Focus on the Family


Abarat

A book review for parents

This fantasy novel is the first book in the "Abarat" series by Clive Barker and is published by HarperCollins Children's Books, a division of HarperCollins.

Abarat is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Candy Quackenbush, a Minnesota high school girl, hates living with her alcoholic father and defeated mother. After a humiliating scene with her history teacher, she cuts classes and wanders onto the prairie. There, she discovers an abandoned lighthouse. Near it she meets an eight-headed man, John Mischief. He and his seven other heads, which are his brothers, ask for Candy's help. He wants her to light the lighthouse while he distracts Mendelson Shape, a nightmarish-looking creature.

Shape quickly realizes what Mischief is doing and pursues Candy. In spite of this, Candy lights it. The light summons a sea that surrounds them. Mischief gives her a key that is absorbed into her mind. These strange happenings intrigue Candy. She doesn't want to return to her boring hometown and wants to remain with Mischief, who has treated her with respect. She persuades him to take her to Abarat, where he lives.

To get there, Candy and Mischief throw themselves into the ebbing sea, and eventually reach Yebba Day Dim, the island where it is always 8 o'clock in the evening. (Each of the 25 islands of Abarat reflects a different hour of the day. The 25th island is a mysterious place where the past, present and future are mixed together.) Mischief and his brothers, who are thieves, abandon Candy at the sight of the island police.

Shape reports to Lord Carrion, a powerful and evil magician. When Carrion hears that Candy is in Abarat, he sends a giant moth to abduct her. Rojo Pixler, a power-hungry merchant who is on a hunt, shoots down the moth. Scared, Candy lands on the moth and runs away from Pixler.

Meanwhile, John Mischief joins the expedition of the Belbelo. A sea dragon demands to eat a young girl onboard. The expedition refuses to sacrifice her and battle the dragon until they mortally wound it. Their ship breaks apart, but they reach land in a small boat. One of the rain-soaked plants of the island heals the near dead Mischief. (This plotline ends here and is unresolved.)

An evil wizard, Wolfswinkel, imprisons an exhausted Candy and removes the key from her mind. He informs one of Carrion's henchmen of her capture. The henchman arrives to take custody of the key and Candy, but she and Malingo, Wolfswinkel's slave, have escaped. Using magic, the Sisters of the Fantomaya draw Candy and Malingo to the 25th island. The three women give Candy glimpses of the past, present and future. They warn her that her future is full of danger and adventure.

The island's keeper sends the Fugit brothers, a pair of monsters, to tear Candy apart. The Sisters of the Fantomaya send a small boat and wind so Candy and Malingo can escape.



Christian Beliefs


Candy credits God with sending the hours of the day. She remembers her uncle's comment that animals display God's sense of humor. When wondering whether Abarat is a dream or something else, Candy quips it may be someplace God designed but has now forgotten. When the giant moth that is carrying her is shot initially, Candy pleads for help. God is implied in her pleadings though she doesn't speak His name. The narrator comments that Candy's cry is useless because her prayers are late. As the giant moth descends, Candy does pray to God, but the story's narrator says her voice cannot be heard in the noise of the fall, and her prayers are ineffective. It is luck that saves Candy.

Candy tells Pixler she wants to say a prayer over the dead Squiller (a squid). Pixler responds that in childhood his sister observed a similar ritual. She buried her pets and wrote shorts prayers for the ceremony. Pixler makes a cross for Squiller's grave. Candy does not address her prayer to God. Instead she thanks Squiller for his companionship. Candy seems to discard her even nominal belief in God as the book nears its end. Running for her life from the Fugit brothers, she does not cry out to God, but to the Sisters of the Fantomaya. They rescue her.

John Mischief speaks of Providence. He tells Candy at the lighthouse that Providence has sent her to him. When the sea dragon threatens Mischief, he calls out to God. Others on deck pray for the dragon to release him, but to whom they pray is unspecified. That God hears or intervenes in this circumstance is subtly dismissed. Geneva, who prays for help from the 91 goddesses, rescues Mischief and slays the dragon.

A number of Abaratians make references to the Devil, equating him with evil.



Authority Roles


Candy's alcoholic father is often violent. She remembers an incident when he slapped her several times. She also remembers he repeatedly promised to not hit her anymore and promised her mother that he would end his drinking. He doesn't keep his promises. Candy's mother is resigned to his drinking and her life. She calls her husband names behind his back. Candy's venomous history teacher rudely rejects Candy's research paper and berates her in front of the class. A testy Abaratian policeman gets into a brawl with a recalcitrant citizen.

Lord Carrion, one of Abarat's more formidable magicians and the ruler of one of the islands, enjoys being cruel. He delights in his own nightmarish thoughts. In one particularly gruesome scene, he soothes himself with a walk through a forest where decaying bodies hang from trees. He enjoys tormenting others and mistreats his servants, abusing them verbally and physically, as well as threatening them with death. Carrion yearns to see the return of the Requiax, evil creatures from ages past that presently live in the depths of the Sea of Izabella. He wants to watch them destroy everything. After they are finished, he plans to rebuild the land according to his own visions.

Carrion resents his grandmother and calls her names. She is an evil sorceress, who once sewed his lips together because he said "love" in her presence. She makes hideous, servile and sometimes violent creatures that Carrion rules. Wolfswinkel, another magician, lies, asks Candy to poison the tarrie-cats, drinks heavily and beats his slave. Rojo Pixler, a very wealthy businessman, is trying to gain complete control of the islands and the lives of its citizens.

The Sisters of the Fantomaya have magical powers, but they willfully break the law and bring Candy to the island of the 25th hour. John Mischief, who respects Candy, leads her to believe that her life has a purpose, but he is a notorious thief. The captain and the other members of the Belbelo protect and refuse to give up a young girl to the dragon. Samuel Klepp, the publisher of Klepp's Almenak, presents himself to Candy as a person committed to the truth. But preceding the excerpts from Klepp's Almenak, which are found at the end of the story, the narrator states that Klepp's work is error-ridden and that Klepp intentionally mixes truth and dreams.



Other Belief Systems


The novel uses Christian terminology — blessed, born again, miracles, etc. — but the words do not reflect the Christian experience. For example, miracle is a synonym for magic, and Candy muses that her coming to Abarat is the source of her rebirth.

In Abarat, there are many books on magic, and the practice of it takes many forms. Magicians conjure flying crafts known as glyphs. They create subservient and often hideous creatures, which they then rule over. Lord Carrion, Wolfswinkel and Carrion's grandmother use magic to create beings. Carrion can exert Darth Vader-like physical power over others. He can also question the dead. Some Abaratian magicians can raise the dead. Wolfswinkel can bring images from a person's mind to life, and he can become invisible. The book hints that Candy may have magical powers that will become more evident in future books. In this book, she wills the ball to drop into the lighthouse cup, and the glyph responds to her commands. Candy learns near the end of the book that some Abaratians are wondering if she could be their savior.

The story does not make clear all of its special properties, but light is a force of some kind in the Abaratian world. Mischief says light is a game. The lamp of the lighthouse is an inverted pyramid that balances on its point. A cup rests on the pyramid's top. When Candy throws the ball into the cup, the pyramid rotates and emits streams of light. The light summons the sea. The light also strengthens Candy. The key that Candy agrees to keep also emits light, and Mischief says that as its keeper, she is helping the Abaratians remain free. When the light stops shining because John Mischief shoots the ball out of the cup, the sea ebbs.

While light is valued as a good thing, darkness is also valued. A tarrie-cat tells Candy that without dark you cannot know light. The difficulty arises when darkness oversteps itself. Then it must be corrected. He further states that it is just as worthy to follow a dark path as a light one.

In Abarat, bone-casters attempt to predict the future, and Malingo says Abaratians believe in astrology. Carrion believes in fate. Abaratians also believe the Sea of Izabella which surrounds the islands has power and a will of her own. The monsoon-soaked plants on one of the islands heal Mischief who is near death.

Some of Abarat's inhabitants successfully worship deities. Diamanda calls on the Lady Moon for assistance and is given help. Geneva is victorious in her fight with the dragon after she prays to the 91 goddesses.

To Abaratians, Minnesota is a mythic place that they call the Hereafter. Some of them speak of it as if it were heaven. They are in awe of Candy when they learn that she has come from the Hereafter. Abaratian preachers used to say that in the Hereafter angels took the dead to eternal places of light. One of the stitchlings, a creation of Carrion's grandmother, while rejecting these imaginings of the preachers, still hopes that somewhere there is a place where creatures like him may be healed and made whole. However not every Abaratian speaks well of the Hereafter. One of John Mischief's brothers calls the Hereafter a wretched place. Klepp repeats his great-grandfather's belief that the place corrupts people.

