Tag: fiction (page 2 of 20)

The Sinking City

Liona Caravatti’s family belongs to one of the highest ranks in the city of Venice. Her life is comfortable, filled with little delicacies, affectionate siblings, and splendor. The one note in it that sounds off is her relationship to her father, which, though she doesn’t understand why, is different than his relationship with her siblings. While he dotes on them, his eyes slide past her, leaving her free in some ways to grow up as she pleases, but giving her nonetheless an ache that she cannot place.

Venice is a city of the sea—a city threaded through with canals, where the water is never far from the front doors of its citizens. It is beautiful, but the one note in it that sounds off is that of the Seleni, an ancient race of water-dwellers who retrieve pearls for the wealthy Venetians in exchange for a home in Venice’s waters. But the Seleni’s brine-like smell precedes them whenever they come on land, and the bargains they make with those wealthy citizens always come at a high cost.

When the Seleni intersect with Liona’s family, the city itself begins to crumble.

The Sinking City, by Christine Cohen | Little Book, Big Story

The Sinking City is a beautifully written story that weaves fantastic elements into the solid structures of a real city. Venice seems a plausible place in which to find magicians and wrathful sea monsters, and Liona surprises herself as well as readers as she navigates the city, trying to save it, her own life, and that of her family. The story is enjoyable and unpredictable, and Cohen’s ability to craft complex, believable characters is stunning: even the city of Venice feels like a character in the story—one with desires and personality. Her descriptions of the courtyards, canals, and alleyways of Venice make it feel as though her version of the city extends beyond the story; one gets the sense that just beyond the courtyard she’s describing, there are several more worth exploring.

There are some grim moments in The Sinking City, and for that reason I don’t think I’d recommend it for younger teens. But those moments are purposeful and they’re handled well—they suit the story and serve to show how high the stakes are for the characters. Just as Cohen’s Venice is undergirded with spells, The Sinking City is undergirded with themes of humility and sacrifice that play out in beautiful, nuanced ways. If the book has a fault at all, it might be in the ending, which places too neat a bow on a story that is otherwise rich and multi-layered. But I don’t hold that against it: this is a book I look forward to sharing with my daughters, and one I can’t wait to re-read.


The Sinking City
Christine Cohen (2021)

Christmas Tapestry

When Jonathan’s father takes a job pastoring a church outside Detroit, his whole family is uprooted—transported from Memphis, Tennessee, where Jonathan had just made the soccer team, where things their church was new and beautiful, and Jonathan knew where he fit. But his family’s new church is nothing like their gleaming Memphis church: attendance is small and the building feeble and rickety.

Jonathan’s parents assure him, though, that their Memphis church looked just that humble when they’d moved there, and that his father had been hired not just to shepherd the congregation but to repair and rebuild their Detroit church as he had their church in Memphis. And so the family sets to work restoring the old church in the hope that it will be ready for their Christmas services.

And everything goes swimmingly—they’re going to make it! Until a snow storm damages the churches and sets a chain of surprising events in motion.

The Christmas Tapestry, by Patricia Polacco | Little Book, Big Story

This is a classic Christmas miracle story, and it’s one that touches on something we’ve talked a lot about in our house this year. When things don’t go the way we expect them to, it’s tempting to look at the circumstances and protest, like Jonathan, “But how? How can God use this for good?” Even as an adult who has seen firsthand how God’s goodness to us often comes through suffering, it still sometimes sounds trite to my ears to hear that God is working all things for good when I can’t see with my eyes how he’s doing it.

But this story is a beautiful reminder that the goodness God works is often disproportionate to our suffering: Jonathan’s family labored over their church, and the damage done to it is costly, difficult to fix, and bitterly disappointing. These are real losses, and Jonathan feels them acutely. And yet the blessing God works through those very hardships is abundant and overflowing—the sort of goodness that makes the heart squeeze a bit and that makes the quick-to-cry among us lose our composure as we struggle to read it aloud. Like the gospel itself, this story sounds almost too good to be true. (And maybe this one is: it is based upon stories author and illustrator Patricia Polacco had heard told, so though she has reimagined it, there is likely some kernel of truth in this story.)

The Christmas Tapestry, by Patricia Polacco | Little Book, Big Story

And that is part of what makes this book, like many of Patricia Polacco’s books, so beautiful: it rings true. God does work in this way—he uses the run-down and overlooked to remind us that he is always working, drawing us together and to him.


One thing to note: this book does mention the Holocaust. It is not graphic or detailed, but you may wish to read this one first and determine if it’s a good fit for your younger readers.


The Christmas Tapestry
Patricia Polacco (2002)

Rosefire

When I was in high school, I was hungry: I wanted a substantial meal. I wanted something true and lasting, and I looked for it everywhere. But all the books I read told me that this was it—the world around me, with its petty conflicts and scalding pain, was all there was. These books told me I’d better get used to it.

