilie’s determined to keep her condition a secret and not to get attached…until the basketball star looks her way. But would even sweet Chatham York look down upon her for having epilepsy?

The Thing with Feathers challenges teen fiction readers to be authentic. While Emilie is both a humorous and thoughtful character, she creates most of the conflict within herself by trying to be someone else. The story opens the eyes of readers to see that people living with physical afflictions desire the same things as those without—acceptance.

Emilie faces depression and crippling fear because of her epilepsy, which feels realistic, but all of the other characters also have someone close to them who deals with a similar condition or other issue (mental illness, physical abuse, etc.). Despite Emilie’s hiding her ailment, no one judges her or has a negative reaction to hearing about her condition. Because of the other characters’ situations, Emilie is accepted by everyone and gets more friends—which feels unrealistic.

Overall, The Thing with Feathers gives a sassy first-person perspective of what it feels like to seek acceptance in spite of a physical struggle, like epilepsy. Readers of A Walk to Remember and The Fault in Our Stars who are looking for a story of hope and saccharine teen romance will love award-winning author McCall Hoyle’s heart-warming story.

Rebecca Schriner, CLJ

Egypt’s Sister: A Novel of Cleopatra / by Angela Hunt. (The Silent Years) 8.24.2018

Bethany House ISBN 9780764219320

Adult (YA) Rating: 4

As the daughter of the royal tutor, Chava is as close as a sister to the Princess Urbi of Egypt. A word from HaShem makes Chava believe that she and Urbi will be friends for a lifetime, even after Urbi unexpectedly ascends the throne as Queen Cleopatra. In order to fulfill Hashem’s words Chava rejects her own desires for a loving marriage, certain that she will be the Queen’s handmaiden soon enough. But a gift from Cleopatra forces Chava to choose either her friendship or her God. Tossed aside, forgotten, and eventually sold by the Queen, Chava is forced to leave her home and enter Rome on the bottom rung of society. She will have to keep her eyes on HaShem if she ever hopes to rise again.

In Egypt’s Sister, author Angela Hunt depicts women in ancient Egypt as having a great deal of freedom. This helps to make Chava more relatable to young girls and women just starting their life, and the story presents valuable life lessons. Chava will take readers on a journey of growth, both spiritually and as a person. Young women will relate to Chava’s struggle to remain pure in a world with skewed morals and to chase after God’s will for their life.

Tatiana Bickler, CLJ

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers / by Deborah Heiligman. 7.5.2018

Godwin Books ISBN 9780805093381

YA Grades 9-12 Rating: 4

Vincent and Theo focuses on the family life of one of the world’s most famous artists: Vincent Van Gogh. In her research, author Deborah Heiligman noticed that very few works focused on the extremely important relationship Vincent had with his brother Theo, who supported him his entire life. The book starts with this relationship and the promise they make to each other as young men to support each other. Beautifully constructed like a piece of art itself, the book uses colorful descriptions and artistic terminology to invite the reader into Vincent’s world. This creative approach encourages the reader to view Vincent’s works–those which are shown in the book, as well as others available online. In addition to this, Heiligman infuses the book with a theme that all readers can relate to–the complications of family life. Vincent and Theo’s relationship is tumultuous, but steadfast, and the bond is inspiring.

The book also deals with some other difficult topics–namely, Vincent’s struggle with mental illness (most likely bipolar disorder) which leads to his being institutionalized. Because the family is a central focus of this piece, the reader is able to observe the tension this causes in his family, who cannot understand him and must support him financially. His illness also leads him to self-harm, both the cutting off of his ear and his suicide. The author suggests that these might not have been self-inflicted though there are other instances in the book where he does attempt to hurt himself while he is institutionalized. In addition, both Theo and Vincent, though children of a pastor, turn away from their faith. They also engage in immoral behavior as it is mentioned that they both frequented prostitutes. In fact, Vincent lives with a former prostitute for an extended amount of time. Despite this, the book is not overly descriptive in these sections, and the reader does see that there are negative consequences to this lifestyle, particularly in how it affects their health.

Tatyana Claytor, CLJ

Refugee / by Alan Gratz. 7.4.2018

Scholastic Press ISBN 9780545880831

YA Grades 7-10 Rating: 5

Three continents. Three different time periods. Three children fleeing their countries.

Alan Gratz joins the past and the present to weave a gripping tale of the harrowing experiences of three children forced from their homes due to war and political unrest.

Josef yearns to celebrate his upcoming bar mitzvah and finally become a man. He just never expected it to be on a ship bound for Cuba, which he and his family board to escape out of Nazi Germany. When the ship is forced to return to Europe, and perhaps certain death, Josef finds himself thrust into adulthood and must make a decision that will determine the survival of his family.