Candy suggests that Atlantis, El Dorado and Avalon are real places not just myths.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Shape curses but in a language Candy doesn't know. Other Abaratian characters profane the names of their gods. Candy, her father, one of the Mischief brothers, Wolfswinkel and the sea dragon say d — n or a form of it. Candy takes the name of the Lord in vain. Her teacher says Good Lord. Another of the Mischief brothers uses d--nable as an adjective. The text says Candy curses Wolfswinkel. The actual words are not written out. Geneva uses b--tard as an adjective.

There are many violent conflicts in the novel. They are vividly described and prolonged. For example, as Candy attempts to light the lighthouse, the threatening and nightmarish Shape pursues her. To stop her from journeying to Abarat, he attempts to kill her, ripping her blouse with his sharp claws and strangling her to the point of unconsciousness. His face is full of pleasure as he does this. As the giant moth carries Candy, Shape, who is riding it, toys with her. He orders the moth to drop her and then catch her just in time. Soon the moth is shot and begins a harrowing descent with Shape and Candy still onboard.

In another prolonged and vivid incident, the group on the Belbelo battles a hungry, not-to-be-denied dragon. During the fierce, blood-chilling fight, John Mischief must be rescued from the dragon's mouth. He is badly bitten and near death. Geneva mortally wounds the dragon. The ship sinks, and the sailors crowd into the lifeboat. The dragon returns and swallows one of the men alive. The dragon's eyes are blown out, and it dies. The water turns red with the dragon's blood.

Wolfswinkel's extraction of the key from Candy's mind is so painful that she slips into unconsciousness. Wolfswinkel beats Malingo with his staff and threatens to beat Candy. He conjures a two-headed, 5-foot long maggot with sharp teeth and orders it to kill Malingo. It tries, but fails.

In a bizarre sequence, Candy fights off a mire, a vicious creature whose body of mud begins to fall apart. Later she barely escapes the relentless Fugit brothers with their grotesque clock-like faces.

Candy remembers an incident where her father slapped her several times. The scene with Candy and her teacher, while not physical, is emotionally violent. The teacher's relentless verbal attack on Candy borders on the sadistic. There are many other instances of graphic violence. Often those scenes are infused with cruelty.

There are a number of scenes that might be described as horror. A few examples follow. Carrion wanders through a forest where dead bodies still hang from the trees. Birds are feeding on the decaying bodies and speak as if they were the people who were hanged. Carrion enjoys watching his blinded mechanical spies destroy themselves. A servant of Carrion's pounds mummified corpses into dust. Hungry, the same servant eats the raw entrails of a large crab. Coming to Abarat, Candy watches a vlitter, a human/bat creature, swoop down and devour a fish that cries out like a dog and is the size of a baby. The ocean creatures, whom Candy encounters on her way to Abarat, admit they occasionally eat sailors, but promise they will not eat her because she is important.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


John Mischief kisses the palm of Candy's hand. He also kisses her hand and bows as he prepares to leave. He hugs her and kisses her on the cheek, expressing his gratitude to Candy for helping him secure his freedom. Lumeric, a famous magician of Abarat, is both male and female.



Awards


ALA Best Book for Young Adults, 2003; Bram Stoker Award Nominee, Work for Younger Reader, 2002; and others



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note:
In the early pages of the book, Candy and John Mischief show a belief, albeit small, in the reality of God. As the story progresses it is made clear to the reader that neither Candy's nor Mischief's pleas for God's intervention are answered by Him. The reader is told at one point that luck saves Candy, and the reader is shown that the goddesses intervene on Mischief's behalf. Toward the end of the book when all seems lost, Candy does not cry out to God for rescue. Instead she prays to the Sisters of the Fantomaya, and they rescue her.

When Candy first arrives in Abarat, the author hints that in time she will encounter different religions, different perceptions about good and evil, and different understandings about reality. Seeds of various philosophies are planted throughout the present storyline, but not developed in this book. It may be that these philosophies will be explored in greater depth in future books. For example, both Candy and Wolfswinkel think Candy has been in Abarat before. This may be a set-up for an explanation of reincarnation in future books.

A number of scenes in Abarat depict cruelty and the pleasure its perpetrators derive from tormenting others.

The inside back cover of the paperback version of Abarat, Book 1, mentions that the author, Clive Barker, and his partner, David Armstrong, live in California and have a daughter.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

A book review for parents

This semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age book by Sherman Alexie is published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Hachette Book Group and is written for kids 13 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Arnold "Junior" Spirit is a Native-American teen living on the Spokane reservation as his family has for generations. Although Junior was born with hydrocephalus, which means that he was born with excess cerebrospinal fluid, and other health problems, he is intelligent and artistic. One of his teachers urges him to leave the rez, his term for the reservation, and make a better life for himself. Junior decides to transfer to the "white" school in a nearby city where he makes friends and becomes a basketball star. Junior's narrative chronicles his highs and lows as he toggles between white and Indian cultures and the racism found in both.



Christian Beliefs


Junior looks down on white Christians who come to work at the reservation and blames them for destroying the tolerant nature of the Native-American people. After his grandmother's death, Junior is so angry that he draws mocking pictures of Jesus and says he wants to kill God. Later, he prays nervously to God for his dad, who is caught in a storm and late picking him up. On her deathbed, Junior's grandmother asks her family to find forgiveness for the drunk driver who hit her. In talking about his hunger and lack of meals, Junior says a good piece of chicken can make a person believe in the existence of God.



Authority Roles


Junior describes his parents as people who did the best they knew how to do, considering from where they came. They're alcoholics, like most of the Indians on Junior's reservation, but he says they don't yell at him or ignore him. They support and are proud of him, whether in his sports or efforts to make his life better. Junior's friend Rowdy has a dad who frequently beats Rowdy and his mom in his drunken rages. Mr. P, a teacher who urges Junior to leave the reservation, apologizes for the way he tried to ignore the Native-American culture in the past. Junior says that many of the kids at Reardan (the "white" school) have parents who ignore and avoid their children.



Other Belief Systems


Junior says homosexual people were seen as magical by Indians of old because they possessed both the male aspect of being a warrior and the female component of being a caregiver.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


In addition to taking God's name in vain a number of times, there are multiple uses of the following words: b--tard, a--/a--hole, h---, crap, balls, boner, nuts, s---, d--kwad, p---y, f-g, f---, d--n, fricking, p---ed, j--k off. Alcohol is behind an accident that kills an older woman; someone is shot; drunks fight; there is child abuse, spouse abuse and suicide.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Junior's conversations and narrative are laden with sexual discussions and insinuations. For example, he thanks God for his thumbs, saying that if God didn't want people to masturbate, he wouldn't have given them thumbs. He lusts after his friend Penelope and gets an erection when a teacher hugs him. His friend Gordy tells him a good book should be sexually arousing. Junior's dad makes a sexual joke about his mother, and Penelope's father tells Junior to keep his "trouser snake" in his pants. Junior praises his grandmother's tolerance of homosexuality.



Awards


National Book Award Winner in "Young People's Literature," 2007; School Library Journal's list of best books, 2007.



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note:

Alcoholism and drunk driving are major issues for discussion in this book. Nearly every adult Junior knows is a drunk, and he says he's been to numerous funerals where people have died due to alcohol in one form or another. Chewing tobacco and illegal drugs are also in this story.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Action Bible

A book review for parents

This Bible storybook illustrated by Sergio Cariello is published by David C. Cook, and written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Former Marvel and DC Comics illustrator Sergio Cariello retells 215 Bible stories in colorful comic-book format. The narratives appear in chronological order, beginning with Creation and ending with an invitation to open the door for Jesus as He stands and knocks (Revelation 3). Brief text blocks in comic font fill in the time gaps between stories. Short segments of text also convey the high points of New Testament letters and other parts of the Bible that are more difficult to depict graphically.



Christian Beliefs


The visual stories and corresponding text illustrate God's goodness to the faithful, His vengeance upon the wicked and His repeated forgiveness as generations rebel and return to Him. Accounts of Christ's life, ministry, death, resurrection and the presentation of the Holy Spirit point to God's continued grace and love.



Authority Roles


God faithfully speaks to and guides His people despite their complaints, disobedience and lack of faith. He provides angel messengers, signs and miracles, His own Son and the Holy Spirit to ensure His children are never alone. Jesus demonstrates compassion, love, grace, power and sacrifice as a human representation of His Father. The Holy Spirit guides and convicts early Christians in the wake of Jesus' earthly ministry. Many godly prophets speak bold truths to erring nations. Numerous kings and rulers allow their obsessions with power and wealth to turn them and their nations away from God. Several wise kings, such as David and Solomon, urge their people to serve God. But even they show great errors in judgment that harm their nations and their credibility. Jesus' disciples and other early followers grow in faith and allow God's power to transform them from timid, uneducated men into bold ministers willing to die for their Savior.



