Tag: young adult (page 1 of 3)

The Sin Eater

This book, in addition to being written by the incomparable Gary Schmidt, contains three of the things I love most in a story: a very old house, some cloudy family history, and a cemetery. No—two cemeteries, one of which is hidden away and overgrown. Which is my favorite kind of cemetery.

So regardless of what my daughters think about the book, I’m here to tell you that I loved it. Gary Schmidt has a reputation for tackling Hard Topics, and this book is no exception: after losing his mother to cancer, Cole watches as his dad disappears into his grief like it’s an attic he can lock himself inside. But they’re living with Cole’s grandparents in the house where his mother grew up, and it is layered with family stories—joyful and sad—that provide a sort of counterweight to his father’s depression. And his grandparents fill it with laughter, good food, and meaningful work.

The tension between these two parts of Cole’s life—his father’s despair and his grandparents’ comfort—becomes a force at the heart of the story as the light strives to overcome the darkness. That tension propels the story forward. But in the community Cole finds in Albion, New Hampshire, Schmidt has created something that is substantive, memorable, real. The setting itself seems to support Cole as his grief over his mother’s death and his father’s absence ebbs and flows.

This is a moving book, a beautiful one. I’ve read many of Schmidt’s novels, and he’s a master at what he does. But something about this older title especially got to me. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

(And yes, my daughter loved it, too.)


The Sin Eater
Gary D. Schmidt (1996)


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Forward Me Back to You

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.

Forward Me Back to You, by Mitali Perkins | Little Book, Big Story

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 Skya 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.


Forward Me Back to You
Mitali Perkins (2020)

Resurrection iWitness

When I was a senior in high school, a friend of mine started attending a Christian college just over the Canadian border. She came back jazzed, sparkling. “It is so exciting,” she tried to explain to me. “All of these things have answers! I’ve always believed, but now I’m starting to understand what I believe.”

I was a brand new Christian then, maybe one or two years in. I don’t know why this bothered me, but it did; I pushed back against her enthusiasm. Was I afraid that she—a friend I admired and looked up to—would outgrow me? That somehow this new knowledge would build a barrier between us? Maybe. I don’t remember what I thought or said, only that this idea raised my hackles, and that I was less kind than I should have been. I regret that.

Because now, looking back, I think I know what she meant. At the time, both she and I were part of a church that, as I remember it, didn’t emphasize doctrine, but tended to value our feelings about and experiences of God. When, in my twenties, I finally encountered for myself the idea that the things we believe have roots—old roots; roots nourished by present-day discoveries and understanding—I felt like I’d been trying to shelter a little candle and keep it burning, only to be confronted by the rising sun.

Resurrection iWitness, by Doug Powell | Little Book, Big Story

I learned then that Christianity involves our minds as well as our hearts. The whole of us is transformed by its tenets; no question sits outside its scope. I wish I had delighted with my friend in her discovery that the Christian faith isn’t disconnected from the natural world, or from the big questions we all have about existence (why are we here? Why does evil exist?), but that it is entwined throughout every aspect of our lives. That the history recorded in the Bible is largely supported by archeological findings; that Christianity meets some of life’s toughest philosophical questions with answers no other religion adequately supplies; that nature testifies to the hand of an artist at work behind it—these are revelations that eventually deepened and shaped my own faith, and that I now revel in sharing with my daughters.

And that is why, amid our beautiful and beautifully-written picture books of the Easter story, we also have Doug Powell’s Resurrection iWitness, which asks and then examines the question, “How can we know that Jesus rose from the dead?” The book is styled like a dossier full of documents, photos, and paintings, and explores the most common objections to the claims that Jesus rose from the dead. Was his body really stolen? Did the disciples substitute a body double? Perhaps Jesus never truly died, but only swooned? Powell sets these claims under the microscope and examines each one logically, asking if each claim could account for the lives the disciples lived after the crucifixion, or for the empty tomb.