Fast forward to 1994 when Cuba is teeming with food shortages and riots. Teenage Isabel finds herself on a questionable homemade raft. Together with her family and the neighbors next door, they depart for the United States. They just need the raft to hold up, avoid the Coast Guard, pray the sharks don’t get them, and hope that her mother, heavy with child, can survive the journey.

On the other side of the world, in 2015, war tears Syria apart forcing Mahmoud’s father to seek a safe haven for his family. Amidst gunfire, danger, and the ever-present threat of death, they travel through Turkey and Serbia, enduring hunger, thieves, and prison. Mahmoud and his family continue onward through Austria and finally Germany, where the lives of the three children find a binding tie.

Refugee is a fast-paced, heart-rending story of the strength and courage of children and their valiant efforts, despite all obstacles, to forge a life filled with meaning and purpose.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Building Faith Block by Block: An Unofficial Minecraft Guide 60 A – Z (Kids Only) Survival Secrets 6.4.2018

Harvest House Publishers ISBN 9780736970853

YA Grades 4-9 Rating: 4

Building Faith Block by Block: Unofficial Minecraft Guide 60 A-to-Z (Kids Only) Survival Secrets by Michael Ross and Christopher Ross provides wonderful detail and interest to the reader. The book is a perfect combination of Minecraft elements and spiritual inspiration, and would be a useful tool for devotions whether at home with the kids or at church camp as a teacher or counselor.

Minecraft is a virtual game world and in Building Faith Block by Block readers enter the Minecraft world of Dragee90, a gamer who shares devotions. Even if the reader does not play Minecraft, the approach in this well-written book is very interesting, making it worth reading to see spiritual messages in another way and helping the reader relate to youth, many of whom are Minecraft fans. Each chapter presents two elements to help relate the game to life. First is “Gameplay”, including tips for Minecraft beginners and intermediate players on how to survive in this virtual world. Then follows “Real Life”, where readers learn about a daily struggle, with Bible verses to help.

When building in Minecraft, gamers have the option of starting over if things are not going as they wish. But, in reality decisions have real consequences. That’s why we have the Bible to help us make wise decisions and build a strong life’s foundation. Win the game of life with the Bible and enjoy the Minecraft world with a gamer’s guide that also provides devotional ideas.

One of the most amazing aspects of this book is that It is not only a great book to help with family devotions, but it was also written by a family. Michael Ross is an award-winning writer and Christopher is his teenage son. Their wife and mother, Tiffany Ross, helped with biblical accuracy.

Building Faith Block by Block is easy to read as well as understand, making it a perfect book that the reader can turn to for both gaming tips and use during devotional time.

Charity R. Bartley Howard, CLJ

The Divide / by Jolina Petersheim. 4.23.2018

Tyndale ISBN 9781496402226

YA (Adult) Grades 7-10 Rating: 3

The Divide, the sequel to Petersheim’s, The Alliance, continues the story of a Montana Mennonite community fighting to hold on to their beliefs after an EMP–an electromagnetic pulse–disrupts their lives. Leora, a Mennonite teenage girl and Moses, an Englischer outsider, struggle with their differences and their feelings for each other.

In The Divide, Leora stands mired in a quandary: should she marry within her group, or should she change her whole way of life and marry for love, which means choosing Moses, the outsider?

Forced to flee to the mountains for safety and refuge from roving bands of looters, Leora and the Mennonites strive to remain true to their teachings and traditions while laboring to keep starvation and invaders at bay. One day Leora–already overwhelmed by her responsibilities as the sole care-giver and protector for her family, her emotions for Moses, and making adult decisions–finds herself holding a weapon. Forced to choose between the Mennonite values of sanctity of life and peace, and protecting her own, Leora must decide if it is ever right to kill.

Aptly titled The Divide, Petersheim reveals the separation and divisions that occur within each character and within individuals: conflicts with moral values, the chasm between reason and faith, and the great divide between what one believes and the realities of life.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

If You’re Gone / by Brittany Goodwin. 1.22.2018

Edge of 22 Publishing ISBN 9780997579000

YA Grades 7-10 Rating: 3

Lillian never dreamed she’d ever go out with Brad, the boy who had always frightened and tormented her when they were younger. Yet she’s been his steady girlfriend for five months now and very much in love…until the day he disappears. She is terrified that something awful has happened to him, but given his shady past, the police are convinced he’s missing “by choice.”

Instead of spending her summer relaxing, preparing for her senior year of high school, and filling out college applications, Lillian embarks on an intense physical and emotional search for Brad. The town rallies to canvas the area. Lillian worries that if he’s hurt she has to find him quickly. But, she wonders, what if, like the cop said, he left because he wanted to? And if so, why didn’t he tell her?

If You’re Gone is a novel that reveals the capacity of young adults to love deeply despite their tender age, and to act with determination in times of deep emotional and spiritual crises. Brittany Goodwin uses the story of the missing teen to explore ideas of love, forgiveness, peer relationships, and community support (both religious and secular).