Other Belief Systems


Numerous characters kill, attack, lie, cheat or unjustly punish. Some act out of jealousy or greed. Others seek to achieve revenge or to obtain power or other forms of personal gain. Job's wife and friends urge him to curse God. Kings, including Saul, consult with witches and sorcerers. Many nations engage in idol worship. A few characters, such as Judas, commit suicide. Nations enslave others. Some characters get drunk at parties. Some allow pride to cloud their judgment. The Israelites and others repeatedly ignore and/or disobey God's commands and grumble about His ways. Note: God demonstrates His disapproval of the above actions and provides consequences for these evil choices.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


A few illustrations depict bloodshed or killing.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Men of Sodom note that the visiting male angels are "pretty" and that they want to have their way with them. The story of the woman caught in adultery appears, though "adultery" is not explained or depicted. As a whole, sexual issues found in the Bible — the woman caught in adultery, Sodom, etc. — are not exploited or fully depicted. Some men are shown shirtless and muscular. One female appears in a midriff (the girl who dances in exchange for John the Baptist's head on a platter).



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

A book review for parents


This adventure book by Mark Twain is published by Sterling Publishing and is written for adults but is sometimes studied by kids ages 13 and up.



Plot Summary


Huckleberry Finn lives a comfortable life with Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas, but Huck hungers for adventure and freedom from their attempts to "sivilize" him. Huck's deadbeat father returns and kidnaps him in an effort to claim a large sum of money that Huck earned as a reward for helping capture some robbers. Huck fakes his own death to escape from his father, and then takes to the river in a canoe. As Huck is hiding out, he meets Miss Watson's runaway slave, Jim. The two set off on a great adventure down the Mississippi to help Jim gain his freedom. Along the way, they spend time with wealthy folks and scoundrels. They are even reunited with Huck's friend Tom Sawyer before discovering that Miss Watson's death has left Jim a free man.



Christian Beliefs


Huck and others refer to a number of Bible characters (Moses, Solomon, Noah and Judas, to name a few) but most often name them incorrectly, take their stories out of context or attribute words of conventional wisdom to the Good Book. Miss Watson's attempts to convert Huck failed. Huck repeatedly takes her explanations of God and the Bible too literally and becomes discouraged with praying because "nothing come of it." Huck struggles inwardly about whether he should help Jim, since it means he's stealing from the woman who took him (Huck) in. He starts to pray for forgiveness but determines instead to free Jim and return to a life of "wickedness." At a tent revival, the king (a hustler with whom Huck and Jim travel) cons the crowd out of money by making up a hard-luck story and passing a hat. Some feel that this book is a diatribe against Christianity.



Authority Roles


Huck's father is a drunk who beats the boy, locks him in a cabin and tries to steal his money. The king and the duke are such immoral con men that even Huck is disgusted by their lies. They use Huck and Jim to promote their schemes and sell Jim when they run out of money. Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas are well-meaning in their willingness to take in the wayward Huck. Judge Thatcher and others show compassion and a genuine interest in Huck's welfare. Despite the trouble Tom and Huck cause, Tom's Aunt Sally plans to adopt Huck.



Other Belief Systems


Huck puts a lot of stock in folk legends, and his beliefs about bizarre supernatural phenomena only intensify as he spends time around the highly superstitious Jim. Huck says that slaves are always talking about witches, and Jim performs spells with a hair ball removed from the stomach of an ox. Huck mentions "Providence" a few times, once saying that Providence always gives him the right words (lies) when he's in a bind.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


This book's portrayal of slavery, particularly its frequent use of the word n----r, has made it controversial. One slave named Balum is nicknamed "Balum's Ass." Huck kills a pig by hacking its throat, and he spreads its blood around so people will think Huck died. Tom Sawyer's wild plans, often based on stories he's read, are filled with murder and bloodshed. Jim finds a dead, naked man who had been shot in the back.

Other items of possible concern: Huck smokes a pipe. Huck's dad, the king and the duke and other minor characters are drunks.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Airhead

A book review for parents

This teen chick-lit book, first in the series by Meg Cabot is published by Point, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc. and is written for kids ages 15 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


When a plasma screen TV falls on Emerson (Em) Watts and Nikki Howard dies of a brain aneurism, Em's brain is transplanted into Nikki's body. Em must live as 17-year-old Nikki and change from a feminist academic who loves video games to an international model who dropped out of high school.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Em's parents agree to the procedure that saves their daughter's life, and they know they have to give up all rights to her as their daughter. They love their children. Em receives her training in feminism from her mother. Em in Nikki's body takes charge of her own life, but she still lets herself be guided by those who are just as confused as she is. Lulu, who was Nikki's friend, is a liberated minor, and she guides Em as she guided Nikki before. As a result, the girls go to a dance club, stay up late, play with the each other's (and boys') emotions and participate in other activities that show Lulu's immaturity as an authority figure.



Other Belief Systems


Em is a feminist who believes that cheerleading and modeling are demeaning to women. Nikki's best friend, Lulu, believes there was a spirit transfer between Emerson Watts and Nikki Howard. Lulu has another theory that all men fall in love with women, and it's up to women to be responsible about which man they'll let fall deeper in love with them. Em tries following this advice, and it is somewhat successful. The corporation that paid for the transplant believes that money and power rule the world.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


God's name is taken in vain throughout the book by most of the main characters. A plasma screen TV is pelted by paintballs, which causes it to fall on Em and destroy her body. Protesters attack Em as Nikki as she and her entourage enter a corporate building for a photo shoot, but security guards keep them safe.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Although Em is trained not to sleep around with boys, she is also told to use a condom if she does. In Nikki's world, sleeping with a boyfriend, someone else's boyfriend and boys that kiss well are commonplace. As Em puts a stop to this in her new life, she finds that Nikki's body still reacts to the kissing as if it were instinctive. Em uses her mind to control her body's urges. When Lulu finds out that Nikki has been sleeping with her boyfriend (before Em is Nikki), Lulu isn't upset. Lulu likes the expensive guilt-gifts her boyfriend gives her as a way to cover his indiscretions.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate  for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Al Capone Does My Shirts

A book review for parents


This historical book by Gennifer Choldenko is published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group and is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


In 1935, 12-year-old Moose moves with his parents and autistic sister, Natalie, to Alcatraz Island. Moose must cater to the whims of the warden's conniving daughter, Piper, and care extensively for Natalie. Fascinated by the nearby cons — especially Al Capone — Moose, Piper and the other island kids pull crazy stunts to get near the criminals and impress nonisland kids. After Moose's parents fail to get Natalie into a special school several times, Moose decides to enlist the help of Capone himself.



Christian Beliefs


Moose's mother takes Natalie to a charismatic church and reads the Bible to her for two hours a day. This is one of several unsuccessful, temporary "healing" attempts to cure Natalie's autism. Another girl on the island is sent to church daily as a punishment for misbehaving.



Authority Roles


Moose's mom and dad work long hours. They expect much of Moose and require him to forfeit most of his free time to supervise Natalie. They're loving parents, but jobs and concerns for their handicapped child sap their energy. After a hard day, Moose's dad gives him a half glass of beer. As Natalie's authority figure, Moose demonstrates compassion and protectiveness — although as an adolescent, he doesn't always make the wisest care-giving decisions. Warden Williams, the island's chief authority, generally allows his affection for his daughter to blind him to the truth.



Other Belief Systems


Moose mentions that his mother ordered Voodoo dolls in an effort to cure Natalie.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Infrequent use of darn, cripes sake. Jesus' name used in vain. Some bathroom humor.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Moose worries that an inmate may have taken advantage of Natalie, but these concerns are only implied. Natalie takes off all of her clothes during a brief episode of nonsexual nudity.



Awards


Newbery Honor Book, 2005; ALA Best Book for Young Adults, 2005; ALA Notable Children's Book, 2005; and others.



