Focus on the Family


Geronimo's Valentine

A book review for parents

This humorous mystery/adventure is the 36th book in the "Geronimo Stilton" series by Elisabetta Dami (but under the pen name of the main character) and is published by Scholastic, Inc.

Geronimo's Valentine is written for kids ages 7 to 10. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Geronimo Stilton, editor of the Rodent Gazette, learns about a famous painting that is missing, along with the artist who was restoring it. When he helps his detective friend, Hercule Poirat, solve the case — from an open window and dropped business card that point to a rich factory owner — Geronimo misses his Valentine's Day date with Petunia Pretty Paws. In the end, Petunia forgives Geronimo, and they celebrate his birthday.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


A restaurant manager enforces his restaurant's dress code. Hercule ignores road signs as he drives. A factory owner is verbally abusive to an employee. Thieves and kidnappers are arrested.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Mouse-oriented euphemisms are used throughout the book. Geronimo endures several slapstick injuries. He and Hercule attack the criminals they are after by tripping them.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


In an illustration, Geronimo kisses the hand of a lady mouse.



Awards


This series won the first Children's e-Book Award at the 2001 Bologna fair.



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.


Gideon the Cutpurse

A book review for parents

Gideon the Cutpurse and The Time Travelers are the same book.


This fantasy adventure is the first book in the "The Gideon Trilogy" by Linda Buckley-Archer and is published by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.

Gideon the Cutpurse is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Peter and Kate, who have only just met at Kate's family farm, suddenly find themselves thrown into the year 1763 by an anti-gravity machine that Kate's scientist father and his colleagues are working on. A man named Gideon, on the run from a former employer (Lord Luxon), witnesses their arrival into the past. They explain what's happened, and he vows to help them return home. Gideon introduces the children to his current employer and her family, all the while helping them track down the scoundrel known as Tar Man, the person who stole their anti-gravity device. When Lord Luxon catches up with his former employee, Gideon is thrown in prison and nearly hanged. Kate's father arrives to rescue the children, but he accidentally takes the Tar Man back to modern times instead of Peter.



Christian Beliefs


Gideon tells Peter the biblical story of Gideon's battle. They use that strategy to startle rogues who have captured their friends. Gideon was somewhat forced into stealing for the man who saved his life (Lord Luxon); he alternates between feeling guilt for his crimes and hope that God will forgive him for his sins. When he's saved from being hanged, he says God has given him a second chance. Kate prays silently for their return to the present. When the band of rogues (the Carricks) are drunk, they allow the parson to preach a sermon to them about their wickedness.



Authority Roles


Kate's father, Dr. Dyer, is described as a compassionate man who deeply loves his daughter yet wants her to stand on her own two feet. He hides information about Peter and Kate's time travel and risks a great deal to go to 1763 to find them. Gideon cares for Peter and Kate, refusing to abandon them even at the risk of his own safety. Peter's parents are largely absent from his life because of their careers; upon losing him, they seem to embrace a new perspective about what's important in life.



Other Belief Systems


Peter and Kate meet Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles Darwin) in 1763. Kate tells Erasmus that his grandson discovered evolution — proving that all creatures, including humans, evolved from the same ancestor — and that this discovery changed modern thinking. The characters from the past who don't understand the science of Peter and Kate's time travel believe the children may be devils.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


D--n appears a half dozen or more times, and one or two instances of God's name used in vain.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


None



Awards


This book's audio version won the Parents' Choice Award, 2006



Discussion Topics


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


Note:
Some of the men from 1763 wager in one scene. A band of thugs that capture Peter, Kate and their friends drinks brandy.

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 Giver

A book review for parents

This science fiction/fantasy, coming-of-age book by Lois Lowry is published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers as a paperback and Dell Laurel-Leaf as a mass market book. Both are imprints of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House, Inc. The hardback book is printed by Walter Lorraine Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin. The book is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Plot Summary


Twelve-year-old Jonas lives in a nearly perfect community. Every family has two children, one boy and one girl. They share their feelings together each morning and each night. When the old tire of life, infants fail to thrive or someone doesn't fit in, they're simply "released" to a place known as Elsewhere. Rarely does anyone suffer or die.

The community Elders spend years observing the children to ensure each receives a vocation matching his or her aptitude. At an annual ceremony, 12-year-olds are assigned their careers. When the officiating Elder fails to call Jonas' name at his ceremony, he fears he's done something wrong. The Elders have saved his assignment for last because of its significance. He will be trained for a rare, honored and secretive position called the Receiver of Memory. He's unnerved to learn the position will involve pain and isolation, and troubled to hear that the last person selected for the position 10 years earlier "failed" at her task and mysteriously disappeared.

Jonas meets with his new mentor, a man he calls The Giver. Jonas will take all of the older man's memories — some of which were given to him by a predecessor — and preserve these truths and experiences about which the rest of the community is oblivious. The Giver transfers his memories to Jonas by touching the boy's bare back. Jonas is thrilled to discover feelings and objects he's never known. The Giver allows him to feel snow as he speeds downhill on a sled and the warmth of sunlight on his face. Jonas also begins to "see beyond" what his community has been genetically engineered not to see. He discovers color and begins to question why his neighbors aren't given the choice to see color. He convinces himself that, given too many choices, people would make the wrong ones and disaster would follow.

The more Jonas understands about objects and ideas others can't see, the more isolated he feels from his community. He begins to understand why The Giver is so tired, weighed down with difficult concepts he's forbidden to share. When Jonas asks why they must retain these painful memories, The Giver explains that memories are the key to wisdom. The Elders don't consult The Giver as often as he feels they should, but when they do, he's able to recall tragedies of the past and steer the leaders in the right direction.

Jonas' father, a Nurturer who works with newborns, brings home a failure-to-thrive baby named Gabriel. He hopes the extra attention will help the infant. If Gabriel doesn't improve, he will be released. Gabriel continues to sleep poorly, so Jonas offers to keep him in his room. When the baby fusses at night, Jonas secretly shares comforting memories that The Giver has passed on to him. These memories help Gabriel sleep soundly and begin to improve.

The Giver continues to share memories, both of intense pain — like war — and amazing warmth, which The Giver calls "love." Jonas tries to convince himself a world with love would be dangerous, but he begins to believe it might be worth the risk. Jonas learns more about the previous failed Receiver of Memory. The Giver, who deeply loved his protégée, says she could not handle all of the painful memories, and she requested release. She even asked to perform the release herself. The memories she had already assimilated re-entered the community, causing chaos.

Jonas asks what happens when someone is released. The Giver allows him to watch a tape of the release Jonas's father performed earlier that day. Jonas is stunned as he watches his father euthanize an infant and throw away the body. Jonas tells The Giver he wants to leave the community. The Giver agrees to help him, believing it may be good for the sheltered citizens to have Jonas' feelings and memories thrust into their world. He refuses to escape with Jonas, saying he should stay behind to help people deal with their newfound emotions.

