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Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

After our first reading of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, my daughter declared that we would read it again in preparation for every future Christmas. Meanwhile, I searched for some contemporary seasonal stories, and found that high-quality holiday-themed fiction for older readers can be elusive. I was delighted to discover that prolific children’s author Katherine Paterson has published two collections of short stories for Christmas, available through my local library. I began with A Midnight Clear: Stories for the Christmas Season. Each of the dozen stories here was written to be read aloud at church on Christmas Eve, and they uplift the hope at the heart of the Christmas story.

Readers encounter an older woman whose loneliness is relieved by a young neighbor; a cynical man who discovers warmth and holiday spirit in the company of a stranger; a young couple who receive hospitality when they need it most. Paterson’s stories are well-crafted and believable, heart-warming and not overstated. I found nothing preachy in these tales, yet each carries the Christmas message of caring for one another, of having hope in the coming Light, of finding peace amidst the confusion of the human condition.

Next I shall sit with Angels and Other Strangers: Family Christmas Stories, which has just arrived at the library. I anticipate a few cozy evenings reading with my daughter, reflecting together on the Light at the heart of this season.

What fiction have you read that draws you closer to the heart of Advent, helping you to wait in hope? Does your family have favorites that are revisited each year?

Disclaimer: This review is based upon a book borrowed from my public library. No fee was received.

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I enjoyed My Basmati Bat Mitzvah very much, and certainly will recommend it to young readers as well as teachers. Author Paula J. Freedman does a beautiful job of sharing cultural traditions smoothly within the narrative, weaving them into the story as a natural and important part of her characters’ lives. Unlike other books I have read that address religious diversity, there is nothing preachy to this book.

The main character, Tara, has strong and loving relationships with friends and family, and these are made very believable. Throughout the story, Tara is an engaging and likeable character. As she prepares for her bat mitzvah, a rite of passage for Jewish youth, she wonders how this step will affect her identity. Her father is of European decent and her mother is from India, a convert to Judaism; Tara is used to integrating both cultures. Meanwhile, Tara also copes with the confusion that often arises in junior high friendships. A warm-hearted girl, Tara strives to resolve her challenges while also being a loyal friend and a faithful daughter.

At the end of the book there is a brief and helpful glossary of the Yiddish and Hindi terms used in the text. All the terms are readily understandable with context clues, but this addition eliminates any guesswork.

I found myself wondering if there will be more stories about Tara in the future. So many children of mixed racial/ethnic/religious backgrounds will be able to relate to her experiences.

I feel very lucky that, thanks to Goodreads First Reads I was able to read this excellent book. With Hanukkah at the end of November, I am thinking about young people I know who would enjoy receiving this book as a gift.

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If I Should Speak is the first novel from U.S. author Umm Zakiyyah. The novel tells of three college students, their new friendship, and spiritual challenges faced by each young woman. Tamika, a Christian and a student of religion, has many questions for her Muslim roommates, Aminah and Dee. Her interest in Islam begins as academic curiosity, but to Tamika’s surprise and confusion, she finds herself drawn toward the faith. As Tamika explores, Aminah and Dee also ask themselves questions about what faith means in their own lives.

Aminah is a disciplined young woman, committed to practicing her religion to the best of her ability. In contrast, Dee, who has known Aminah since childhood, has moved away from many religious observances. Often Tamika looks from one woman to the other, trying to determine the best path to follow.

Through Tamika’s questions and Aminah’s explanations about Islam, readers can learn quite a bit about the basics of the faith. There are brief passages of Qur’an, with chapter and verse mentioned in the text or in footnotes. Their conversations are realistic, and readers unfamiliar with the faith may find many of their own questions answered. Occasionally the teaching element feels heavy-handed, but the novel provides a great way for readers to learn about Islam through fiction. This book would be a good addition to high school, college, and masjid libraries, and will appeal to parents seeking clean literature for their teens.

The author’s passion for sharing about Islam seems to shine through Aminah’s voice. We have fewer glimpses into the internal struggles of Dee; since we do not see her as deeply, I connected with her much less.

By the end of the novel, I wanted to know Aminah better, and to see the development of Tamika’s spiritual journey. Happily, her story continues in A Voice and Footsteps. I look forward to exploring themes of faith and self-discovery in Umm Zakiyyah’s other writings.

 

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Al-Walaa Publications. My thanks to them for making the book available.

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Stand by Me is my first taste of fiction from Neta Jackson, author of the popular Yada Yada Prayer Group books and the House of Hope series. With this novel, due to be released tomorrow, Jackson inaugurates a new fiction series, SouledOut Sisters. Set in Chicago, the story involves Avis Douglass, a school principal in her fifties, and Kathryn Davies, an earnest recent college graduate. The paths of these two women intertwine when Kathryn begins attending Souled Out Community Church, where Avis is a member and worship leader. The book reveals the importance of building relationships beyond our comfort zone, and the many gifts to be discovered in intergenerational friendships.

The character of Avis appealed to me immediately; she is a strong woman of admirable qualities. I confess that it took a while for me to make a connection with Kathryn, or to find her likable. Since part of the plot requires Avis to consider her feelings toward Kathryn, my response might reflect how well Jackson developed Avis, and how much I viewed the story through her eyes.

It was a treat to read a novel where characters make mistakes and then ask one another for forgiveness; where someone needs help, and turns to God in prayer; where friends offer encouragement and hope during trials.

I appreciated that Souled Out Community Church was working hard to build multiracial community within and beyond its walls—and that the author did not pretend this is an easy task. On the one hand, interracial friendships and marriages are a given; on the other hand, conflicts related to racial prejudice do arise in the story. (On a minor note, prior to reading the book, the church’s name made me shake my head a bit; it is just the kind of play on words that is not my style. However, the church members are an interesting cast of supporting characters, and following their adventures allowed me to leave aside my bias about the name.)

As an editor I had one complaint about the book: there was unnecessary repetition of the descriptive characteristics of certain people and places. For example, Manna House, the homeless shelter, is mentioned a dozen times; after the first or second time, I don’t need to be told what Manna House is. Likewise, I know Edesa is Jodi’s daughter-in-law after the first time it is written. However, I must note that I read an advanced reader’s copy, and this problem may be fixed by the time the final books go to press.

This book could be fun for a book discussion group to read. While it is written in a light, “chick lit” style, the novel raises interesting and heavy concerns: how do we determine what work God is calling us to do? how can we build and nourish meaningful relationships? how do we nurture leaders in our faith communities? what daily practices renew our spirits? I look forward to seeing the future books in this series, to see how characters develop and problems are solved in the church community. Meanwhile, I intend to look for the Yada Yada Prayer Group books, to read more about Avis and her friends.

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