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate  for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

A book review for parents

This fantasy adventure novel by Lewis Carroll was written for ages 8 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


When Alice follows the White Rabbit down a rabbit hole, she finds herself in a land where she can change her size. She meets a Duchess with a pig for a baby, a Cook that throws spoons, a wise but mad Cheshire cat, the March Hare, Mad Hatter and a Dormouse. A Caterpillar shows her how to adjust her height by eating from the right and left sides of a mushroom. With that knowledge, Alice is able to enter a beautiful garden to play croquet with the Queen of Hearts. This game of croquet is played with flamingos (mallets), balls (curled-up hedgehogs) and an army of bent-over cards (arches). As the living croquet game continually changes, the Queen has most of her guests arrested, but introduces Alice to a Gryphon and Mock Turtle. By the end, almost everyone she meets ends up in a courtroom where the King of Hearts wants a verdict before the evidence, jurors pay attention to all the wrong information, witnesses are threatened with punishment and Alice grows tall enough not to be intimidated by a pack of cards, which is what the court and soldiers are. Suddenly Alice wakes up and realizes that her entire adventure was an amazing dream.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


The White Rabbit scurries around as if it's an important person and tells Alice, who he mistakenly calls Mary Ann, to fetch his gloves and fan. When she does this and drinks a liquid that makes her grow so large that she becomes stuck in one of the White Rabbit's rooms, the White Rabbit gets the Lizard that works for him to attack her from the chimney. When that doesn't work, they throw rocks at Alice. The White Rabbit reacts without fully understanding the problem. The Mad Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse host a tea party, but they are rude to Alice when she wants to be included. The Queen of Hearts misuses her authority and constantly orders people's heads removed, but the Gryphon tells Alice that no one in the kingdom has ever been executed. The King of Hearts wants a verdict before evidence, both at the ending trial and when he demands that the Cheshire cat lose its head, even though only its head has appeared at the croquet game. The Gryphon and Mock Turtle tell Alice that her recitations are nonsense, but they do it in a way that she accepts.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The Queen and King of Hearts threaten people with decapitation and execution. Rocks are thrown at Alice, and she and a number of birds and animals fall into water that they swim out of so they don't drown. Alice mentions how her dog and cat kill and often eat birds and mice.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note:
The March Hare offers Alice wine at a tea party, but since there isn't any wine, he doesn't give it to her.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Almost Home

A book review for parents

This historical fiction book in the "Daughters of the Faith" series by Wendy Lawton is published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Hachette Book Group.

Almost Home is written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Mary Chilton and her family are separatists who have escaped the tyranny of England. Mr. Chilton and others feel God’s calling to leave Holland with their families (a land where they are not persecuted but are barely able to support themselves) for the unsettled lands of Virginia. Together they board the Mayflower. As the voyage stretches out from days to months, they fight severe illnesses, harsh weather and the loss of family and friends through death. During the trip, Mary’s father dies of a terrible illness. When Mary doubts the wisdom of leaving Holland, her mother and friends — Elizabeth and Constance — remind her of God’s providence. Mary, Elizabeth and Constance care for the children and sick. Just as they reach the New World, Mary’s mother dies. Mary remembers the lessons her parents taught her and seeks God’s will.



Christian Beliefs


Mary trusts in God and is drawn closer to Him. When she learns that she belongs in the center of God’s will, she finds her home. As the Mayflower journeys across the vast ocean, they encounter many problems. The Elders, the spiritual leaders, patiently remind the weary travelers of their many blessings and encourage them to keep their faith. In one scene, Mary is sad because of the numerous illnesses and their seemingly unending days on the Mayflower. A friend reminds her of God’s providence and the blessing of a new land where they can worship the Lord as they please.



Authority Roles


Mr. and Mrs. Chilton (Mary’s parents), Elder Brewster, Captain Jones, Mistress White and Governor Bradford are the key authority figures in this book. Mr. Chilton and the other male leaders are portrayed as the head of their families and the decision makers on the trip. Before they make decisions, they seek God’s wisdom. In one scene, Mary’s father dies. The elders look out for her and her mother. Mary, her friends and all the adults watch out for each other’s children on the ship.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


In one scene, a rock hits Mr. Chilton (Mary’s father) on the head. In other scenes, sailors yell degrading slurs at the Pilgrims, but no profane words are used.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Always Watching

A book review for parents

This Christian suspense book, the first in "The Rayne Tour" series, by Brandilyn and Amberly Collins is published by Zondervan.

Always Watching is written for teens ages 13 to 18. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Sixteen-year-old Shaley O'Connor's life is filled with bodyguards, paparazzi and excitement. Her mother is a famous singer, and Rayne, her popular rock band, is named after her. Shaley's world changes when she discovers Tom Hutchens, the band's stylist, murdered in a dressing room. After the murder, an anonymous sender leaves her a white rose, symbolic of the love once shared between Shaley's mother and the father she never knew. Len Torret, a photographer willing to do anything for a story, slips a picture of Shaley in Shaley's purse. On the back of it is written the message “Always Watching.” Shaley becomes convinced that Len is stalking her, especially after he pulls the hotel fire alarm and stages an evacuation in order to capture Shaley on camera. Though Len is arrested, soon he is released. The band then travels to Denver, and in the hours before the band's next concert, the case takes a dangerous turn. When one of Shaley's bodyguards, Bruce, is killed in the hallway outside of her hotel room, she sees the other bodyguard, Wendell, with blood on his hands, and she tries to escape from him. Jerry Brand, one of the band's bus drivers, rescues her by pulling her into a storage closet. Just when Shaley thinks she's safe, Jerry pulls a gun on her and admits to the murders of Tom and Bruce. Sent by an unnamed source and motivated by jealousy, he eliminated anyone who got too close to Shaley. Wendell, who it turns out had tried to save Bruce's life, arrives with the police. In the struggle that ensues, Jerry is shot, and with his dying breath, he tells Shaley he was, in fact, sent by her father.



Christian Beliefs


Shaley and Rayne are not believers. However, Shaley has a clear sense that she is missing something valuable in her life. Carly Sanders, one of the band's back-up singers, is a Christian. She is a solid lifeline in the midst of the tragedy, offering prayer and comfort when Shaley is on the brink of despair. Carly speaks openly with Shaley about her Father in heaven and assures Shaley that she is not alone in her grief. Shaley asks why bad things happen, and Carly admits that she doesn't know everything. Instead, she shares her own story of redemption and encourages Shaley to rely on God for strength. Although Shaley does not immediately accept God's salvation, Carly's gentle and persistent faith stirs her to contemplate the truth behind the claims of Christianity.



Authority Roles


Shaley's mother is a rock star. Her busy schedule prevents her from spending adequate time with her daughter. However, in those rare moments together, Rayne proves herself to be a loving mother. Shaley doesn't know her father, who left before she was born, or why he left. Rayne keeps that part of her past a secret from her daughter. Shaley relies on the other adults in her life, such as the band members and tour manager, for advice. In particular, she looks to Carly, who lavishes her with the love of Christ. After Tom is murdered, Shaley depends on her bodyguards for protection and safety. The group also puts immense trust in the police to bring the culprit to justice. Shaley feels betrayed when Jerry Brand reveals he is the murderer.



Other Belief Systems


Rayne and the rest of the band look to fame and publicity as their source of happiness.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The book avoids profanity, although the derogatory phrases stupid child and shut up appear once. Scum is used to describe the paparazzi.

There are some frightening images in the novel. Shaley discovers Tom's bloody body and sees that his face has been horribly disfigured by the gunshot. The paparazzi are somewhat violent at times, especially during a scene in the mall when they demonstrate what they'll do to get a good photograph. In Denver, Shaley is recuperating in a hotel room when Bruce is shot. She discovers him with a gaping wound in his chest and kneels beside him as he dies. Later, she sees Wendell, his hands covered in Bruce's blood. She is taken hostage by Jerry, who wields a gun and threatens to kill her. He is shot by police in a short, yet violent rescue.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Shaley's mother, Rayne, was pregnant with Shaley at age 17.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note: Always Watching depicts some of the band members as having tattoos or piercings.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Amber Brown Is Feeling Blue

A book review for parents

This family-life book in the "Amber Brown" series by Paula Danziger is published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group.

Amber Brown Is Feeling Blue is written for kids ages 8 to 11. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Amber Brown's dad has lived in Paris since her parents' divorce — but now he's moving back to town. Amber has two things to look forward to: his return and a Thanksgiving trip to Walla Walla, Wash., with her mom and mom's boyfriend, Max. In a phone conversation with her dad, Amber learns he was planning for the two of them to spend Thanksgiving together. Now Amber must choose which parent to be with over the holiday, and the agonizing decision complicates every aspect of her life.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Amber's mother and Max are attentive, loving parental figures. Amber's father, who has been living abroad, calls frequently — and he seems to be moving back to the States to be near her. While Amber's mom and dad clearly adore her, they place their young daughter in a highly awkward, stressful position by arguing in front of her and making her choose between them.



Other Belief Systems


Ms. Danziger, Amber's teacher, explains how the Pilgrims called themselves the Saints and everyone else the Strangers. Amber comments, “I'm not sure I like the way the Pilgrims labeled the people who weren't them.” Since the Saints and Strangers have no direct bearing on the plot of Amber's story, a reader may wonder why the information was inserted at all, especially when nothing positive or respectful is included about the Pilgrims.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Amber Spyglass

A book review for parents

This third science fiction/fantasy book in the "His Dark Materials" series by Philip Pullman is published by Yearling Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books.

The Amber Spyglass is written for kids ages 14 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Book three of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy begins with preteen heroine Lyra in a drug-induced sleep. Her mother, Mrs. Coulter, claims she's put her in this unconscious state to keep her safe from the Church. Meanwhile, Lyra's friend Will (who wields a knife that allows him to move between worlds) searches for her. Readers learn that Lyra is the linchpin in a great spiritual battle. A decision she makes — though no one knows what the decision is — will change the course of the universe.