Jonas's father says Gabriel is failing to sleep back at the nurturing facility, so he will soon be released. Jonas kidnaps Gabriel and leaves the community, sleeping and hiding by day and biking briskly by night. Eventually, people stop searching for them. He and Gabriel find themselves in a new landscape, which includes hills and animals and snow. But their food has run out, and their bodies are cold. Jonas no longer cares about himself. He believes his power is gone, as he can no longer call up warm memories to give the baby. In a cryptic conclusion, Jonas and Gabriel slide downhill on a sled, seeing lights and hearing music. It is unclear whether they survive or die of hypothermia.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Elders oversee Jonas's community, maintaining a strict system of rules and discipline while allowing for friendliness and levity among the people. The rules aren't particularly difficult to enforce because people have been genetically stripped of memories and abilities to see color, hear music or feel emotion. The Giver loves Jonas. He tries to temper the painful memories he must convey with joyful ones. His memories and wisdom have taught him about intense feeling, and he wants to share these things with the community even if it comes at a price. Jonas' parents are kind and pleasant, effectively carrying out their vocational and parenting responsibilities. Even as Jonas' father lethally injects a child and prepares to do the same to Gabriel, his tone is gentle and playful. Because he is "programmed" not to know love or emotion, his actions are not calloused or cold-blooded. He feels he is just doing his job.

The creators of Jonas' community implemented a climate control system and revised the landscape to optimize it. As such, those in the community have never seen animals (those depicted in their "comfort objects") or hills, snow or sunshine. Jonas is shocked to see books in The Giver's home. The only books Jonas knew existed were dictionaries and books about the community's rules and offices.



Other Belief Systems


Jonas's society is founded on the belief that a community will be happy, functioning and fulfilled if it is able to jettison deep emotions, such as love and pain. Rules, rituals and order reign supreme, creating a "Sameness." In this way, no one has to experience prejudice, injustice or insecurity.

Families are required to share their feelings with one another each night and their dreams each morning. Otherwise, people keep their thoughts to themselves, lest they say anything that makes someone else feel uncomfortable or different.

The entire community attends an annual two-day ceremony where children in each age group are promoted. For example, becoming a Seven (year-old) means getting a front-buttoning jacket so the child can learn independence. Eights relinquish their stuffed animal (called a "comfort object") to be recycled to younger children. Nines are further allowed to demonstrate and develop their maturity by getting their first bikes. Twelves, which was Jonas' group, receive their vocational assignments.

The community creates the family. People apply for spouses and are matched based on a number of attributes. Those who fail to demonstrate the appropriate ability to connect are not given spouses. After three years of marriage, a couple can apply for children. Each family may receive one girl and one boy. When children are Ones, they are given to families at the community ceremony. The vocation of Birthmother is viewed as vital but not prestigious. Birthmothers are given excellent food and care until they've borne three children. Then they spend the remainder of their adult life as laborers. When a couple's children are grown and the parents are no longer needed to create family units, they go to live with the Childless Adults. When they've aged further, they're well cared for and respected as they finish out their lives at the House of the Old. Once children become adults with families of their own, they cease to have contact with their parents altogether because that bond is no longer necessary.

Jonas' friend Asher used to mix up his words as a 3-year-old. He was subject to increasingly intense lashings until he finally stopped talking altogether. An Elder speaks of this situation fondly at the community ceremony, beaming because Asher now speaks and is a productive member of society. She indicates the punishment had obviously been effective. When Fiona begins her formal training with the elderly, she notes off-handedly that the old, similar to the children, are punished with a disciplinary wand. Each home has a speaker box that conveys community news and can also monitor the activity inside each dwelling.

Except in the rare event of an accident, no one in the community dies. They are "released" into "Elsewhere." After more than a year with The Giver, Jonas learns that to "release" someone is to kill the person through lethal injection. Most people never learn this. The elderly are given a celebration of life ceremony before they are led through a door leading to Elsewhere. When a set of twins is placed in the care of Jonas's father, his father decides by their birth weights which will be allowed to join the community and which will be released. (Jonas's family notes that they certainly can't have two people who look alike running around. How confusing would that be?) Those who fail to follow community rules are sent Elsewhere in disgrace. One family whose child drowns is presented a new one. The new child receives the same name, so it is "as though the first child were returning." Names are chanted in ceremonies both to release and to welcome new community members.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The Giver conveys a memory of an elephant being shot by poachers. A second elephant hovers over the mutilated body, trumpeting its grief. In another memory, Jonas bleeds and vomits on a scary sled ride, and in another, he sees bloodshed and death as men and boys suffer on a battlefield. Jonas' father punctures a newborn in the top of the forehead with a syringe full of lethal fluid. He talks to the crying baby, gently saying he knows it hurts. Then he nonchalantly wraps up the dead child and puts him in a trash bin.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Jonas tells his family about a dream where he longs to have his classmate, Fiona, take her clothes off so he can bathe her. His mother calmly explains that these Stirrings are normal. Now he will begin taking pills that make the Stirrings go away as the other adults in the community do. After The Giver helps him know what love feels like, Jonas stops taking the pills.



Awards


Boston Globe-Horn Honor Book, 1993; Newbery Medal Winner, 1994; Margaret A. Edwards Award, 2007



Discussion Topics


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

Note:

According to the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, The Giver was one of the most frequently challenged books from 1990-2000. Some parents have expressed concerns about age-inappropriate content for middle school students, including occultist themes and violence, sexually explicit material and the ideas of drug use, suicide and euthanasia.

Nudity: Jonas and other young volunteers bathe the elderly in the House of the Old. People are forbidden to look at others naked, but this rule doesn't apply with infants or the elderly.

Lying: When Jonas receives his vocational instructions, he's shocked to learn he has permission to lie. He wonders if others have the same permission. Later, when he sees his father euthanize a baby, he realizes his father has lied by telling Jonas that babies are sent Elsewhere. Jonas lies to his parents as he prepares to leave the community.

Suicide: When Rosemary, the failed Receiver of Memory before Jonas, seeks release, she asks to inject the needle into herself.


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 Glass Castle

A book review for parents

This memoir by Jeannette Walls is published by Scribner, a trademark of Simon & Schuster publishers, and is written for adults. Many high schools include this book on their student reading lists.



Plot Summary


Jeannette Walls, an award-winning author and regular MSNBC contributor, recounts her shockingly dysfunctional home life as a youth. Walls' memoir chronicles her childhood with brilliant and creative, but nomadic and neglectful, parents. She and her three siblings — older sister, Lori; younger brother, Brian; and baby sister, Maureen — live in numerous desert towns where their father, Rex, does odd jobs. Rex's alcoholism and debts always catch up with him, no matter where he moves. The family often does the "skedaddle," leaving town under the cover of night to escape collectors.