Resurrection iWitness, by Doug Powell | Little Book, Big Story

This is a book aimed for older readers (I plan to let our twelve-year-old read it, but, because some of the paintings of the crucifixion are fairly graphic, I doubt I’ll put it out for the younger girls yet) who have started asking questions of their faith. Can it withstand this? Or this? What about this? We cannot base our faith on these arguments alone, because just as Christianity isn’t a purely emotional endeavor, it isn’t a purely intellectual one either. But seeing how the events of Scripture stand unmoved by the cultural mood of the moment can bolster and strengthen our faith and remind us that Jesus did not live and die in a kingdom far, far away, but here—in the world we know, at a particular time, among a particular group of people. His story may sound like the stuff of fairy tales (a prince disguises himself as a peasant in order to rescue his wayward love?), yet his story is true—and it is our story, too.


Resurrection iWitness
Doug Powell (2012)

The Gospel in Color

We had talked to our daughters off and on about racism—here and there as we came across it in books, mostly—but we could discuss it only to a certain depth, being white parents in a predominantly white city. But as the national discussion about race and racism grew louder and more urgent this spring, I was confronted by how little I actually understood about the issue. My own little lessons about it began to seem too shallow, too theoretical.

And so I was grateful for this book, The Gospel in Color. Racism is not theoretical to authors Curtis A. Woods and Jarvis J. Williams, but neither is the gospel: at the heart of this book, it shines bright, a clear reminder that things are not what they are meant to be, but that God is working out his plan of salvation for all races and all peoples.

The Gospel in Color, by Curtis A. Wood & Jarvis Williams | Little Book, Big Story

The Gospel in Color comes in two editions—one for parents, and one for kids. Both are beautifully illustrated by Rommel Ruiz (Golly’s Folly; Why Do We Say Goodnight?), and full of biblical, practical wisdom. The parent edition contains more in-depth information; the kids’ edition is written directly to younger readers.

The Gospel in Color, by Curtis A. Wood & Jarvis Williams | Little Book, Big Story

In both books, the authors share ways that their families have personally experienced racism, as well as some of the history of thought that has led to the idea that one race is somehow superior to others. But Woods and Williams handle this graciously: they don’t villainize anyone, and they don’t gloss over any hard truths either. Instead, they hold the gospel up to the issue of racism and allow it to reveal racism for the sin it is while simultaneously reminding us that grace is available to us for all sin, and that God is always at work, restoring our world.

The Gospel in Color, by Curtis A. Wood & Jarvis Williams | Little Book, Big Story

I know that there are a lot of perspectives on race, even within the church. I know that there will likely be things in this book that may not sit well with all readers. But I know, too, that the gospel is the one thing that unifies all Christians—it is the grace of God that unites us into a family and holds us together—and it is that gospel that Woods and Williams proclaim. Grace for all. Freedom for all in Christ.

After this, I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9–10)


The Gospel in Color: A Theology of Racial Reconciliation for Families
Curtis A. Woods, Jarvis J. Williams; Rommel Ruiz (2018)

The Door on Half-Bald Hill

Some books give you a lot of information upfront. This story is happening in Missouri, they say. And here’s what the main character looks like, down to the mole on her left cheek—and here’s how she feels about that mole. Here are all her thoughts on school and, come on in, come meet every member of her immediate family, all in the first two chapters.

But not The Door on Half-Bald Hill. I was several chapters into this book before I felt like I had a real handle on who was narrating, what was happening, what this world was even like. I felt as though Helena Sorenson had grabbed my hand, said, “You need to see this!,” and swept me straight into a pitch-black cave. I didn’t know where we were going, but I learned right away that I trusted her as a storyteller. I was willing to follow, to see what she had planned.

The Door on Half-Bald Hill, by Helena Sorenson | Little Book, Big Story

By the end of the book, that narrow cave opened up into a cavern filled with phosphorescent wonders, and I promise to drop the metaphor now. Let me just say that Sorenson knew all along where she was going; she knew the wait would be worth the reward. Set on an island rather Celtic in atmosphere, about people who have lost much and are slowly losing what little they have left, Sorenson tells a story of hope in the face of oppressive darkness, light in the face of a swiftly falling night.

The Door on Half-Bald Hill, by Helena Sorenson | Little Book, Big Story

My daughter, already a fan of Sorenson’s Shiloh books, read The Door on Half-Bald Hill and gave me that glowy you-have-to-read-this-you’ll-love-it look when she finished. She was right. I loved it. You can’t see me, but I’m making that face now, at you.


Of Note

Helena Sorenson’s essay on how she built the world of this book is fascinating. I commend it to readers and writers alike.


The Door on Half-Bald Hill
Helena Sorenson (2020)