This contemporary teen collection is the first of two volumes in the "SummerHill Secrets" series by Beverly Lewis and is published by Bethany House Publishers, an imprint of Baker Publishing Group.
Summerhill Secrets is written for kids ages 13 to 16. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Volume 1 in the "SummerHill Secrets" series holds five books about Merry Hanson, a modern 15-year-old girl living in Lancaster, Pa., near Amish country. Through each book, Merry is challenged in her relationships with others and with her faith in God.
Whispers Down the Lane
Merry's classmate Lissa Vyner appears on her doorstep beaten and in tears. With the help of her Amish neighbor and friend Rachel Zook, Merry helps to lead Lissa — and her family — down a road of healing. Meanwhile, Merry struggles with her own bottled grief over the childhood death of her twin sister and questions the reality of God's love.
Secrets in the Willow
The Zooks' family farm is vandalized. Along her journey to unveil the perpetrator, Merry meets Elton, an autistic classmate with a gift for art. Later, he saves her from a fire in the Zooks' barn, but he is accused of starting the blaze. Merry fights for Elton's innocence, and when another Amish boy named Ben Fisher is discovered to be the true culprit, Merry learns an incredible lesson about the power of friendship.
Catch a Falling Star
Merry and her childhood friend Levi Zook have a complex relationship. When Merry is asked to complete a family tree for school, she enlists the help of the Zooks, with whom she shares a distant heritage. Hurt that Lissa has taken an interest in Merry's secret crush, Jon Klein, Merry gives her attention to Levi instead. Merry suddenly finds herself torn between two worlds: the modern world where she lives and Levi's Amish lifestyle. Levi begins to explore contemporary traditions, and Merry believes their relationship may be expanding beyond "just friends."
Night of the Fireflies
Merry is delighted when Susie Zook takes an interest in her company, especially because the little girl is the striking image of Merry's deceased twin sister. While hunting for fireflies one night, a terrible accident threatens Susie's life, and Merry relives memories of her own sister's tragic death. Inspired by a poem written by Grandfather Zook, Merry eventually accepts her past. Susie recovers, but Grandfather Zook passes away in his sleep. Merry begins to understand that death is not an ending but a beginning.
A Cry in the Dark
A distraught young mother leaves a baby named Charity in Merry's gazebo. When the baby's parents are finally found, they sign away their parental rights and place the child for adoption. At first, Charity appears to be just what Merry and her family need to heal, especially Merry's mother, who never fully recovered from the death of her daughter. Meanwhile, newlyweds Curly John and Sarah Zook experience heartbreak after they miscarry their first child. In the end, they adopt Charity.
Each book in this collection is grounded in Christian truths, such as the supremacy of God, the truth of His Word and the belief in salvation through faith. Whispers Down the Lane focuses on the love of God and on the forgiveness of others. Secrets in the Willows emphasizes the beauty of friendship and on the use of talents to worship God. Catch a Falling Star deals with the consequences of envy while Night of the Fireflies explores themes of grief, death and healing. Finally, Cry in the Dark revolves around selflessness and sacrifice. Throughout these novels, the Amish culture is introduced and explored. Although sometimes legalistic, the Amish believe in the one true God and His Word.
In Whispers Down the Lane, Lissa's father, who is also a police officer, starts out as an abusive alcoholic. As a result, Lissa fears authority and hides from the police. She distrusts counselors and doctors as well, convinced that their only agenda is to put her in a foster home. Throughout each novel, Merry's elderly neighbor, Ruby Spindler, is portrayed as a meddler and neighborhood nuisance; however, in A Cry in the Dark, readers are shown her motherly side. As far as parental figures are concerned (and except in Lissa's initial situation), they are painted as faithful sources of love, advice, reassurance and comfort.
Other Belief Systems
In Catch a Falling Star Lissa mentions that her parents are experimenting with the occult through the study of mysticism, crystals and mood rings. The author references reincarnation, "folk healing" and the use of charms and incantations to promote health.
Physical abuse is prevalent in Whispers Down the Lane. Scenes involving the destruction of property, a trash can fire at school and a burning barn resulting in physical injury are played out in Secrets in the Willows. A car accident occurs in Night of the Fireflies. Each story avoids gruesome images and there is no profanity. At one point, however, mildly derogatory terms are used to describe a boy with developmental delays.
There are only two points in this collection where characters kiss. The first is done within the context of courting (Secrets in the Willows), and the second is between two parents, married to each other (A Cry in the Dark).
Two books in this volume made the C.S. Lewis Noteworthy List: Cry in the Dark and Whispers Down the Lane.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Whispers Down the Lane How does Merry deceive her family and friends? How does her deception help Lissa? How does it hurt Lissa? If you were in Merry's place, what would you have done? How does Lissa change in the story? How does she find the strength to forgive her father? Lissa says, "Remember your tears. They're precious to God." How does it make you feel to know that God understands your sadness?
- Secrets in the Willows How does Elton's life change when Merry befriends him? How does her life change? What does the Bible say about how we are to treat people, even those who are not rich, popular or powerful? Have you ever encountered someone who was difficult to love? What did you do? What did you learn? How did Elton use His talents to worship God? What is your definition of worship? How can you use your own gifts to praise God?
- Catch a Falling Star How is Merry caught in the middle of two cultures? In what way do you feel caught between two groups of people? How are Merry's experiences similar to your own? How does Merry feel when her best friend, Jon Klein, spends time with Lissa? What does God's Word say about jealousy? How does jealousy affect Merry's relationships? How has jealousy affected you? What could you have done differently? What does Merry think when Lissa tells her that her parents are experimenting with the occult? Why is it so dangerous? What does God say about dabbling in unhealthy practices?
- Night of the Fireflies What are some of the life-and-death trials that Merry faces? Through these trials, what does Merry learn about God's love? What are some trials you have faced? What have your learned about God through them? How has He comforted you during these trials? Like Merry, have you ever had the opportunity to influence someone younger than you? What did you do? How did it impact the other person? What did you learn from the relationship? What is the Amish way of dealing with death? What does God's Word say about death? How are your thoughts about death similar or different from God's Word and/or Amish beliefs?
- A Cry in the Dark How did the young mother in A Cry in the Dark sacrifice for her child? How did she feel when the Hansons didn't adopt her child? How did God work things out for good in this situation? Has God ever asked you to give up something you loved for the sake of someone else? How has that decision changed your life? What did God give up for you? What was Merry's opinion of Miss Spindler throughout the book? How did that opinion change after she placed Charity in Miss Spindler's care? Have you ever judged someone without knowing the whole story? What did it take to change your impression?
Note: "SummerHill Secrets," Volume 1, deals with difficult themes, such as the death of a child, cancer, unwed pregnancy and child abandonment.
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