Her mother, Rose Mary Walls, an artist and self-proclaimed excitement addict, considers her painting and writing paramount to the responsibilities of motherhood. She lets the kids fend for themselves and always frames their poverty and midnight getaways as adventures. Rex disappears on drinking binges, occasionally returning with food or money he's won through his gambling. The neglected Walls siblings experience sexual abuse at the hands of strangers and relatives, beatings by bullies, severe accident-related injuries and hunger that drives them to go through trash cans. Neither parent exhibits remorse. They praise their children's fortitude, maintaining that what doesn't kill them makes them stronger.

When Jeannette is 8 years old, Rose Mary inherits a nice Arizona home from her mother. Rose Mary's extravagant art supply purchases and Rex's carousing soon put the family back in dire straits. The family moves to a dismal West Virginia mining town where Rex grew up. The family stays with his dysfunctional, alcoholic family. The Walls later buy their own house — a crumbling shack without indoor plumbing.

As teens, Lori and Jeannette pool their meager earnings to move to New York together. Rex steals their savings, but Lori makes it to New York City. She rents an apartment and becomes an artist. A year before graduating high school, Jeannette joins her sister and works tirelessly for small publications to hone her journalism skills. Jeannette eventually is awarded scholarships to an Ivy League school and marries a man who lives on Park Avenue. Brian and Maureen later join them in New York. Their parents eventually show up, too, proclaiming they've come to keep the family together.

Jeannette and her siblings try to aid their homeless parents, who are still unwilling to make responsible choices and prefer living on the street to gainful employment. Jeannette talks about the guilt she feels sitting in a taxi en route to her Park Avenue home after seeing her mother rifling through a trash bin. (Late in life, Rose Mary admits to having land in Texas that's worth a million dollars. She never sold it and still won't, despite all their years of poverty, because she wants to keep it in the family.) Jeannette never condemns her parents' erratic, irresponsible behavior but does her best to support and love them.



Christian Beliefs


Rose Mary, speaking frankly of the 9-month-old child she lost, says God had given her a child that wasn't perfect so He said, "Oops," and thought He'd better take it back. Rose Mary considers herself a Catholic and often makes the family attend Mass. She shuns Catholic schools, saying nuns take the fun out of religion. Jeannette says Rose Mary treats the Ten Commandments as suggestions. Rex, who was raised Baptist, doesn't believe in God. He says he espouses science, not superstition and voodoo. Several times, he yells out crass, sacrilegious comments to the priests during Mass. After blasting the Virgin Mary loudly, he tells Jeannette that if her boyfriend ever gets into her panties and she's pregnant, she should claim it was the Immaculate Conception. Then she should pass the plate around for money. Rose Mary says God understands that Rex is their cross to bear. She says God wants people to take charge of their own fates, because He helps those who help themselves. Uncle Stanley listens to a radio program where people are speaking in tongues, and Dad says that's the kind of soul-curdling voodoo that made him an atheist. Pentecostal families in Welch feel sorry for Maureen. Jeannette says they take it upon themselves to save her soul and treat her like a surrogate daughter. Maureen goes with them to revivals and snake-handling services and frequently comes home saying she's been baptized or born again. As he nears death, Rex says he's been reading about chaos theory and quantum physics. Some of the calculations he's seen are starting to convince him maybe God does exist.



Authority Roles


Rose Mary Walls is a self-absorbed artist. An educated teacher, she refuses to get a job, except for a few occasions when the family is literally starving. She works as a teacher with the same lack of attention she demonstrates in parenting. Her kids often have to drag her out of bed to get her ready for work. She tries, unsuccessfully, to hide paychecks from Rex so he won't spend them all on booze. She says suffering immunizes body and soul, which is why she ignores the kids when they cry. She refuses to go on welfare or accept charity because she says it will cause the kids irreparable psychological damage. In contrast to Rex's alcoholic problems and crude dialogue, Rose Mary never drinks or uses foul language.

Rex is an inventor, always coming up with money-making ideas he can't get off the ground. He makes grand, empty promises to the family, such as saying he'll build them a glass castle. When the family is at its poorest, Rex only drinks beer; when there's a little money, he drinks harder liquor and cusses, hollers and smashes things at home, when he comes home at all. His charm and charisma keep his family from abandoning him. Rose Mary and Rex encourage reading and educate the kids in ways that put them ahead of their classmates wherever they go to school. Jeannette briefly mentions her Grandma Smith (Rose Mary's mom) and how she loved the order and rules Grandma provided. Rex's mother, Erma, is a heavy smoker and drinker who hates the kids and sometimes hits them with serving spoons. She touches Brian inappropriately, and the kids quietly wonder if she'd done the same to Rex when he was young.



Other Belief Systems


Dad takes Lori to a Navajo witch doctor when she's bitten by a scorpion because he doesn't trust physicians. When the gypsies in one of their neighborhoods curse Mom, she makes up a curse of her own to scare them. Mom says it's justifiable to shoplift some clothes for Maureen and makes the kids help by causing a distraction. Dad takes Jeannette on demon hunts. When things go bad in one town, Jeannette says she believes in luck and wishes their streak had held.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The words (or variations of) d--n, h---, s---, screw, c--k, crap, c--t, a--, b--ch, b--tard, whore, p-ss, faggot, w-nker and the f-word appear numerous times, as does the Lord's name taken in vain. Erma often complains about the "n-ggers" in the area. When Rex drinks hard liquor, he smashes things in his home.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Jeannette and Brian are curious about an establishment called the Green Lantern. Women in short dresses lounge and smoke on the porch. Brian later tells Jeannette that he and Rex had dinner with one of the Green Lantern women. Then they went to a hotel where he read his comic book in one room while Rex and the woman went in the other for a while. Billy Deel, a boy who likes Jeannette, takes her to his house to show her his passed-out father. The father's penis is sticking out, and he has urinated on himself in his drunkenness. Billy corners Jeannette and kisses her with his tongue in her mouth, then makes her touch his penis. He later tells her that action means he has raped her. When Jeannette is 10, she wakes one night to find a neighborhood pervert running his hands over her private parts. She tells her parents, but they refuse to keep the house's doors and windows closed at night. In West Virginia, Jeannette meets a woman known as the town whore. Jeannette likes the woman and is impressed that "whoring" can put so much food on the table. Jeannette's Uncle Stanley touches her inappropriately.