After Will finds and awakens Lyra, the children travel to the bleak land of the dead and rescue its miserable, listless souls. All the while, Lord Asriel, an iconoclastic explorer who is Lyra's father, and the Almighty's armies do battle: The Church attempts to assassinate Lyra while Lord Asriel and his angels try to save her so she can help establish a free, godless realm.



Christian Beliefs


In Pullman's world, God (referred to as The Authority) was simply the first angel, formed from Dust like everyone else; but he lied to all who came after him by saying he had created them. The Authority's second in command, Metatron, is ambitious and wants to control human affairs. His lust for Mrs. Coulter eventually leads to his downfall. Church leaders are bloodthirsty zealots who plot to kill Lyra because of what she might do to hurt their cause. Former nun Mary Malone says she left the Church when she realized there was no God, that heaven is empty and that Christianity was "a powerful and convincing mistake" and part of the Church's effort to keep people's minds closed. This book depicts heaven as a place where God has imprisoned souls. It is dismal, and the dead are listless, restless people hungry for life and tortured by menacing birds that remind them in their sleep about the bad things they did in life.



Authority Roles


The Authority (God), in his early life, was a controlling deceiver. In the story's present, he is a demented, powerless old man with an army of violent, fanatical followers. Lord Asriel had the wisdom to see through the Authority's deception and rebel. He appears coolheaded and intelligent. Mrs. Coulter, Lyra's mother, manipulates everyone, whether she loves or hates them, but she does eventually agree to die for "the cause" (of establishing the free, godless realm). Adult characters like the ghost of Will's father, the bear king, Mary Malone and others urge the children to champion Lord Asriel's cause.



Other Belief Systems


Witches are good, imparting "wisdom" to characters. Nun-turned-scientist Mary Malone consults the I Ching several times because she believes Dust (which symbolizes understanding) can speak to humans through many channels. She also makes frequent comments affirming evolution. Lyra tells the ghosts in the land of the dead that when she and Will free them, their atoms will go into the air, and they will become "a part of everything." An angel of Lord Asriel tells Lyra that grace learned by a lifetime of thought and effort is better than grace received freely.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


When a bear king finds the body of his dead human friend, he rips it open and feasts on it (feeling it was his friend's final gift to him).



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Lord Asriel kisses Mrs. Coulter, and Lyra and Will kiss a number of times. Their newfound love somehow brings a surge of Dust to the world around them. Will and Lyra stroke each other's dæmons (creatures that represent a facet of each human), which is an extremely intimate expression of emotion. Two male angels, though they weren't both male originally, display a desperate passion for one another.



Awards


Whitbread Prize for best children's book, 2001 and Whitbread Book of the Year.



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics: In a Washington Post article, author Philip Pullman said, "I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief." In light of this unabashed admission, parents may want to talk through worldview topics in this book with their teens:


Notes: The first book of the trilogy was made into a movie, The Golden Compass, which premiered in December 2007.

For more on the "His Dark Materials" Series, read Plugged In's article, "Sympathy for the Devil."

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Andrea Carter and the Long Ride Home

A book review for parents

This adventure book in the "Circle C Adventures" series by Susan K. Marlow is published by Kregel Publications.

Andrea Carter and the Long Ride Home is written for kids ages 9 to 11. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


At Circle C Ranch, Andrea (Andi) Carter gets into all sorts of scrapes — releasing a spider collection in her sister's room, forgetting to water the horses, riding instead of mucking the stalls and approaching a horse that is off limits. Andi overhears her older brother talking to their mom about sending her to an aunt's house for a while, so she decides to run away. A man knocks Andi off her horse, steals it and leaves her unconscious. A Mexican family rescues her. Andi won't return home until she finds her horse, so she works alongside her new protectors, the Garduno family, who travel from town to town. Andi becomes accustomed to manual labor and realizes how fortunate she was at home. The Garduno family finds work at a wealthy ranch owner's homestead, and Andi is assigned to work as a personal assistant to a spoiled and headstrong young girl her own age, Felicity. Since Felicity lost her mother, her father indulges her. Felicity's father gave Andi's horse to his daughter, and Andi is appalled by the harsh treatment given to the animal. Andi rides away on the animal only to be brought back by the ranch hands. Felicity uses a whip on the animal, and Andi gets in the way. Felicity's father locks Andi in a room until her scars heal. Unknown to him, Felicity kidnaps Andi with the help of a ranch hand and tries to get Andi to sign away ownership of the horse. When Andi's family shows up at the ranch looking for their daughter, Andi decides that the horse and her pride are not as valuable as her family. She signs away her beloved horse to Felicity. Once reunited, her family finds a loophole in the signed contract, and they all return to the ranch, horse in tow. The Garduno family appears at the ranch to check on Andi, and they are given jobs on the Circle C Ranch.



Christian Beliefs


When Andi is cared for by the Garduno family, she talks to them about finding her horse and returning home as a “prodigal son.” Andi also prays and asks the Lord to help her find her horse. As she spends more time away from home, she becomes more desperate to confess her sin in running away and cries out to God in prayer. She comes to the realization that with or without her horse, she needs to return to her family. The Garduno family is a Catholic family who prays and upholds Catholic traditions. One of the daughters holds a crucifix and prays. The family also prays for Andi to have God go with her.



Authority Roles


As the daughter of a single mother with several sons, Andrea Carter is the youngest and has been spoiled. She is forgetful of her responsibilities, and her oldest brother punishes her by having her muck the horses' stalls. In a careless moment, she tries to befriend a horse she is forbidden to go near and comes close to being trampled to death. Severely scolded by her oldest brother, she runs away and takes her horse with her.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


No profanity. Violence is only present in the whipping of the horse and then Andi when she stands between the whip and her horse. It is not graphically described.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Anne of Avonlea

A book review for parents

This second historical book in the "Anne of Green Gables" series by L.M. Montgomery is published by Sterling Publishing.

Anne of Avonlea is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Anne teaches in her Canadian village of Avonlea, helps create a village improvement society, gets involved in neighbors' problems and assists Marilla (her adoptive mom) in raising young orphan twins — Dora and Davy. Anne struggles against the philosophy of corporal punishment in the classroom, and there are a few romantic subplots. One involves an American student, Paul, whose mother is deceased and father has sent him to live with his grandmother. Anne happens upon Miss Lavendar, the woman originally engaged to Paul's father, and happily sees the couple reunited.



Christian Beliefs


Church, learning Scriptures and daily prayer are a natural part of people's lives. In raising young Davy, Marilla and Anne must answer many questions about religion, the virtue of honesty and how God answers prayers. The book discusses Davy's curious interpretation of a pastor's teaching that God makes, preserves and redeems us. He interprets it to mean that God makes jam. This opens into a discussion of heaven. Anne states that every day in heaven will be better than the one before it. Davy wants more than Sundays and singing hymns in heaven, so Anne says she believes there will be Saturdays, and if he preferred playing a mouth organ to a harp, she supposed God would let him do that.



Authority Roles


As a teacher, Anne must learn to control the classroom and guide her students. Mrs. Lynde, an influential, but nosy villager, checks with the children to see if Anne is succeeding as a teacher. She finds Anne is doing well, but develops a favorable opinion once Anne actually disciplines the most unruly child by smacking his hand with the pointer. The students do very well on their exams under Anne's teaching. Marilla is the figure Anne looks to for guidance and wisdom. Davy tries hard to obey Marilla and Anne, but his playful and mischievous behavior tends to get him into trouble. He puts a caterpillar down the back of the best behaved child in church, locks his sister in the shed and lets everyone search for her and puts a toad in Marilla's bed. Davy becomes more Christ-like as he learns from Anne and Marilla.



Other Belief Systems


One of Anne's students reveals that her family has a ghost. Anne and her student Paul enjoy imagining worlds of pixies, rock people and fairies but realize they're not real.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The book mentions a parrot of neighbor Mr. Harrison that is known to swear. In the book itself, the most the parrot does is call Anne a red-headed snippet and to exclaim, "Well bless my soul."



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Anne and her friend, Gilbert, write gossip notes in the local paper. One note about a newcomer possibly courting someone leads to a scandal. The man mentioned in the article was married, but estranged. His wife showed up to end any mischief, and they reconcile. There's a chaste romance and wedding of Mr. Irving and Miss Lavendar. Anne blushes when gazing at Gilbert, and the book reveals that Gilbert is striving to be the perfect man for Anne, including being careful to avoid temptation.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note: The classic was first published in 1909.


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Anne of Ingleside

A book review for parents

This historical romance is the sixth book in the "Anne of Green Gables" series by L. M. Montgomery and is published by Starfire, an imprint of Random House Children's Books.