Lillian’s search for Brad, and the self-knowledge she develops, makes If You’re Gone an excellent choice for a classroom, youth group, or teen book club because it provides a point of engagement for profitable discussions. What are the actions of a true friend? Is there a difference between loving and being in love? Why is forgiveness important? How do you handle pain and/or loss so that you can go on living?

Lillian’s discovery is not what she expected, and the reader must decide whether or not Lillian makes the right choice.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Like A River from Its Course / by Kelli Stuart. 1.15.2018

Kregel Publications ISBN 9780825444142

Adult (YA) Rating: 5

Life sometimes takes us to unexpected places that we did not plan, and that we might not be prepared for.

Like A River from Its Course, based on careful research and hundreds of interviews, fictionally recreates the lives of four unconnected people who are thrown off balance and swept away in Nazi-occupied Ukraine during World War II.

Kelli Stuart masterfully captures the voices of her characters to tell the story from each one’s perspective. Ivan puts himself and his loved ones at risk in order to help a Jewish child and endures the consequences that follow. Maria, taken away from her family, tries to return to them, hoping also to find the child she once was, and whom she believes still lives somewhere inside of her. Luda, a young girl, tries to conceal that she has fallen in love with someone she is supposed to hate. Frederick, a German soldier and the son of a highly respected commander, strives to please his father and serve his country, but his disillusion with Nazi ideology lead to a tragic decision.

Like A River From It Course is a remarkable story of how war ravages a person in the core of their being, inflicting a pain that never leaves. “It always leaves a mark, a scar as a reminder that life and love aren’t free. Pain changes everything.” (pg. 27)

Every word matters in this must-read story because Stuart’s own characters, despite their sufferings, provide the answers to how one can go on living after a tragic ordeal. Pain and heartache, they realize, are not unique to any of us and life will go on. More importantly, when one believes, life has meaning and purpose outside of the hardship. The gem to take away from Like A River From Its Course is that no matter what happens, it is God who holds life together.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer / written by Stephen McCaskell and Aaron Armstrong, Illustrated by Rommel Ruiz. 1.10.2018

Patrol ISBN 9780999083512

YA Grades 7-12 Rating: 5

Luther is a beautifully and uniquely illustrated book containing edifying biographical teaching about the premier figure of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. This is a useful book for parents to read to kids, but it is not a kid’s book per se. It is what may only be called a serious kid’s book.

Several factors contribute to the serious character of the book. First, there is a lot of text in this book. The amount on each page is limited, but it is a big book and it adds up. In this reviewer’s judgment, a child would have to be at least eight and a strong reader to listen patiently, let alone read on his or her own. Second, all of the illustrations are done in grayscale. The look is very striking and memorable—and it lends an overall gravity to the book’s contents. This is not a hagiography or a light treatment. Third, the book is divided into multiple parts, making it suitable for nightly reading in successive evenings. Finally, the book ends with something like an altar call, a homiletical application.

This reviewer has a serious desire to use the 500th anniversary of the Reformation to impress upon his children the importance of the Christian doctrines retrieved in that time period. The Luther book is a valuable tool for this weighty and joyful task.

The book is something of a companion to a documentary on Luther which is also worth viewing; the illustrations in the book derive from those used in the film.

Mark L. Ward, CLJ

The Alliance / by Jolina Petersheim. 12.19.2017

Tyndale ISBN 9781496402219

YA (Adult) Grades 7-10 Rating: 3

When an airplane crashes in the field near her house, Leora rushes out to help, hoping for survivors. Together with a few of the local men, they pull a lone pilot out of the wreckage and carry him into Leora’s house. When he comes to, Moses, the pilot, reveals that an EMP–an electromagnetic pulse–knocked his plane out of the sky. An EMP, he explains, is a special warhead that wipes out technology, taking out the power grid and everything that relies on a computer, such as supermarkets. Moses, an Englischer outsider, must persuade the peaceful community of Montana Mennonites to prepare to defend themselves from the looting and crime that a food shortage will surely bring.

Astounded by the scenario that Moses depicts, the elders stand frozen in unbelief and inactivity. They never carry weapons and would never harm anyone. If they have food, they must share it. But teenage Leora, the sole care-taker of her grandmother, younger brother, and mentally-challenged sister, quickly realizes that she must protect her family. But how far is she willing to go to accomplish that? And where, in a time of crisis, does falling in love fit in?

In The Alliance, a community’s standards and collective beliefs are put to the test, and hardship, hunger, and danger, unveil each person’s strengths and flaws. The story asks the reader to consider the consequences of our dependence on technology and to examine what the need for survival might bring out in each of us. Petersheim asks, ”How does one keep faith and kindness alive while trying to preserve one’s own life?”

The Alliance suggests that we can only face our greatest fears and achieve peace when we surrender our lives to God. To discover whether or not Leora succeeds, the story continues in Petersheim’s next novel, The Divide.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