Rose Mary shows no sympathy for her daughter but feels sorry for Stanley because he's lonely. Rose Mary says sexual assaults are a crime of perception: If you don't think you're hurt, you aren't. When Jeannette goes swimming with a black girl named Dinitia, the black women in the locker room laugh about her red bikini hair. Dinitia later becomes pregnant by her mother's boyfriend and is arrested for stabbing him to death. The girls at Jeannette's high school talk about who still has their cherry and how far they would go with their boyfriends. Jeannette believes boys are dangerous and that they're after something. Dad makes Jeannette get dressed up to go to a bar with him. He hustles a man at pool while allowing the man to get drunk and put his hands all over Jeannette. With Dad's blessing, she goes upstairs with the man, who throws her on the bed and starts to kiss her before she gets away. Dad tries to get her to "team up" with him again to hustle, but she refuses. Jeannette's employer at the jewelry store sometimes rubs up against her backside. At camp, Lori finds a boyfriend who kisses her.



Awards


YALSA Alex Award, 2006; Christopher Award for Adult Books, 2006; The New York Times Notable Book of the Year, 2005 and others


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.


Going Bovine

A book review for parents

This dark comedy adventure by Libba Bray is published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House, Inc., and written for kids ages 14 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


Caution: The following review includes references to graphic/offensive content.

When diagnosed with the human form of mad cow disease, Cameron is a 16-year-old with a dysfunctional family, a "whatever" attitude and a penchant for smoking pot. Facing death, Cameron takes an epic journey that allows him, for the first time, to feel something besides apathy toward his own life and other people.

Cameron's journey begins several weeks after his diagnosis, when a punk-rock angel named Dulcie visits him at the hospital. She tells him about a scientist named Dr. X who traveled through time and space, inadvertently bringing back dark energy that is now endangering the planet and Cameron's life. Dulcie says Cameron must go on a quest to find Dr. X. It's the only way he can get a cure for himself and save the world. She insists that he take his hospital roommate, Gonzo, with him. Gonzo is a hypochondriac dwarf who Cameron recently met in the stoner bathroom at school. Dulcie offers little direction concerning how to find Dr. X., except to say that nothing is random and everything is connected. She says she'll appear periodically to help, but that Cameron should seek clues in tabloids, billboards and the like.

Once Cameron and Gonzo escape from the hospital, they follow "signs" to New Orleans. A drag queen helps them find a jazz legend named Junior Webster. Junior offers advice just before he's killed by the dark energy (which manifests itself as fire gods and their leader, the Wizard of Reckoning).

Cameron and Gonzo escape, and members of a happiness cult known as the Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack-‘N'-Bowl (CESSNAB) take them in. Cameron nearly decides to stay at CESSNAB when he finds himself on the wrong side of a raid on the compound. CESSNAB erupts into chaos as members begin to think independently, and Cameron and Gonzo make their exit.

Cameron then attends a keg party with strangers. In the yard, he meets a live garden gnome named Balder who vows to assist him on his quest. After another near miss with the fire gods, Cameron, Gonzo and Balder buy a crummy used car. They take a detour through Hope, Ga., where Cameron sees Dulcie and places a wish ("to live") on a wishing tree. They move on and stay with some scientists who study time-travel theories. The scientists try unsuccessfully to help Cameron find Dr. X.

En route to Daytona Beach, Fla., Cameron picks up three hitchhiking college guys and parties with them. After Cameron and Gonzo drop off their passengers, they realize the guys kidnapped Balder. They hunt for the yard gnome at the Party House, a Spring Break hot spot complete with TV crews filming stunt and reality shows. Cameron loses his virginity to a girl from his hometown before having sex with Dulcie. Gonzo falls for a guy named Drew, and they recover Balder by agreeing to participate in a couple of reality shows. A famous band that literally vanished years earlier reappears at the Party House. They say they've traveled through time and space. They use their music to help Cameron close Dr. X's wormhole and save the planet. The dark energy traps Dulcie in a snow globe, and Cameron tries to save her.

Cameron's hallucinations become stranger and harder to follow, and readers discover the journey has only taken place in his mind as he's careening into madness. Cameron realizes that the Wizard of Reckoning, who has been chasing him, is really him. He has been his own worst enemy. When Cameron dies, he finds himself happy in some unexplained location with Dulcie.



Christian Beliefs


Chet, an openly Christian character, hoped to play college football until an injury sidelined him. He frequently speaks at churches and Kiwanis clubs about how God had other plans for him. Chet has a reputation for using his injury to get sympathy and sex from cheerleaders. He invites Cameron's sister, Jenna, to attend a "ski mission trip" with his youth group. He says his pastor doesn't think kids should read books like Don Quixote because it makes them question things and get weird. He mentions one kid whose parents "straightened him out" by sending him to a church with a school and a restaurant where you never have to go outside and be touched by negative influences. Cameron scoffs when Jenna says Chet's youth group prays and reads Scripture for Cameron every morning. Cameron wonders if Chet envies him because, with his illness, Cameron surpassed the jock on the "God-will-test-you-because-He-loves-you" scale. Chet visits Cameron in the hospital and tries to lead him to Christ. He says no one ever really dies if Jesus is his Lord and Savior. Cameron argues that God is a "sadistic creep." He says Jesus should be asking his forgiveness for letting him die so young without even having sex. He asks Chet to consider that maybe there really is no divine plan, and humans are on their own.

Cameron ponders various religious beliefs and their take about what happens at death. He says maybe Christians are right, that there is some big guy with a white robe and a devil with a pitchfork. Maybe people will end up either playing a harp or burning in hell, either of which would be "sucktastic." After Cameron gets sick, he thinks he sees his father praying, though his dad is a scientist who doesn't believe in religion. A tabloid quote about the world ending is attributed to the Rev. Iggy Norant. Cameron's nurse says she doesn't know why God takes the good or the young or why people suffer. She doesn't understand why He took her daughter, who died of cancer at age 5.



Authority Roles


Cameron's parents spend little time with him, mostly communicating through notes or phone messages. Cameron's mom teaches English Lit at a community college. Cameron says she should be teaching somewhere better, but she can never finish anything, including her Ph.D. Cameron believes his father (also a teacher) is having an affair with his young assistant. He says he sees a lot of his dad's back because his father is always turning away from him in anger or frustration. Cameron's parents do remain by his side and demonstrate concern for him during his hospital stay.



Other Belief Systems


Cameron says apathy is his religion. He works part-time at Buddha Burger, which allegedly sells healthy, environmentally friendly food (though Cameron seems skeptical). Buddha Burger is decorated with Zen fountains and gives out Buddha cow toys to children. A scientist whose video Cameron watches online questions whether God exists, and if so, whether He is "unconcerned or just really, really, really busy." The scientist also wonders why people must die when everything within them yearns to live. Cameron ponders various world religions and their ideas about death, taking jabs at Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. Dulcie says everything is connected, nothing is random and destiny isn't fixed.

She says people's fates are tied together, though Cameron isn't sure there's such a thing as fate. Cameron says maybe there's a heaven where they weigh everything a person has done on big karma scales. When Cameron hears an old man coughing in a hospital room near his, he prays, "God, if You exist, can You take him instead of me?" Dr. T. and Dr. M., the time travel scientists, say it's narcissistic to assume our world is the only one. Balder was a Norse god in another time. He shares different snippets of Norse mythology and says, "Thank the gods." He uses stones, called runes, for protection and divination, and he invokes a prayer of protection for himself, Cameron and Gonzo on their journey.