Anne of Ingleside is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Anne is married to Dr. Gilbert Blythe and lives in Ingleside. The book consists of a series of adventures that Anne and her children have, rather than an actual plot. Walter is dropped off at a neighbor's home when Anne is ready to give birth. He thinks his mother is ill and might die, so he runs home during the night to be reunited with her and find his new sister, Rilla. Gilbert's elderly Aunt Mary Maria overstays her visit and dampens the happy home with her sour attitude and criticisms. She leaves in a huff after Anne gives her a surprise birthday party because Anne announced her age. Nan and Di make friends with girls who fabricate lies and disillusion them about other friends. Jem's puppy dies, and he adopts a dog that misses his original owner and is finally returned to the owner. Anne attempts to be a matchmaker, but she looks foolish when she discovers the young couple that she is trying to get together has already been secretly engaged. Anne gives up her writing, except when she writes an obituary for an acquaintance. Anne worries that Gilbert has forgotten their anniversary and no longer loves her. She envies his former girlfriend when they meet at a party. Anne later discovers Gilbert still loves her and has been waiting to celebrate their anniversary until his gift for her arrives.



Christian Beliefs


Little Nan decides that she can bargain with God and seems to be good at it until she believes she has caused her mother to be ill. She can't keep her part of the bargain and walk through a cemetery so God will heal her mother. Anne comforts Nan and explains that God gives without asking, is so much kinder than people and knows how to give good things. Susan, the Blythe's housekeeper, declares that Providence ordained that she should remain an old maid.



Authority Roles


Anne, Gilbert and Susan are in authority over the children. They listen to them and are devoted to training them up. The children learn to listen to their elders and to apologize when they have been naughty.



Other Belief Systems


Two of Anne's friends briefly argue about evolution with Miss Elliot. One declares that science proves evolution, and the other states that evolution is nonsense.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Di disobeys her mother and stays overnight with her friend Jenny Penny. At Jenny's home, Di trembles with fear when one of Jenny's brothers tries to kiss her. She backs away, hits her head and falls. The children think she has died. Di pretends to be dead so they will carry her home. They deposit her body on her porch and run away.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Anne of the Island

A book review for parents

This historical romance is the third in the "Anne of Green Gables" series by L. M. Montgomery and is published by Starfire, an imprint of Random House Children's Books.

Anne of the Island is written for kids ages 11 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Anne spends four years at Redmond College in Kingsport — meeting new friends and discovering the person with whom she wants to spend the rest of her life. The book's title comes from Anne's declaration that she will always be from Prince Edward Island. During the first two years at college, she dates a young man and realizes after he proposes that love is deeper than outward flattery. Anne stays in touch with those from home through visits and letters, especially with young Davy, who was introduced in the previous book in this series. Another romantic subplot centers on Anne's college friend Philippa (nicknamed Phil). Phil seems to be a flighty, materialistic woman, who is unable to decide which rich young man to marry. However, Phil discovers true love when she meets a poor missionary and learns to trust him with her heart. Phil recognizes Anne's true love and gently prods Gilbert to try to court Anne, again. The book ends with Anne and Gilbert committing to each other.



Christian Beliefs


Davy runs away from Sunday school one day and later regrets his actions. He is afraid to pray until he confesses what he did to Anne. She explains that his conscience has punished him for the wrong choice he made and guides him to pray for God's forgiveness. Davy finds peace in God's forgiveness. For Anne, attending church is a normal part of life. She prays about her circumstances, even trivial things. In contrast, when Gilbert lies near death, Anne spends a night in fervent prayer. When her friend Ruby faces death, Anne speaks of heaven and realizes that joy, peace and a relationship with God that is marked as heavenly begins on earth.



Authority Roles


Davy listens to Anne, and Anne doesn't take her role as his mentor lightly. After the first year in a boarding house, Anne and her friends set up housekeeping for themselves by renting a home together. They wisely have an older aunt come to stay as their housekeeper, but they are mainly on their own in making decisions.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The college women try to rid themselves of a stray cat with Phil's instructions on how to chloroform it. They are not successful, and Anne, who regrets their actions, adopts the animal.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


There are many beaus in this book. Couples spend various evenings as a group in someone's home or going to events. Gilbert's hand over Anne's early in the book stirs feelings in her that she struggles to repress in her desire to remain friends. Anne continues to blush when she sees Gilbert around campus and feels pangs of jealousy when he dates another woman. At the end of the book, Anne and Gilbert kiss to seal their promise to marry.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


The Apothecary's Daughter

A book review for parents

This historical romance book by Julie Klassen is written for ages 16 and up and is published by Bethany House Publishers. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


In the early 1800's, Lilly, the daughter of an apothecary, works in her father's shop, dreams about entertaining suitors and searches for her mother, who left the family years earlier. When Lilly is 18, an aunt and uncle want to be her hosts for a season in London society. With her father's blessing, she accepts. Although suitors pay attention to Lilly, they do not ask her to be their wife because she does not have a large dowry and her mother is considered a fallen woman. While Lilly is in London, her father's apprentice, Francis, leaves for another apothecary shop and her father grows ill. Lilly returns home and devotes herself to others. Slowly, her restless nature relaxes in what God has for her, and soon Francis returns home and asks her to be his wife.



Christian Beliefs


Lilly attends church, even when her father doesn't, and she pays attention to what the minister says so she can apply it to her life.



Authority Roles


The Marlow family is the local landowner in Lilly's hometown. At times they help the people in the village, such as when Lilly's brother needs a job or to be released from jail. At other times, the Marlow son acts headstrong and impetuous. Lilly keeps the apothecary shop going but lets her father think he is in charge. His pride keeps him from asking another apothecary or a doctor for help. He does not think a client will want to purchase remedies from an ill apothecary. The first time Lilly's mother left, her father had an affair with a local woman. When the mother returned, she became pregnant with Lilly, and the other woman had a girl named Mary. Lilly and Mary grew up together, as if they were full sisters, even though they did not know that they were half sisters. Lilly's aunt and uncle have a position of authority because of their riches. They help Lilly, but they do not take an interest in Lilly's father who is beneath their class or her brother, who would not be good for appearances. They feel her father should never have married Lilly's mother. Lilly's mother leaves her family because she is in love with someone else and has the need to wander and not stay in one place too long. Hints are made that she lived less than a moral life, but nothing certain is uncovered. She dies alone.



Other Belief Systems


The social class system is adhered to strictly by most in London society.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


A gentleman steals a kiss from Lilly.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Artemis Fowl

A book review for parents

This fantasy adventure book is the first in the "Artemis Fowl" series by Eoin Colfer and is published by Talk Miramax Books, a division of Hyperion Books for Children.

Artemis Fowl is written for kids ages 10 and older. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Artemis Fowl the Second is a 12-year-old evil genius. With his father missing and his mother out of her mind with grief, Artemis uses his time and freedom to rebuild the family fortune by hunting for the gold at the end of the rainbow. After procuring and translating a fairy's sacred text, Artemis, with the help of his hulking assistant, Butler, captures a leprechaun and holds her for ransom. The sprite, Holly Short, is one of the first female officers in the Lower Elements Police reconnaissance unit (LEPrecon). Her commanding officer and his team rush to her rescue and battle Artemis and Butler, with both sides employing contrivances from high-tech weaponry to flatulent dwarves and hungry trolls. Artemis secretly strikes a deal with Holly, allowing her to return half of the ransom gold to her people if she will heal his mother. Once Holly is outside of the Fowl mansion, the LEPrecon team sends in a bio-bomb that will kill everything inside. Artemis drugs himself, Butler, and Butler's sister, Juliet, so they can survive the bomb. Artemis is pleased to find his mother cured when he awakens, but he realizes her supervision will make it more difficult for him to carry out his evil schemes in the future.



Christian Beliefs


An informant, frightened by Artemis, prays the information he has for the boy is correct.



Authority Roles


Artemis comes from a long line of criminals. The family amassed a fortune, but his father, Artemis Fowl the First, (now missing and presumed dead), lost it in dealings with the Russian mafia. Artemis' mother has been bedridden for a year since her husband's disappearance. She takes a lot of sleeping pills and isn't in her right mind until the story's conclusion. The narrator suggests that Butler, whose family members have long been trained to be assistants to the Fowls, is the closest thing Artemis has to a father. Butler unswervingly protects his young master, whom he completely trusts and obeys, but he doesn't dare discipline the boy or suggest how Artemis should behave.