But when I was seventeen, the light found me. This isn’t it, he said. I am. He lit my way out of that dark room and seated me at a feast. I began to read the Bible and, within a few years, discovered Narnia and Middle-earth—expansive lands that rolled greenly in every direction, promising some new discovery just beyond each hill.

But as my daughters grow older, I find that so many of the books marketed to them continue to chant that old refrain: This is it. There is nothing outside this. Settle in and do the best you can with what you have. And so I look hard for books like Rosefire—books that stand as outposts of light amidst the young adult stories that celebrate darkness and would urge my daughters to submit to it.

Rosefire, by Carolyn Clare Givens | Little Book, Big Story

In Rosefire, Carolyn Clare Givens tells a story that begins with one small action: Karan, daughter of one of the leading families of Asael, welcomes a girl with no memory of her past into her father’s home against his wishes. But this act establishes both Karan’s place and the place of the girl, Anya, in a story far greater than either of them—one that will shape and redeem their fragmented land.

Rosefire is a powerful picture of what it might look like to live out a prophecy—to know that one’s days are foreordained, but to see that the fulfillment of those days is unlike anything those living inside the story can imagine. Givens admits the presence of darkness in the world, but she shows light flickering at its edges and reminds readers that, whatever the other young adult novels say, the darkness has borders. Beyond it spreads an endless country, radiant and worth reaching, whatever the cost.


Rosefire
Carolyn Clare Givens (2021)

The Letter for the King

While in the middle of the vigil required of all incoming knights, Tiuri hears a voice outside the church. He is forbidden to speak or to leave the church during the vigil, but the voice cries for help. What should a knight-to-be do: obey his king and remain seated, meditating upon his impending knighthood, or answer the cry for help?

This dilemma lies at the heart of The Letter for the King. How does one choose the right path when the path is unclear? When the cost is high? When it is a choice between two good things? How does one honor the heart of the law when doing so seems to conflict with the law’s letter?

The Letter for the King, by Tonke Dragt | Little Book, Big Story

Tonke Dragt tells a winning story, one that rushes forward with a sense of urgency. When so many of today’s stories urge readers to follow their dreams, to be their best selves, Dragt gives us a character who puts his own life and reputation at risk for a task he half-understands—a character who exemplifies bravery and honor, even as he wrestles with himself to discern what is right. She gives us not an anti-hero, but a good, old-fashioned hero.

I needed that. My daughter, who read this book with me, needed it too.

We needed, also, to know Dragt’s story: during World War II, Dragt was interned in a Japanese prisoner’s camp with her mother and sister. She was thirteen. She and a friend coped with life in the camp by writing stories together—on loose sheets of paper and toilet rolls—before Dragt was liberated and returned to the Netherlands with her family. As a child she must have seen both courage and cowardice, honor and cruelty, in measures few of us have seen even as adults. I don’t know, of course, how her own experience colors Tiuri’s story. But Dragt’s simple, straightforward prose thrums with the sort of hope that might inspire one to tell stories amidst the darkness.


The Letter for the King
Tonke Dragt; translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson (1962)

The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson

Summer is sometimes a pleasant unraveling: our schedule frays a bit by mid-June; by July the ends are loose and fuzzy; by August, what routine we have left is shapeless, a heap of thread unpicked by swim lessons, late picnics at the park, and impromptu evening walks. During the summer, it is hard to want to do anything at the same time every day, so I always give a lot of thought (some may say too much thought) to each summer’s read-aloud.

It has to be good enough to be worth gathering for. It must be: engaging (for all of us). Funny. Fun to read aloud. Exciting enough that the girls ask for it even when they’re so tired they sort of slide down the couch as we read.

The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson, by Glenn McCarty | Little Book, Big Story

Last summer we read The Wilderking Trilogy; the summer before it, The Penderwicks. Previous summers, we’ve read Harry Potter, and The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic. And this summer is, for us, The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson.

This is historical fiction at it’s finest: Eugene Appleton lives a predictable life in a town on the Coloradan frontier. He’s the local pastor’s kid who longs for a life of antics like that of his dime-store novel hero, Dead-Eye Dan. And he gets his wish when Tumbleweed Thompson, son of a traveling snake-oil man, drifts through town one summer, trailing outlaws and adventure behind him. Glenn McCarty has fun with the language and tells a story worth sharing.

The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson, by Glenn McCarty | Little Book, Big Story

I can’t count the number of times I’ve closed this book and heard one daughter or another sigh, “I love this book.” That’s the best endorsement I can give it, really. It’s fun to read aloud, and all four daughters adore it. Joe Sutphin’s illustrations (The Wingfeather Saga) are nothing to sneeze at either: they’re reminiscent of Robert McCloskey’s Homer Price, but with a style all their own. I know it’s late in the game to recommend a perfect summer read-aloud, but there you have it: bookmark this one for next summer, or start it now and keep a bit of summer close when the cold months start closing in. It’s your call.


The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson
Glenn McCarty; Joe Sutphin (2019)