CESSNAB members believe the universe wants them to be happy, so they've rigged the bowling games in their compound to let them win every time. They believe in instant gratification and suggest that buying things will make them happy. They also believe fruit smoothies will make them happy, though they only make vanilla because they want everyone to have the same experience (which cuts down on things like envy, competitiveness and regret). They have church every day, where they sing songs about perfection and happiness, think "I-am-special" thoughts and bowl perfect games. Their library only carries copies of one book (called Don't Hurt Your Happiness) because all other books have been deemed too "non-positive." The girl working in the library (who is actually planning a raid against CESSNAB) suggests to Cameron that maybe so-called negative feelings are useful and that human beings "can't evolve without the pain." The girl pulls Cameron into a room with her as the raid begins, and CESSNAB members think he is one of the instigators. CESSNAB members try to give Cameron a chance at redemption, telling him that all he has to do to be forgiven is bowl.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


The word s--- and the f-word appear in abundance, along with numerous variations of a--, suck, b--ch, WTF, p-ss, b--tard, balls (in the anatomical sense), d--n, crap, butt, screw, retard, skank, turd and heck. The Lord's name is taken in vain, and several Spanish profanities appear as well. Cameron says his dad would "cream himself" if Cameron played sports. A few people flip each other off. A CESSNAB leader slams the butt of a gun down on Cameron's head and says there must be "happiness by any means necessary."



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Cameron talks about how he enjoys masturbation. He often mentions he is getting an erection when he sees various girls and uses words such as penis and hard-on. He reads a porn magazine in a convenience store, and he imagines girls weeping over his coffin, wishing they'd claimed his virginity while he was alive. When the girl at the CESSNAB library kisses him, he thinks she's going to "pop his cherry" (i.e. take his virginity). At a party Cameron attends, people play strip poker and go in the back rooms to hook up.

In a graphic sex scene, Cameron loses his virginity to a cheerleader from his school. Shortly afterward, he tells Dulcie he feels a little empty and thought it would be different. Then she exposes her bare body, and the reader is led to believe that she, too, has sex with Cameron.

A drag queen named Miss Demeanor helps Cameron and Gonzo in New Orleans. Gonzo meets his boyfriend Drew while partying in Florida. They kiss several times and snuggle. One of Cameron's female stoner friends is interested in hooking up with Cameron's female nurse.



Awards


Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book of the Year, 2009; Booklist Books for Youth Editors' Choice, 2010; ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2010; and others.



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 Golden Compass

A book review for parents

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

The Golden Compass is written for ages 14 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


The first book in Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy introduces us to the series' heroine, a 12-year-old girl named Lyra. This precocious young orphan lives in the care of scholars at Jordan College in Oxford, England — albeit in an alternate universe. Lyra is headstrong and prone to getting into trouble, and she's accompanied always by her dæmon (pronounced demon) Pantalaimon, a shape-shifting animal spirit who embodies her soul. All humans in Lyra's world, we learn, have dæmons who eventually take on a single animal form when children reach adolescence.

The Golden Compass begins when Lyra clambers into a wardrobe to avoid detection . . . a choice that unwittingly launches her into a universe-altering adventure. Lurking in the wardrobe, she hears her uncle, an iconoclastic explorer named Lord Asriel, documenting the findings about a mysterious substance called Dust to a group of scholars.

Several events then occur almost simultaneously: Lyra is given a truth-telling device called an alethiometer (the golden compass) and told to keep it secret; she begins to hear rumors of children disappearing without a trace; and she's whisked into the care of a glamorous but ruthless agent of the Church named Mrs. Coulter. Lyra soon discovers that the Church is also desperate to learn about Dust — a substance they believe is somehow connected to original sin — and that Mrs. Coulter is spearheading chilling experiments on children in her pursuit of "truth." Specifically, she's separating children from their dæmons. One of the children she's kidnapped is Lyra's friend Roger. Lyra travels to the frozen North to rescue him, making friends with a wide variety of characters along the way. As The Golden Compass draws to a close, the forces of good (represented by the Church-rejecting Lord Asriel) have begun to array themselves against the forces of tyranny and wickedness (represented by Mrs. Coulter and churchmen).



Christian Beliefs


Christian doctrine (or contradiction of it) doesn't get much direct mention in this opening volume of the Dark Materials trilogy. Readers begin to learn, however, that the Church is a feared organization, known also as the Magisterium (which is the name of the evil organization used in the movie adaptation), the Church is further divided into competing subgroups with names such as the College of Bishops, the Consistorial Court of Discipline and the General Oblation Board. At the center of the story is the Church's determination to discover the origins and significance of Dust. One of the few, clear theological statements in the book comes from a minor character who tells another, "The Holy Church teaches that there are two worlds: the world of everything we can hear and touch, and another world, the spiritual world of heaven and hell." The same characters comment on theologians who were considered heretical and silenced for their theory that alternate worlds exist.

Lord Asriel has contempt for the Church — he sides with those who believe that there are other worlds and that Dust is somehow connected to finding them. He also says of the "dust to dust" passage in Genesis 3, "Church scholars have always puzzled over the translation of that verse. Some say it should read not 'unto dust shalt thou return' but 'thou shalt be subject to dust,' and others say the whole verse is a kind of pun on the words 'ground' and 'dust,' and it really means that God's admitting his own nature to be partly sinful. No one agrees. No one can, because the text is corrupt. But it was too good a word to waste, and that's why the particles became known as Dust."

Mrs. Coulter is a cold-blooded, ruthless agent of the Church who is willing to torture children — cutting them apart from their dæmons, or souls, as this book understands it — in her quest for "truth."



Authority Roles


Lyra is functionally an orphan as she is loosely reared by a group of scholars at Jordan College. One quickly gets the sense that she's her own authority, however, and that no one has much real influence or control over her. She has a brief encounter with Lord Asriel, who she initially believes is her uncle and later learns is actually her father. Lord Asriel is arrogant, cold and harsh toward her, and doesn't seem particularly interested in her well-being. Lyra is briefly in the custody of Mrs. Coulter, who pampers her but keeps her on a very short leash until she escapes. On the run from Mrs. Coulter, Lyra ends up in the care of the "gyptions," an outcast and rugged group of nomadic trader/wanderers whose leaders (Lord Faa, Farder Coram and Ma Costas) treat her well and care for her. They also exhibit bravery and honor in caring for their own, as well as joining Lyra on her quest to the North to rescue the children kidnapped by the Church. Lyra also comes under the protection of a noble armored bear named Iorek Byrnison. Similarly noble in character is a good witch named Serafina Pekkala.