Other Belief Systems


Fairies, trolls, dwarves and other creatures from within the earth play roles in this magic-filled story. Holly and other fairies have the gift of tongues and powers to heal, mesmerize and shield (or vibrate at a high frequency so they can't be seen). The fairy bible, called The Booke of the People, includes their history (referred to as their old testament) and provides 10 commandments for them to live by. It also warns that their power will wane if the words are not heeded. The Booke of the People suggests that fairies once had wings, but evolution stripped them of this power. It further indicates they were descended from airborne dinosaurs. Fairies must complete a ritual to renew their power, which involves planting an acorn. They have the power to stop time, a task that used to be easier when humans weren't as techno-savvy and simply blamed the gods for time lapses. In the old days, five elfin warlocks formed a pentagram around their target and put a magic shield over it to stop time. Fairy technology, which is far ahead of human advancements, allows the fairies to wipe out human memories. Artemis' research shows him that the first human stories were written about fairies, suggesting that their civilization pre-dates humans. He also believes the Egyptians modified the existing "scripture" of the fairies to suit their needs. When Holly first hears the name "Artemis Fowl," she believes it is a bad omen, and fairy intuition is never wrong. The informant who tells Artemis how to find a fairy book regrets having mixed crime and magic. In a tough situation, Artemis takes deep breaths to find his chi. When an angry goblin tells Mulch the dwarf that it was fortune, not luck, that delivered Mulch into his hands, Mulch decides not to argue the notion that luck and fortune are basically the same thing.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The fairies often curse (without swear words appearing in the text) and frequently use the expletive D'Arvit, which the narrator says he won't translate because it would have to be censored. The words d---n and h--- appear several times. Artemis says G-- knows and fairies say Oh g--s. A few phrases stop just short of using expletives. Both Artemis' team and the sprites use powerful and high-tech weaponry, including knives, guns, grenades, bombs and the like. (The author has referred to the "Artemis" books as "Die Hard with fairies.") A number of battles take place, frequently resulting in bloodshed or bodies strewn about. When someone tries to pick Butler's pocket, Butler breaks the man's fingers. Goblins shoot fireballs at Mulch when they rumble in a jail cell, and Mulch traps a goblin in his jaws. A troll brutally attacks and nearly kills Butler.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2003; NJLA Teen Book Award, 2004, The New York Times Bestseller, 2003 and others



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note:
Alcohol use: The fairy who lets Artemis see her sacred book is a drunk. She will do anything for alcohol, so Butler and Artemis bribe her with a bottle of Irish whisky. After she's had some, Artemis tells her it is holy water, which will kill her. Mulch the dwarf likes the soil beneath the wine cellar because it is still full of wine. Artemis pours three glasses of champagne for him, Butler and Juliet, supposedly to celebrate their victory over the fairies. He's really spiking the champagne with sleeping pills so that he and his friends will somehow avoid the deadly effects of the impending bio-bomb. Artemis acknowledges that he's a minor but says he's sure his mother wouldn't mind just this once.

Other substances: Butler shoots an antidote to the holy water into the drunk fairy's arm with his syringe gun. Butler and Artemis use a tranquilizer dart to capture Holly. The troll who attacks Butler injects some sort of narcotic into the man with his tusks. Commander Root, Holly's LEPrecon supervisor, frequently smokes noxious fungus cigars. Shady, not entirely sober dock workers roll cigarettes while aiding in illegal activity.

Lying: Artemis lies to his mother to calm her when she's in her non-lucid state. He also lies to Holly about how long he's had her as his captive. Holly lies to her commanding officer, telling him she's performed the power-renewing ritual when she hasn't. Mulch the dwarf fakes his death so he won't be sent back to jail.

Bathroom humor: Male dwarves, like the one called in to rescue Holly, chew through soil and metabolize it very quickly. This results in powerful and damaging dwarf flatulence, which is discussed and elaborated upon several times. A couple of Holly's team members vomit, one inside his helmet while he's wearing it.


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident

A book review for parents

This sci-fi/fantasy adventure book is the second in the "Artemis Fowl" series by Eoin Colfer and is published by Disney Hyperion Books, an imprint of the Disney Book Group.

Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident is written for kids ages 8 to 12 years. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Artemis Fowl II, a 13-year-old evil genius, learns that his missing father is alive and being held for ransom by the Mafia in Russia. He and his gigantic, highly-trained body guard, Butler, prepare to rescue Artemis I when they're called below ground by the Lower Elements Police (the fairy recon squad) for questioning.

In book one, Artemis disrupted the fairy world by stealing their sacred book, kidnapping a Lower Elements Police (LEP) officer named Holly Short and extorting fairy gold. Now, as goblins smuggle contraband from the human world — a plan too complex for them to generate on their own — the LEP suspect Artemis is the goblins' human point of contact. Holly and her superior, Commander Julius Root, question Artemis and clear him of suspicion. Root says if Artemis will help the fairies catch the real culprit, he (Root) and Holly will help Artemis rescue his father.

Butler halts the human who is helping the goblin squad (known as the B'wa Kell), but the LEP remain unaware that a disgraced member of their squad (Cudgeon) and their main technology supplier (Opal Koboi) have masterminded the B'wa Kell's operation as a cover for their larger plot to gain revenge and power. As Artemis, Butler, Holly and Root battle goblins, arctic conditions and nuclear radiation in Russia, Opal, Cudgeon and the goblins shut down all LEP systems below ground and trap Foaly, a brilliant LEP technician and centaur, in his operations booth to frame him for instigating the revolution.

Though Cudgeon and Opal have disabled all LEP systems and weaponry, Foaly uses the laptop LEP confiscated from Artemis to send the team in Russia word of the revolution. Root, Artemis, Holly and Butler quickly change course, picking up kleptomaniac dwarf Mulch Diggums in Beverly Hills before heading back underground. Besides having superb burrowing abilities, Mulch knows the layout of Koboi Industries and the way the building was constructed. He helps the group infiltrate the Koboi headquarters and neutralize Cudgeon, Opal and the B'wa Kell.

Artemis' group returns to Russia, where they narrowly save Artemis I from his kidnappers. Artemis II returns home after a friendly parting with Holly. He must pretend to know nothing about the events in Russia, while Butler ensures Artemis I is receiving treatment in a Finnish hospital until he's able to return home.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Butler loves Artemis like a brother and has faithfully guarded him since birth. He feels sorry for Artemis, who is the loneliest boy he's ever seen. He doesn't discipline Artemis or help him stay out of harm's way, but he does save the boy on many occasions. Artemis refers to his mother as a moral and beautiful woman. Readers rarely see her, as she's insane and bedridden in book one and on a spa trip to France in this one. Artemis' school psychologist notes that his mother has no control over her son's behavior. Artemis I has spent his life involved in criminal activity, yet Artemis assures the fairies that his father is a noble man who wouldn't harm another creature. Commander Root has a temper but is deeply loyal to Holly and willing to help Artemis find his dad, despite the boy's past behavior toward the fairies.



Other Belief Systems


This magic-filled story provides details about the lives of fairies and other mystical creatures. Fairies are governed by a book they call their Bible, which includes their history as well as their spells and rituals. The fairies' power-restoring ritual is found in the text of this story. Fairies have the power to heal, mesmerize humans with hypnotic suggestion, and speak in tongues, all of which come into play on this adventure. Fairies can also provide good luck: The narrator briefly mentions a human family who protects the fairies and receives miraculous health and wealth in return. Some below-ground dwellers are called warlocks. According to the Fairy Bible, they could once turn lead into gold, and they can put a pentagram around themselves to stop time. Butler asks Artemis if he wants to get to Russia the legal or illegal way. They laugh when Artemis asks, "Which is faster?" and ultimately choose the faster (illegal) method. Artemis sits cross-legged and meditates to come up with rescue strategies. Butler foresees danger with what he would call a gut reaction or sixth sense. Root has a vision, though the narrator suggests it could have been caused by fumes, stress or lack of food. Artemis and Butler trudge through some snow the narrator says may have melted a million years ago and since refrozen.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Root, Holly and others use the fairy swear word D'Arvit (which, the narrator explained in book one, would have to be censored if it were translated). H---, d--n, and oh gods each appear a time or two. When trapped in his booth, Foaly utters two minutes worth of "unprintable obscenity." Angry at Foaly, Cudgeon says, "A curse on that centaur!" The goblins ask Cudgeon if they can kill Root, crack open his skull and fry his brains. Despite the frequent battle scenes, graphic descriptions of bloodshed and carnage are nearly nonexistent.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Foaly is mildly concerned about his singed rump because bald spots are the first things centaurs look for and avoid in a perspective mate at nightclubs.



Awards


Shortlisted for Bistro Book Award, 2002-2003



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note:
Smoking: Commander Root frequently smokes fungus cigars.

Lying/Deception: Artemis tells many lies to keep his plots secret, including composing an e-mail to the school psychologist in his mother's name and making up excuses concerning his whereabouts. Artemis has Butler ensure that his accounts are well hidden so that his father won't see what he's been up to while Artemis I was away. Butler lies to the B'wa Kell's human contact, telling the man he's a doctor.

Alcohol: One Russian Mafia member is seen opening a bottle of wine, while another dreams of a life of champagne and expensive cars.

