After a disturbing encounter with a classmate fractures Katina’s sense of safety and peace, her mother sends Katina across the country to stay with a woman neither of them has never met—the great-aunt of her mother’s best friend—and try to recover.
Robin has been raised by his loving adoptive parents, but as he grows older he feels rootless. Everyone else wants to know where he’ll go for college, what he’ll do after high school. But he wants to know: who left him in the orphanage in India? How is he supposed to face his future when he doesn’t know his past?
Mitali Perkins weaves the stories of these two characters together beautifully, bringing them into fellowship with one another—through the wonderful medium of Viola Jones—where they challenge each other and help each other heal.
I had never read Mitali Perkins before reading this book, and I’m eager to read more—this was easily one of the best books I read last year. Forward Me Back to You deals with difficult content, but Perkins handles subjects like abuse and human trafficking honestly: nothing about this story is formulaic or predictable. Instead, Perkins allows Robin, Katina, and the other characters work through these challenges in ways that feel true and honest: they respond the way actual people might—with complex emotions, motivated by things they don’t understand in the moment and may not understand for years.
But Perkins writes with hope and with an eye on beauty and goodness, as well as truth. She brings her characters to a point of peace, but resists pushing past that to wrap up everything with a tidy bow. She gives them a way forward, and allows us to imagine what the path looks like from there.
This post is part of my “Hooray! We’re launching a book!” blog series, celebrating the upcoming release of Wild Things & Castles in the Sky—a book I both contributed to and, alongside Leslie & Carey Bustard, helped edit. Today’s post features an author who graced us with a powerful interview for Wild Things.
And now, let’s discuss child labor laws and the plight of Victorian chimney sweeps.
Did you know that during the Victorian era children were the preferred “instruments” for cleaning chimneys because they were small and were considered—given the abundance of orphans on the streets—expendable? Or that they were “indentured” to masters who fed them little and worked them mercilessly? Or that they were not protected under law but often died of fire, hunger, exposure, or illness?
This is not a world many authors would invite children into, but Jonathan Auxier opens the door to it through the character of Nan, a young girl serving under a harsh master, who is good at her work and has learned to shut herself off from her fellow sweeps. But one part of her, though she tries to seal it away, continues to seep out: memories or dreams of Before, when she traveled with the Sweep.
The Sweep had a way with stories, a magic about him that she still remembers, even after he abruptly leaves her alone, with nothing but a bit of char in her pocket that never seems to grow cool. But that char offers Nan much more than a bit of warmth—as a gift from Sweep, it comforts and protects her in an unexpected way.
Jonathan Auxier infuses Sweep with magic and hope through the character of Charlie and his friendship with Nan, and turns what could be a dismal, depressing subject into a glowing story of love and sacrifice.
If you’ve read Auxier’s other books, you know that his stories can be intense for some readers. (Wonderful, but intense.) I think this one sits somewhere between Peter Nimble and The Night Gardener, and the historical aspect of it (as in, much of this happened to real kids) could be upsetting for some. I encourage you to read it yourself before giving it to your kids, for their sake but also for yours: I think you’ll love it.
Taylor Everett Brown’s book Rootless is an adventure story set in the fictional (and fantastic!) realm of Pateramor. He kindly answered some questions for us so we can learn more about the story behind Rootless and about him, the author behind the story.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sure, I’m a giant nerd who aspires to great adventures, fantastic romance, and saintly holiness. And, every once in a while, I come close to reaching those aspirations.
For example, I once managed to pluck a diamond out of the glittering, salty sea-spray of the Texas coast. Realizing the miraculous nature of what had taken place, I dropped to a knee and proposed to my (now) wife, stunning her just long enough to secure a “yes” and sweep her off her feet!
Since then we have set about the serious(ly fun) business of building a home and filling it with amazing children.
And on a related note, I am certain that I am called to the vocation of fatherhood because I have been telling dad-jokes my entire life.
What inspired you to write Rootless?
I’ve always enjoyed faerie tale stories, whether they came in books, video games, or songs. And, as faerie tales tend to do, they inspired my own musings on the origins of magical worlds, fantastical beasts, and wonderful peoples.
I started capturing those ideas and writing them down while I was in college and, after more than a decade, they had grown into a living breathing world. I knew it was special and I wanted to do something with it. I just lacked the resolve and the focus. Then my son, Everett, came along and provided the spark I needed to write my first story in the world of Pateramor.
I thought it would be so much fun to write a little bedtime story, starring my son, that I could read to him throughout his childhood. Well, the bedtime story turned into a series of bedtime stories and, finally, into the full novel, Rootless. I was so happy with it, I decided to publish it.
I loved reading about the different forests of Pateramor. Which part of Pateramor would you most like to visit?
It makes me so happy to hear you say you loved reading about the forests. I wanted the forests to be like characters in the book, each with their own personality, feel, and quirks. I really enjoyed writing about them.
Rootless takes place in the Kingdom of Windfall, which is only one small part of the world of Pateramor. But even just in Windfall, there are so many places I would like to visit. From the serenity and solitude of the Singing Mountains to the hand-made grandeur of Fortuna to the other-worldly beauty of the glowing forest. It’s hard to choose!
But, for me, I think the dragon forest edges out the rest of the destinations. I just love dragonapple trees. Everything about them, from their warmth, to their giant fruit, to the ecosystem they create is intriguing.
And, between you and me, I will admit that I designed the dragonapples to really appeal to someone with my taste buds. That mixture of sweet and spicy is something that I relish. I would love to try one.