Other Belief Systems


Lyra must master the alethiometer, a device that answers any question that she asks of it. To do so, she enters a trance-like state. While the alethiometer isn't magical, per se, it has magic-like power and the ability to divine the truth. Hence, it functionally is close to what the Old Testament would consider divination. The witches, who can fly on "cloud-pine branches" and cast a variety of spells, live to be 1,000 years old or more and believe in a female goddess named Yambe-Akka who comes for each witch at death. "She is the goddess of the dead," says Serafina Pekkala. "She comes to you smiling and kindly, and you know it is time to go." In contrast, Iorek Byrnison and his fellow bears do not believe in an afterlife. And it's implied that the Church is working to keep the lid on the "heretical" idea that there might be alternate universes. There is some discussion of the tension between the ideas of fate and free will. Because different groups of people have different beliefs about death and the afterlife, the story illustrates a polytheistic worldview when it comes to different religions and spiritual convictions.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


One character in particular, Mr. Lee Scoresby, has a fondness for the word h---. Lyra takes God's name in vain at least once, and another sentence says, "and Lyra swore with every word she knew." Lord Asriel tells Lyra of a time when the Church used to castrate young boys in order for them to sing in the choir. Several combat scenes result in deaths that are frequently described similar to this scene: "Lyra stopped and turned to see a man lying on the snow, with a gray-feathered arrow in his back. He was writhing and twitching and coughing out blood."



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Readers learn that Lyra is the result of an affair between Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel. A witch casually tells Lyra, "And there are men we take for lovers or husbands . . . men pass in front of our eyes like butterflies, creatures of a brief season. We love them; . . . they die almost at once."



Awards


Carnegie Medal winner in children's literature in the U.K., 1995; ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults, 1997; Whitbread Book of the Year, 2001 and a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, among others.



Discussion Topics


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


CHURCH HISTORY

Philip Pullman told the UK's Daily Telegraph, "Atheism suggests a degree of certainty that I'm not quite willing to accede. I suppose technically, you'd have to put me down as an agnostic. But if there is a God, and he is as the Christians describe him, then he deserves to be put down and rebelled against. As you look back over the history of the Christian church, it's a record of terrible infamy and cruelty and persecution and tyranny. How they have the bloody nerve to go on Thought for the Day and tell us all to be good when, given the slightest chance, they'd be hanging the rest of us and flogging the homosexuals and persecuting the witches."

DIVINATION

Leviticus 19:26 warns, "Do not practice divination or sorcery." Divination includes any practice that tries to see the future or hidden knowledge through supernatural means. While Lyra's alethiometer (alethia means "truth" in Greek) is never actually called a divination device, that's exactly the function it serves.


Notes:

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

Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In's movie review for The Golden Compass.

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.


Golden Spirit

A book review for parents

This third book in the "Carmen Browne" series on Christian school life by Stephanie Perry Moore is published by Moody Publishers.

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



Plot Summary


Carmen Browne's elementary school days transition into the summer months before middle school when she comes face to face with domestic violence, her selfishness and bossiness, and her choice to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. She tells her continuing story that expands on the relationships within her extended family and the families of her friends. Domestic violence is presented through portrayals of husband-wife disputes in a neighbor's family and in Carmen's aunt's home. Carmen learns how to call for help and to encourage others to get assistance when exposed to domestic violence.

The story includes numerous opportunities for Carmen's leadership tendencies to cross the line into bossiness with her friends and siblings. Her parents and other adults provide mentoring to help Carmen recognize the importance of compromise. After accepting Christ, Carmen realizes that her choice doesn't prevent her from thinking and behaving selfishly. She is coached to talk with God daily about what is happening and ask Him for help. Carmen writes an end-of-story essay (traditional conclusion for this series) about her new relationship with Christ, what she learned about domestic violence, and her desire for Christians to follow God's shining light and help people affected by domestic violence.



Christian Beliefs


Carmen's parents are Christian role models. They use daily situations to remind their children of God's ways. For example, when their three children are squabbling over who gets the largest bedroom during their family vacation, Mr. Browne reminds them that they should be grateful for having individual bedrooms and that selfishness is not godly. Mrs. Browne helps Carmen accept Jesus as her personal savior. Mr. Browne's employee named Snake encourages Carmen to pray daily.



Authority Roles


Carmen's parents, grandparents, aunt and uncle, school staff, the adult relatives of Carmen's friends are presented as authority figures. Carmen's parents are depicted as leaders in their home, at the university where Mr. Browne coaches, and even to Carmen's aunt and uncle. Mr. Golf (friend Layah's father) counsels Carmen on not always getting her way, and Riana's mother encourages Carmen to allow her friends to have their chance to lead, too. Carmen's Aunt Chris does not provide a positive role model. She spends money on non-essential items before paying her household bills. Uncle Mark doesn't represent godly behavior either; he yells and argues with his wife in front of young children who are guests.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Two examples of domestic violence. The first example is not graphic: Carmen's father simply offers a brief report on what happened to the neighbor's wife. The second example is more explicit because Carmen and her sister, Cassie, are in the house when her aunt and uncle argue loudly. When they hear glass shattering, the reader wonders what has happened, but the girls don't witness physical abuse.



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 Good Earth

A book review for parents

This historical fiction, contemporary classic by Pearl S. Buck is published by Washington Square Press, an imprint of Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster and is written for adults but is sometimes studied by high school classes.

Plot Summary


Set in early 20th-century China, this is the story of Wang Lung, a working class farmer, his arranged marriage to O-Lan, and the trials they endure as years of drought devastate their family farm. With themes of respect and care for elder members of the traditional Chinese household, the family grows exponentially as children are born and Wang Lung takes in his aging father, his uncle and the uncle's family, straining already limited finances. The situation improves dramatically, though, as Wang Lung enjoys good crops and cobbles together an expanse of land, one small parcel at a time during prosperous years.

Meanwhile, with his marriage devoid of love and his newfound financial success, Wang Lung becomes restless and wants whatever his money may buy. He frequents a teahouse for prostitutes, eventually buying a concubine who moves into his house, further complicating already strained family relationships. While Wang Lung raises sons who become successful in their own right, and daughters who are married off in lucrative transactions, this younger generation continues to make decisions just as their father has. Perhaps the most telling moment occurs right at the end of the book as Wang Lung nears death. Although his sons assure him they will not sell the land that has bound their family together and brought success, they smile knowingly over their father's head.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


In a culture where age is honored, Wang Lung cares for his elderly father until death. In addition, as it is a parent's task to plan children's lives and marriages, Wang Lung negotiates with other villagers to marry off his children. Although he has remained quite distant and uninvolved in his sons' upbringing, he determines their future career paths.



Other Belief Systems


Traditional Chinese religions including Buddhism and Confucianism



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Refers to a female as a b---h



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Numerous references to sex outside the boundaries of marriage in a culture with sex slaves and mistresses as the norm.



