If reading is to do anything, it is to delight us and to enlarge us. And now, in summer, when life moves a little more slowly, a little less hysterically, perhaps reading can work its way most potently upon us.
To that end, books such as the following wait to entertain and challenge both children and adults.
For younger readers, Kimiko Kajikawa’s Tsunami! (Philomel) offers a tale of nobility and honor and sacrifice. Illustrated by Ed Young, the story is an old Japanese folktale in which a wealthy farmer burns his rice crop, ruining himself, to save the townspeople who live by the sea from the tidal wave that the farmer sees coming—but which they do not. The noble sacrifice is trumped only by his hospitality: When the entire village is destroyed, the farmer says, “My house remains. And there is room for many.” That, as my grandmother would say, will do.
For upper-elementary readers, there is Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux (Candlewick)—and here, ignore the movie and the lousy “junior novelization” that came out with it. Read the original, in which you will find a mouse willing to brave darkness and despair for the sake of light and love. The astonishing narrator of this book, who beckons you close because stories have light and truth, shows an unlikely hero whose greatest quality is not bravery or martial feats, but his ability to forgive. That will do, too.
For middle-grade readers, Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese (Square Fish) tells of a boy who tries to remake himself to fit into the larger culture, only to discover the falseness of crafting new identities. His story is brilliantly intermixed with the Chinese mythology of the Monkey King, and culminates with Yang’s powerful evocation of Psalm 139: “Where can I go from your Spirit?”
For high school readers, try Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion (Simon Pulse), a powerful futuristic fantasy in which the protagonist is a clone. The questions raised in this fast-moving plot are those all adolescents ask: Who am I? Who does the Lord say I am? How do I find my place in the world? The answers will surprise and challenge and affirm our uniqueness.
These, with the sounds of birds, promise an afternoon well spent.
Cutting for Stone
by Abraham Verghesereviewed by Otto Sells
If you can’t travel far this summer, take the imaginative and well-crafted ride offered by this historical tale of doctors and nurses in India, Ethiopia, and New York City. A professor of medicine, Verghese has a knack for turning medical procedures and surgery into exciting drama. Crossing generations and cultures, the novel focuses on the lives of Marion and Shiva Stone, twin brothers born to a nun in an Ethiopian mission hospital. This medical page-turner takes on biblical proportions by addressing themes of misguided love, separation, adoption, and reconciliation. For adult readers. (Knopf)
Illegitimate: How a Loving God Rescued a Son of Polygamy
by Brian Mackertreviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema
The police raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, and the imprisonment of its leader Warren Jeffs in 2007 brought Brian Mackert back to his painful past. He was a child of a polygamous family belonging to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS). Comparing his family to the FLDS, Mackert writes, “We lived a hidden, deceitful existence in a hidden, deceitful community.” This narrative of his journey out of the cult into the freedom of Christ is both informative and inspiring. (David C. Cook)
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
by Alan Bradleyreviewed by Jim Romahn
Flavia de Luce is only 11, the daughter of the heir to the Buckshaw mansion. She is brilliant. Fascinated by poisons, she experiments with them in a well-equipped lab in the mansion. She delights in aggravating her two older sisters. Her reclusive father is a stamp collector and is rattled when a dead bird, its beak spiked through a stamp, is left at his door. In this novel for adults, Flavia leads us through this humorous tale of intrigue, murder, and suspense. (Doubleday Canada)
Outliers: The Story of Success
by Malcolm Gladwellreviewed by Ron DeBoer
Did you know that more professional baseball players are born in August than any other month? Ever wonder why? Did you know Bill Gates and the Beatles owe much of their success to the fact they got their 10,000 hours of practice in their chosen interest at a very young age? In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell dismisses the usual myths of intelligence and rags-to-riches success and looks more deeply at things like family, birthplace, and birth date to explain why some people have better opportunities for success than others, and why this is wrong. (Little, Brown)
by Chris Cleavereviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema
In this searing indictment of Britain’s immigration removal centers and treatment of refugees, Cleave gives readers an unforgettable character in Little Bee, a Nigerian asylum seeker. Caught between her homeland’s violence and a democracy’s inhumane treatment, Little Bee does what she needs to in order to save herself and those whom she loves. By turns despairing and hopeful, this challenging novel, containing violence, profanity, and sexually explicit scenes, offers profound insights into the lives of “floating people.” (Simon and Schuster)
by Lisa Seereviewed by Joyce Kane
Lisa See (Peony in Love) offers another excellent historical novel, this one set in Shanghai in the 1930s. Privileged sisters Pearl and May travel with freedom throughout the city, socializing and posing as “calendar girls,” until their father loses his wealth and Shanghai is invaded by the Japanese. Driven by the horrors of war, they set out on a difficult journey to America, carrying with them a secret that will determine the course of their future. (Random House)
This Is Water
by David Foster Wallacereviewed by Phil Christman Jr.
The late David Foster Wallace never outgrew his reputation as a writer of zany, brainy hipster entertainments. But those who actually read his books (and not just their reviews) know that compassion, not cleverness, was his true subject—and his true achievement. Like the speeches and fables of Tolstoy, this 2005 commencement speech, published in the form of a gift book, reveals that quality in the course of describing it. “The really important kind of freedom,” writes Wallace, is showing compassion “in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.” (Little, Brown)
by John Wrayreviewed by Phil Christman Jr.
A 16-year-old escaped mental patient roams the New York subway system, convinced that only he can save the world from global warming. Wray’s third novel blends the excitement of a suspense thriller with a convincing evocation of mental illness; makes some delightful, sly Catcher in the Rye references; describes the tunnels of NYC so thoroughly (and entertainingly) that you’ll throw away your map; and gives dramatic form to an ecological and political problem from which most American writers shrink. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
by Jackina Starkreviewed by Kristy Quist
At age 55, Audrey Eaton realizes that she lost her love for life when she lost her husband more than a year before. Leaving her home and loved ones behind temporarily, Audrey takes a solitary road trip. Though she continues to grieve, she finds friends and a renewed gratitude for life and God’s grace along the way. Fans of inspirational fiction will appreciate this thoughtful debut novel. (Bethany House)
It’s Time to Sleep, My Love
by Eric Metaxasreviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema
It’s the end of the day, time for children and animals to sleep. Eric Metaxas’s soothing lullaby, punctuated with a recurring refrain—”It’s time to sleep, my love”—invites young children into the beauty and peacefulness of the God-given gift of rest. Nancy Tillman’s exquisite illustrations of the natural world celebrate God’s creatures caring for and loving their young as night falls. (Feiwel and Friends)
by Charles Colson and Harold Fickettreviewed by Wayne Brouwer
Colson’s latest book might be called “Christianity 101.” Fifteen short chapters spell out “what Christians believe, why they believe it, and why it matters.” A bit disjointed, like many of Colson’s books, this collection would serve as fine discussion material in a small group that meets weekly or monthly. While the elements of faith are made accessible by Colson, following the general outline of the Apostles’ Creed, only those that focus on behaviors (for example, chapter nine, “Reconciliation”) are gripping. (Zondervan)
by Laurie Halse Andersonreviewed by Kathryn Hoffman
Isabel is a young slave girl in New York at the onset of the Revolutionary War. Desperately seeking freedom, Isabel enlists as a Tory spy. When she discovers that the Patriots’ call for freedom does not include her, Isabel turns to the British army for help, only to realize that she is their pawn and must find the courage to help herself. Using Isabel’s voice, Anderson’s young adult novel deftly reveals how African slaves were “chained between two nations” throughout this period in American history. (Simon & Schuster)