Of course, what really seals the deal is the dragons. Who doesn’t want to see dragons? Especially dragons as exhilarating and as beautiful as phytodrakes?
What are some of your favorite books? Which ones particularly fuel your writing?
I recently read Augustine’s Confessions and it is incredible! It reads as easily as a modern novel and the troubles he deals with in his life are so easy to relate to . . . and yet it was written 1600 years ago!
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s thrilling and inspiring from beginning to end, which is saying something given how much story it packs between its covers.
I also really enjoy reading anything by C. S. Lewis. One gem of his that not many talk about is Perelandra from his sci-fi trilogy. C. S. Lewis is so good at speaking about evil and there’s a scene in the second book where he explores what it was like when Eve was tempted in Eden. It is deliciously terrifying!
But in the end, J.R.R. Tolkien is still my favorite. When I need to get inspired to write I reach for him. The completeness of his world, the beauty of his language, and the sheer size of his story, you just can’t beat it. I can re-read his books over and over and I am always in awe.
Can we look forward to any new books from you?
You know, I do have a second son now, Augustine Michael Brown. And it would be a shame for him to grow up hearing and reading about his brother going on faerie tale journeys and not have any himself.
Yes! I am thrilled to announce that I have begun writing a second story in the world of Pateramor! I’m aiming to complete it before the end of the year. So stay tuned!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Always! If you want to know more about the me, the books, or the world of Pateramor, I encourage you to go and explore Pateramor.com. I’m slowly building up a treasure trove of information on that website to fill in the blanks between the books.
For example, right now there’s a great article on the race of little inventors called the Munchkins (to which readers were introduced in Rootless). And I hope to soon publish an article on their “superior” brand of technology called “munchkintech”.
My husband and I called work assignments back and forth as we unloaded the minivan after church. “You get the baby, I’ll get lunch,” “I’ve got the bag!”—that sort of thing. I was halfway up the front steps when I saw the box.
“Never mind!” I called. “No lunch today! I’ve got books!”
“Oh, what is that book about?” Only the baby remained uninterested—everyone else huddled around me to study the cover of The Green Ember. My husband murmured reverently, “It’s beautiful.”
I dropped everything else from my reading list and started The Green Ember that afternoon. Written by S. D. Smith of Story Warren,The Green Ember tells the tale of Heather and Picket, two rabbits set adrift in a corrupted wood by the loss of their home and family.
Someone somewhere (where was that quote?) called this “a new story with an old soul,” and I can see why: in the tradition of classics like The Chronicles of Narnia or The Princess and the Goblin, Smith uses fantastic elements to tell a story that is lively and engaging but that courses with good, old-fashioned virtue. Though the story has allegorical moments, it is not a strict allegory, and in that way Smith presents a beautiful picture of a community living in the hope of restoration, looking forward to the day when harms will be mended and the world made right.
A word of warning, though: the opening chapters are intense. If your family is up for that, awesome! Proceed. But if your kids are anything like mine, you might hold off on this one for a few years lest they have nightmares. Those opening chapters gathered steam slowly for me—I wanted to know more of the story earlier in the book—but once the train left the station, the ride was wonderful. And by the end?
No spoilers. But the book rocketed to the top of my favorites. May that be endorsement enough.
I have few specific memories of my time in Mr. Gosda’s eighth grade class: learning to french braid my hair by watching Amanda, the girl seated in front of me, braid her own hair during Social Studies; being sent to the hall for one of the only times in my academic career (I don’t remember why); snickering over certain dated words in something by Mark Twain.
What I don’t remember, though, is reading The Cay. At least, I didn’t remember reading it until I picked it up a few weeks ago and found myself a few chapters in, with a half-formed sense of familiarity flickering in the back of my mind. One would have thought it would be memorable, though. It certainly is rich.
Theodore Taylor addresses a big issue—racism—by stripping everything away from the main character, Philip, and dropping him onto an island in the Caribbean with Timothy, a native man who cares for Philip in a strong, lasting way that flies in the face of everything Philip expected from “black people.”
The Cay is plainly written, but it is not the language that makes it beautiful: the story itself, unfolded little by little, gives such a clear picture of sacrificial love that the imagery of the Gospel is right there at the surface, vivid and startling. I realize that there has been some controversy over the character of Timothy in this book, but I found him incredibly strong and willing to love this strange, broken boy in a way that few men (of any color) could do.
This is clearly one of those books that I had to come back to as an adult before I could appreciate it fully, but then, some books have the gift of meeting us in different ways at different times in our lives, which is why I am a huge fan of rereading the books I was assigned in school. Those books tend to be better when I reread them through the lens of adulthood and for the sake of enjoyment, not obligation (“tend to be,” yes, but they aren’t always. A Separate Peace wasn’t). A good author—and Theodore Taylor is a good author—appeals to grown-ups as well as children, though he reaches them in different ways.
Hi, I'm Théa! I review classic literature, poetry, nonfiction, fantasy, picture books—children's books luminous with grace and beauty. These are books our family loved and that I think you'll love too. Thanks for stopping by!
AFFILIATE LINKS. This blog has 'em. If you purchase anything through an Amazon or Bookshop link from this site, I receive a small percentage of that purchase amount (at no added cost to you). Thank you for supporting Little Book, Big Story!
BOOKS FOR REVIEW. Though I have, in the past, accepted unsolicited books to review, I am no longer able to do so. My apologies!
PERMISSIONS. Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are my own work. Please ask before using them elsewhere (I'll probably say yes).