Awards


Pulitzer Prize 1932



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.


Graceling

A book review for parents

This fantasy book is the first in the "Graceling" series by Kristin Cashore and is published by Graphia, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

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



Plot Summary


In Katsa’s world, people with two different-colored eyes are called Gracelings. They may be Graced with the ability to read minds, to cook, to be storytellers or any combination of other skills. Katsa was 8 when a cousin tried to touch her inappropriately. She killed him. Since then, her uncle and guardian (King Randa of the Middluns) has deemed her his Graceling killer. He’s trained her and sent her to maim or murder his enemies. Though Katsa hates killing, she believes it is her Grace and, therefore, her lot in life.

Attempting to use her skills for good, the teenage Katsa has formed a covert vigilante group called the Council. They right the wrongs perpetrated by the land’s seven kings. She and two friends are in the midst of rescuing the Lienid king’s kidnapped father when Katsa encounters another man of Lienid descent in the courtyard. He is clearly Graced with fighting skills like Katsa, but she is able to knock him unconscious. She worries that his having seen her will endanger the Council’s missions.

The Lienid man appears at King Randa’s palace a few days later. Katsa learns he is Prince Po of Lienid, grandson of the man the Council rescued. He and Katsa engage in hand-to-hand combat and both enjoy the unusual experience of competing with someone worthy of their skills. Katsa takes Po to his unconscious grandfather, whom she’s hidden in the palace. Po decides to stay in the kingdom to monitor his grandfather’s healing and see if the old man can remember who kidnapped him. Katsa and her Council allies cover for Po, claiming he’s staying around to practice combat with Katsa.

Po and Katsa fight one another often and develop a friendship. Po convinces Katsa she has the power to refuse King Randa when her uncle commands her to kill. Katsa tells Randa that she’ll no longer be his thug and leaves with Po in search of his grandfather’s kidnapper. As they travel together, they fall in love. But Katsa has vowed she will never marry or have children. Po suggests they just be lovers, and she decides this will allow her to maintain her freedom. Po helps her realize that her true Grace isn’t killing, but survival. It isn’t taking life, but preserving it.

Po and Katsa begin to suspect that King Leck of Monsea, known for his kindness to the weak and to animals, may be a fraud and Grandfather’s kidnapper. They believe he has a Grace that allows him to deceive people and control their thoughts. Po and Katsa rescue his 10-year-old daughter, Bitterblue, who details his cruelty and lies, after they witness him murdering his wife in the forest. To get Bitterblue to safety, they face injury, difficult decisions and a treacherous mountain pass. When they arrive back in Lienid, they find that Leck has confused the minds of Po’s royal relatives. Katsa kills Leck, breaking the spell and making Bitterblue queen of Monsea.

In the end, Po’s injuries result in blindness. Katsa stays with him to help him recover from his depression and rediscover the power of his Grace. They decide to ignore the friends and family who urge them to marry and continue to live happily in the woods as lovers.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


Many of the land’s kings are hotheaded, money-hungry, overly ambitious and unkind to their subjects. King Leck tortures the weak for sport. His wife and Bitterblue escape from the castle when they learn of his desire to torture his own daughter. Katsa’s uncle, King Randa, uses Katsa as his assassin from the time she’s 10. He makes her kill or torture the subjects who disobey him, and he shows her off at his parties to intimidate his guests. Katsa doesn’t remember her parents, who both died when she was very young. Katsa admires the captain of her ship to Lienid for being a strong, commanding female.



Other Belief Systems


Katsa says it was a stroke of luck that no one discovered their plot to rescue Po’s grandfather. Part of Po’s Grace allows him to read Katsa’s thoughts about him. She often "talks" to him telepathically.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


In her mind, Katsa calls someone a horse’s a--. Katsa kills a number of people, either because Randa commands it or to protect Bitterblue. She also kills many animals for food or pelts. None of these scenes are particularly graphic. Bitterblue says her father, King Leck, hit her mother and liked to cause pain. He would cut animals and young girls with knives and keep them alive for a long time. After the queen and Bitterblue locked themselves away from him, Leck began intimidating them by delivering cut up mice and crying, bleeding cats and dogs. He even sent in a young servant girl with bleeding cuts who "wasn’t walking well."



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Bitterblue and Katsa’s male friend Raffin both kiss Katsa in a friendly manner. A nursemaid named Helda offers her services to Katsa, concerned that since the girl has no females in her life, no one has told her of a "woman’s bleedings" or about male/female relationships. Helda wants Katsa to find a husband and sometimes dresses the girl in clothes that don’t entirely cover her breasts. When Po yells through the door into her room, Katsa teases him saying he may be revealing himself to a legion of her lovers. After Katsa and Po admit their mutual feelings, Katsa reiterates that she’ll never marry. Po says he won’t ask that of her, so Katsa ponders whether she could be his lover but "still belong to herself." When Katsa and Po do become lovers, they kiss and explore each other’s bodies in several scenes. The initial love scene describes the physical pain — and simultaneous joy — Katsa feels as she loses her virginity. Katsa regularly takes an herb called sebane that keeps her from getting pregnant. Though Katsa and Po’s friends and family think they should marry, Katsa says she’s not going to hang on to Po "like a barnacle," and Po says it’s OK if others don’t understand their romantic arrangement.



Awards


A Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year, 2008; A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, 2008; Booklist Editor’s Choice Award, 2008 and others



Discussion Topics


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


Note:

Substance use: Katsa knocks out and drugs a group of soldiers so she can disable them without killing them. While traveling with Po, she takes an herb to prevent pregnancy.

Lying: Po initially doesn’t reveal the full extent of his Grace to Katsa. He is afraid of how people will respond to him if they know he can read their thoughts. After allowing herself to trust him, Katsa is devastated by this information and feels his misrepresentation of his Grace is the same as if he’d lied to her. Katsa and her Council allies lie about their activities so they can undertake life-saving missions. Po, Katsa and Bitterblue lie as they travel undercover to save Bitterblue from her father.

Feminist Ideology: Many of the book’s male characters, especially those in positions of power, are ruthless and disrespectful, particularly to women. Female characters fall into one of two categories: They are either strong, powerful women or weak females who serve as cautionary tales, showing the reader why women must learn to defend themselves against men. Even in the more equally matched relationship between Po and Katsa, the female conveys her strength and power by refusing to commit to marriage or traditional ideologies of home and family.

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 Grapes of Wrath

A book review for parents

This drama by John Steinbeck is published by Penguin Classics and is written for adults but is sometimes studied by high school classes.