Bathroom humor: Carried over from book one is the running gag about powerful, debilitating dwarf flatulence. In several instances, Mulch's gas provides the force or distraction needed for the group to continue on its quest.

Environmental stewardship: The fairies make several mentions of the way humans have polluted waters and allowed nuclear radiation to destroy the environment.


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Asking for Trouble

A book review for parents

This contemporary Christian book is the first in the "London Confidential" series by Sandra Byrd and is published by Tyndale House Publishers.

Asking for Trouble is written for kids ages 13 to 16. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Savannah (Savvy) Smith has moved to England with her family and is trying to fit into her new school, Wexburg Academy. Her 9-year-old sister, Louanne, and her parents are also finding it difficult to reach across the cultural barriers that separate them from their English neighbors. For example, Savvy's mother invites her neighbors to a Christmas cookie exchange. Since her neighbors have no idea what that is, they toss their invitations. Their word for cookie is biscuit. Once they realize what it is, they respond. Her family also hasn't found a church home.

Savvy can't seem to find friends, even though she has tried to join many school activities. She doesn't make it on the track team because she needs a trainer. Too late, she learns that trainer is the English word for tennis shoes and not a personal trainer. Savvy blows up something in the science club and shows she has no artistic talent in the art club. No matter what she tries, she doesn't seem to belong, until she lies that she has experience as a newspaper reporter, is interviewed for the school newspaper staff position, and then must admit she has no experience. She is given the task of placing school newspapers in the bins on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

No one goes out of the way to help Savvy, but she continues trying to fit in with those she considers appropriate. She comes up with a great idea to help save the school newspaper from going under financially and eventually gets to write an anonymous question-and-answer column that helps others. Savvy begins to find her place, after months of trying, because she is unwilling to give up.



Christian Beliefs


Savvy's parents pray for her and her sister's adjustments to their new home. The family prays individually and together. They also call relatives to ask for prayer when something big happens. Savvy tries to reason with God in one of her prayers, suggesting that He should understand and accept her reasons for lying. Her unsettled feeling indicates that God is not OK with her lie. Savvy's prayers are informal, more like a conversation with God, and she equates the warm feeling she receives after most of them as a sign of God's presence. Savvy is tempted to tell a second lie to make a friend, but because she feels guilty about her first lie, she doesn't. The Holy Spirit uses her conscience to encourage Savvy to do the right thing and admit her lie. At a crucial moment, when she has a lot to lose, Savvy does admit her inexperience as a school newspaper reporter and makes things right. She realizes that telling the truth did not pay off for her in a material way because she doesn't get to be a writer on the paper. Later, when she doesn't want to disappoint her parents, she mentions that she's on the newspaper staff, but she doesn't tell them that she's the one who delivers the papers. She also keeps the fact that she ruined her mother's silk shirt a secret.

Eventually, she tells them the whole truth about each incident because she doesn't like keeping her life a secret from her parents, and it's the right thing to do before God. The bookmark in her mother's Bible keeps moving, which implies that she's been reading the Bible. Savvy has stuffed her Bible under her bed. Soon she is convicted about not reading it. She finds that God gives her His peace and prepares her for the day when she reads His Word. The family visits different churches in their quest to find a church home. Some Sundays they do not go to church but have a family devotion. They do not want a church that only has old people, and Savvy's father does not want to attend a church that is too charismatic. He is a quieter personality. Savvy bases her column responses to reader questions on James 5 (wisdom), Psalm 139 (identity) and Luke 6:31 (how to treat others).



Authority Roles


Although Savvy respects her parents, she also blames them for moving her family to England. They are a large part of her life. Her parents try not to argue around the children and seek solutions together. Both care about their girls and exemplify godly characteristics. They take time to be with their girls and are interested in their lives. Savvy is 15, but her parents do not feel she is old enough to care for herself and her sister for a weekend. They ask Aunt Maude to stay with the girls when they are given a free trip to Bath. Savvy doesn't care for Aunt Maude until she gets to know her. She realizes that Aunt Maude tries to do what is best for the girls and their parents.



Other Belief Systems


Savvy's fortune cookie accurately predicts that her lie about having experience on a school newspaper is not presenting an opportunity. She was tempted and gave into the temptation.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Other teens use words such as blooming and cheesed off. When Savvy tries to join the science club, her beaker filled with a dangerous solution explodes and hits many things in the classroom. Later, she mentions that Ann Boleyn's head being chopped off is an interesting subject. In neither case is the violence graphic.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


Asterix in Corsica


A book review for parents

This graphic novel is the 20th volume in the "Asterix" comic book series by Rene Goscinny and is published by Orion.

Asterix in Corsica is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


The Asterix comic book series, hugely popular in its native France and translated into many other languages, stars a small Gaulish warrior named Asterix and his faithful friend Obelix. In this volume, Asterix and Obelix rescue a Corsican prisoner (named Boneywasawarriorwayayix) from a nearby Roman camp. They return to Corsica with him to help him prepare to do battle on the corrupt Roman praetor. The book includes detailed comic art and employs a fair amount of French humor (shown in the characters' names and the way the various armies are typified).



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


The Roman praetor is corrupt and tries to get several underlings to do his bidding so that he can escape rich and unharmed while war rages in his land. Corsican leader Boneywasawarriorwayayix shows hospitality to Asterix and Obelix and manages to put aside his differences with another warrior to end a lengthy family vendetta.



Other Belief Systems


Asterix gets his superhuman strength from a potion brewed up by Getafix, the village druid.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Characters make exclamations like "By Jupiter and Mercury." There's a fair amount of comic book violence, but nothing lengthy or gory.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note: A soldier mentions getting drunk.


Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.


August 1914

A book review for parents

This historical fiction is the first book in the "Red Wheel" series by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc., a division of Macmillan.

August 1914 was written for adults but this book is studied in high schools.



Plot Summary


In August 1914, Russia's severely disorganized army suffers a number of significant losses against the Germans due to poor communication and the corruption of the military's leadership. Solzhenitsyn's novel, overflowing with characters of various social classes and complex battle plans, examines Russian hierarchies and traditions in relation to the nation's ability to sustain itself in a world of change and technology. Many of the questions Solzhenitsyn's characters contemplate reflect the author's views of war: He may not have been in favor of it, but he believed true Russians should nevertheless step up and play their part.



Christian Beliefs


Sanya Lazhenitsyn, a Tolstoyan pacifist who volunteers for the army because he "feels sorry for Russia" ponders the question "How can one serve the kingdom of God on earth?" Most characters have a Christian (Russian Orthodox) mind-set and desire to serve God; they do so through ritual prayers and worship of Mary and the saints. Several characters experience premonitions that they feel are from God about the direction of the war. Solzhenitsyn is decidedly Christian and suggests through his characters that holiness comes from searching pure-heartedly for God, while the destruction in the world can be linked to those who practice evil and deceit.



Authority Roles


Aleksandr Samsonov, a nonfictional Russian general encircled by the Germans at the Battle of Tannenberg, is a devoted believer in God who finds satisfaction in concentrated, dedicated prayer. He prays fervently for the soldiers and that God will provide clarity as Samsonov leads the army. As war disasters mount, Samsonov feels that it is as though Christ and the Virgin Mary have rejected Russia; he ultimately "sacrifices" himself through suicide and becomes the scapegoat for all of the poor decisions leading to Russia's defeat. Most other military leaders in the book lie, disobey orders and cover up the truth to save themselves; critics call them "incompetent and stupid" in their efforts to evade responsibility. For example, with Samsonov dead, the generals find it convenient to claim he single-handedly lost the war for the nation.



Other Belief Systems


Irina, a wealthy Russian woman, believes in reincarnation and finds it "beautiful" to blend elements of Christianity and Eastern religions. Some of the soldiers "superstitiously fear angering God with their idle chatter." Tsarist General Nechvolodov thinks that "life was brought to us by some unknown force, we don't know where it came from or why." Colonel Georgi Vorotyntsev, an energetic staff officer, says he knows when he will die because an old Chinaman told his fortune.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Profanities include son of a b--ch, d--n, s---, b--tard, h--- and the f-word. God's name is also taken in vain. The book contains war images of wounded soldiers and different deaths.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Sanya tries to refrain from activities, such as dancing because of the desires they create in him. Vorotyntsev has an erotic dream about making love to a woman. Arsenii (Senka) Blagodaryov, a brave peasant soldier, says making love to his wife is as sweet as sucking marrow from a bone. A peasant in the beer house tells a dirty joke about a woman lying spread-eagle on a bed. Sergeant Major Terenty Chernega, overseer of artillery, compares a mission to the chest of an old woman waddling along.



Awards


Solzhenitsyn won the 1970 Nobel Prize for literature.



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

Note:
Alcohol: Soldiers and officers drink and sometimes get drunk.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.