Category: Teens (page 3 of 3)

The Shiloh Series

We live in a world blighted by sin. This past year, we’ve seen startling markers of it: the day I first drove downtown last spring and saw the shops closed and the streets empty, I felt it. This is not how it was meant to be. But even on a day like that, when everything felt marred and twisted, I could hear chickadees calling and could look up and see cirrus clouds curling in the upper realms of the sky. The sun rose over the bay, enlivening our stilled city with its light.

But in Shiloh, the brokenness of the world is evident all the time, from any vantage point. The villages are ensconced in the Shadow, a darkness so palpable that the sky scarcely lightens even at midday. Most villagers have no memory of the sun; they do not believe it exists. But Amos’s father believes and, though ridiculed for it, he remembers: This is not how it was meant to be. Unlike most of his neighbors, he refuses to believe that the Shadow is all there is.

The Shiloh Series, by Helena Sorenson | Little Book, Big Story

Helena Sorenson’s story begins in the dark, and it is a heavy tale, one that is honest about the damage of sin and the havoc it wreaks in our hearts. Her characters go on grueling journeys through the darkness of Shiloh, but the story is, as the back of the book promises, one of courage and hope: she brings the story to a glorious conclusion.

There is much to love about these books, but I was particularly enthralled by the mythology behind the land of Shiloh. The stories of the world’s creation and of the coming of the shadow gave me a sense that the world extended beyond the borders of the story, and that there were other stories happening in this world that hadn’t yet been told. This is something we need to hear often: in our world, too, there are stories still being told. God hasn’t finished with us yet.


The Shiloh series
Helena Sorenson (2013)

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)

KAREN SWALLOW PRIOR’s Reading Guides

This blog has always been light on two categories: books for boys, and books for teens. But now that we have a teenager in the house, one of those categories is about to start growing. Lydia recently turned thirteen, and while I was tempted to sort of gloss over it and think about it as, well, the next number after twelve, she wasn’t having that: every few days leading up to her birthday, she’d drift through the kitchen and sigh, “I can’t believe I’m almost a teenager!” About the fourth or fifth time, it hit me: my stars, she’s almost a teenager!

And now she is one. And apart from the looming sense that she may only live with us for five more years, I love it so far: the company in the front seat of the car, the insightful conversations, the sense that the world around her is just bigger and that she’s aware of it more. Deep conversations have already sprung from her expanding perspective on the world, and we talk about these issues the way we talk about most things at our house: through really great books.

Karen Swallow Prior's Guides to Reading and Reflectioning | Little Book, Big Story

That is where Karen Swallow Prior comes in. These editions of classic books are framed by an insightful introduction by Prior, meant to introduce a Christian audience to great works of fiction, and by a selection of questions for reflection and discussion. They contain the full text of the classic work, with insightful footnotes that help decode some of the older language.

I had the chance to try these out in a small book group recently—we read and discussed Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (I’ll hold off on reading that one with my daughter for a while, though), and I was startled by how Prior’s introduction and questions gave our conversation a foundation and direction. While the whole group arrived having read the book but not sure we’d understood it at all, by the time we left we’d hit some deep points of reflection and reached some understanding of the story and the author’s main themes. It was magical.

Karen Swallow Prior's Guides to Reading and Reflectioning | Little Book, Big Story

This is a newer series, and I hope Karen Swallow Prior is working on more. I could see these being a gift for parents who want to read classics with their teens but who aren’t sure how to go about discussing them after. But already I’m struck by how much Prior’s guides add to my understanding of these classic stories—and I can’t wait to share them with my daughter.


Heart of Darkness: A Guide to Reading and Reflecting
Joseph Conrad; Karen Swallow Prior (1899; 2020)

Jane Eyre: A Guide to Reading and Reflecting
Charlotte Bronte; Karen Swallow Prior (1848; 2021)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of Jane Eyre for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.