Plot Summary


Like many farmers living in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, the Joads lose their land and pursue the prospect of a better life in California. With all their possessions loaded in a beat-up truck, they cross the country, experiencing prejudice, poverty, car trouble and frustration. Once in the "Promised Land" of California, they discover thousands like them living in migrant camps, jobless or making pitiful wages. The Joads struggle to stay together, stay alive and maintain a sense of hope and dignity as loss, hunger and unemployment threaten to break their spirits.



Christian Beliefs


Critics have written numerous essays on the biblical symbolism of this book, whose title derives from Revelation 14:19. The Joads (initially 12 of them, like the 12 tribes of Israel) and their companions parallel the downtrodden Hebrews plodding toward Canaan. Former preacher Jim Casy (see other belief systems) sacrifices his life for a cause and makes a "disciple" out of Tom, rendering Jim a Christ figure, despite his unconventional view of holiness. When Tom decides to follow Casy's lead and aid his fellow man, he quotes Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. The Joads themselves are part of the "holiness" movement, but they use Christ's name far more often as a curse word than in prayer.



Authority Roles


The story begins with the traditional family structure of the day — men make the decisions while women remain silent. By the end, however, Ma has assumed authority over the family and Pa follows like a child. Uncle John, also once a respected family leader, insists that he has to get drunk one night despite the family's desperate lack of money. The Joad kids pretend to be drunk and mimic him. As a preacher, Casy abuses the trust of his followers. Later, as a strike leader, he dies for his beliefs. Banks, big businesses and legal authorities in the story all appear corrupt and self-interested.



Other Belief Systems


Former preacher Jim Casy tells Tom how he baptized people against their will and took sexual advantage of women he'd just saved. He claims he's no longer a preacher because he's lost faith in traditional Christianity. He now believes the acts of simply living and caring for other people give birth to holiness. In the final scene, Rose of Sharon breastfeeds a dying man to save his life. (The nonsexual, nongraphic scene demonstrates the Joads' respect for life and their fellow man and is meant to symbolize hope.)



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Steinbeck employs numerous profanities, such as son-of-a-b--ch, d--n, h---, a-- and b--tard. He freely uses the Lord's name in vain. In a descriptive scene, a car hits and mangles the Joads' dog (symbolic of the suffering that lies ahead for the family). A man bashes in Casy's head, and Tom avenges Casy by brutally beating the man.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Tom and Casy engage in a number of crude sexual discussions. (One such conversation begins after the men have witnessed some dogs mating. The description is fairly graphic). Tom sometimes refers to prostitutes he has known, and Casy talks about "screwin'" girls when they were "full of the Sperit [sic]." Steinbeck suggests that Tom's brother, Al, enjoys frequent sexual relationships with girls he meets in the camps, though he spares readers the details.



Awards


The Grapes of Wrath is a Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the New York Public Library's Books of the Century.



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.


Great Black Heroes: Five Brilliant Scientists

A book review for parents

This biographical book in the "Hello Reader!" Science Series by Lynda Jones is published by Scholastic, Inc. and is written for kids ages 4 to 7. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.



Plot Summary


The lives of five black heroes are explored. Susan Smith McKinney-Steward became one of the first black women doctors in the United States. George Washington Carver became an agriculture scientist and taught college courses; he changed the way farmers in the South planted crops. Ernest Everett Just was a pioneering marine biologist. Percy Lavon Julian excelled as a chemist, and Shirley Ann Jackson was the first black woman to receive a doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She practiced theoretical physics and eventually became the chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.



Christian Beliefs


None



Authority Roles


George Washington Carver’s mother tried to protect him from slave raiders. Moses Carver, a slave owner, and his wife raised George and his brother. Ernest Everett Just’s mother helped him apply for a scholarship to Kimball Academy. Percy Lavon Julian’s father inspired him to always do the very best and achieve excellence. Beatrice and George Jackson knew their child was special and encouraged Shirley Ann Jackson’s pursuits.



Other Belief Systems


None



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:


Note: Recommended by the National Science Teacher Association

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.


Gulliver's Travels

A book review for parents

This political satire by Jonathan Swift is published by Sterling Publishing and is written for adults but is sometimes studied by kids ages 16 and up.

Plot Summary


Lemuel Gulliver is a ship surgeon whose voyages frequently end in shipwreck. He washes up on various islands where he meets, among others, tiny people called Lilliputians, giant Brobdingnagians, a race of horses morally superior to man known as Houyhnhnms, and the repulsive Yahoos who closely resemble humans. Jonathan Swift wrote the book as a satirical commentary on the political and social conduct of his day.



Christian Beliefs


If a Lilliputian doesn't believe in "divine Providence," he cannot hold a public office. The people of the islands Gulliver visits have holy men and religious rituals. There are a few brief mentions of the Christian faith, mainly as Gulliver enlightens his masters about European belief systems.



Authority Roles


Most of the leaders Gulliver encounters are eager to learn more about his and generally treat him with respect. They are frequently perplexed, however, by his stories of human wars, weapons, excesses, deceit and man's general treatment of one another. Gulliver's first master in Brobdingnag tries to exploit him by forcing him to speak to the point of exhaustion before audiences. Although Gulliver loves living with the Houyhnhnms, he is eventually forced to leave because those in power believe him to be a vile Yahoo.



Other Belief Systems


Lilliputians believe the earth is flat and that people would be resurrected when the earth flips over. Therefore, they bury their dead upside down so that when they rise from death, they'll be upright. Lilliputian children are removed from their families at infancy and raised by public institutions. The people of Laputa believe the stars play a major role in human affairs, and they are deeply concerned about the health of the sun as it relates to their survival. The island of Glubbdubdrib is named for its people, who are sorcerers. There, Gulliver is given the opportunity to conjure up spirits of many historical figures. Gulliver expresses his desire to be like the Struldbruggs, who live forever on earth.



Profanity/Graphic Violence


None, per se, but Gulliver makes frequent references to urination and defecation. A few examples: In Lilliput, he angers a member of the royal family by urinating on her burning home to put out the fire. In Brobdingnag, Gulliver tries (and fails) to jump over a pile of dung. He is bothered by the torrential sound of the Brobdingnagians' urination. On a later journey, he meets a researcher who attempts to create food from human waste. Gulliver often mentions private body parts. For example, he asks that the Lilliputians avert their eyes when walking under his legs, and he talks about the Brobdingnagian women stripping him naked and having him walk on their bare breasts. The word anus appears a half-dozen times. One Laputan scientist attempts to cure a disease by inserting an apparatus there, and Gulliver describes the Yahoos as vile creatures with hair around the anus.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Gulliver discovers that many of the historical characters he conjures up are whores, pimps and sodomites, some of whom are involved in incest or prostitute their own wives and children. Gulliver tells the Houyhnhnms about the excesses and unhealthy behavior of humans, including prostitution and its related diseases. Gulliver also comments on the Yahoo females' aberrant sexual behavior, and he mentions how one, whom he believes to be about 14 years old, threw herself at him after seeing him bathe in the river.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


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


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