big ben structure near white concrete structure

“Britfield” Review

Britfield

When I had multiple readers write asking my opinion of Britifield in recent months, I knew I had to review this series in depth! With a super cool and interactive website and a lot of media hype, Britfield has been gaining traction in Christian book circles recently. It bills itself as “one of the most awarded books in fiction.” So what’s the hubbub all about? And is it justified?

The Pros

Britfield & the Lost Crown is the first installment in this series. Fast-paced and emotion-driven, this book features orphans Tom and Sarah rushing from one side of England to another in a wild balloon chase. Escaping an orphanage, running to the top of St. Paul’s, visiting Oxford and King’s College, touring the lake country: there’s a lot packed into the nearly 400 pages of Britfield & the Lost Crown. Kids who crave action can’t complain nothing happens in this book.

The biggest pros are that it’s clean (in the first book at least), not agenda driven, and promotes traditional values like friendship, loyalty, and kindness.

The Cons

I like the general idea of Britfield, but I’m never going to recommend these books because the writing is truly poor. It’s not just awkward at times, it’s consistently stilted. It’s stuffed with unnecessary adjectives. The diction is often unwisely selected or just plain misused.

Beyond the writing itself, I objected to the characters, who are one-dimensional and unrealistic. Their emotions flicker around the page as rapidly as the fluorescent lights in my basement on a bad day. I cringed my way through the 400 pages of this book somewhat literally. If you have kids whose typical literary fare is children’s classics, they will have a similar reaction.

Morality?

No big red flags in the first book as regards moral concerns. No swearing, only mild violence, no sexual content. Though there are no overtly religious themes, there is a general slant towards traditional values and morals.

But as in other modern series like Mysterious Benedict Society, lying is an exception to the generally traditional morals. In Britfield, the two main characters frequently lie to get out of trouble or evade punishment. Both “good” and “bad” adults also lie repeatedly. The general message seems to be that it is acceptable to lie if your intentions are good or you’re in danger.

The two protagonists are 12 year old girl and approximately 12 year old boy. I did appreciate that the author refrained from introducing any romance, though I foresee that coming later in the series. I’ll continue reading to see how that’s handled, if it does. In this first book the only grey area was the author had the 12 year olds spending the night alone on a couch and later sharing a hotel room, which is not a great example for tweens. Again though, not any hint of romance here.

Conclusions

Although there isn’t anything dreadfully wrong with Britfield, I’d opt for better written fare for my children. I have lots of recommendations on my Book Lists to point you in the direction of better quality literature.

Note that I plan to eventually read the rest of the “Britfield” trilogy and add to this review as necessary.

Review of “The Shepherd at the Crib and the Cross”

book cover the shepherd at the crib and the cross

Glory to God in the Highest…

Have you ever wondered what happened to the shepherds who were the Holy Infant’s first visitors? Did they go home and forget about him? Or were their lives forever altered by encounering Jesus? Patrick O’Hearn and Michael Corsini explore what might have happened to one shephered boy in The Shepherd at the Crib and the Cross.

Nissim is a poor shepherd boy who lives near Bethlehem. He loves to hear his father recite the Messianic prophecies from the prophet Micah. So when an angel appears to tell the shepherds the Messiah has come, Nissim knows what’s happening! He rushes to Bethlehem and lingers after the other shepherds to bask in Jesus’ love. He wishes to give a gift to the Christ Child but misses the moment.

Later, as an adult, Nissim encounters Jesus again in Jerusalem. He realizes he has another opportunity to show his love and give something to his Savior.

Beautiful illustrations by Michael Corsini make this brand new Christmas story a great choice to put under your Christmas tree this December! Available now from publisher St. Paul Center or buy it through my Amazon affiliate link and support this website: The Shepherd at the Crib and the Cross

Another newly published book!

Also check out Beloved Son, another great Christmas present option just released this winter. The latest addition to Maura McKeegan’s fantastic Old and New Series which explores typology. Beloved Son connects Joseph and Jesus in ways that will surprise even adults! Buy it through the publisher or through my affiliate link: Beloved Son

Disclaimer: I received copies of “Beloved Son” and “The Shepherd at the Crib and the Cross” from Emmaus Road Publishing in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Looking for more great Christmas books? Check out my list of favorites: Good Christmas Books for Catholic Kids

“Mama, Sing My Song” Review

Mama, Sing My Song book cover

Mama, Sing My Song

Cuddly animal babies and mothers bound through this lovely new picture book written especially to help mothers inculcate an understanding of boundless love in their children. As mothers read this book to their little ones over and over, children will hear the important message that they are “a masterpiece- God’s work of art” and “a special treasure.” They’ll feel secure and treasured knowing that both their mother and God love them without limits.

A Perfect Gift to Cherish

This sweet book would make a perfect gift for a Baby Shower, Baptism, Christmas or Birthday. There is space in the beginning for a commemorative inscription and a parent to write down their hopes for their child. In the back of the book are spaces for the parents to write down the meaning of the child’s name, a Bible verse for their life, and a prayer for their child.

A Lullaby, a Poem, a Story, a Memory

Whether you download the free song version of Mama, Sing My Song and play it for your child, sing this lullaby yourself, or read it aloud as a poem, your child will feel loved. I love that this book connects the sometimes distant and esoteric concept of God’s love with something even a tiny child understands: their mother’s love. Now they just need to write a version for fathers!

You can buy this book through my Amazon affiliate link here: Mama, Sing My Song

For more favorite picture books for young children, check out My Book Lists!

aerial view photography of green leaf trees surrounded by body of water at daytime

“Where the Crawdads Sing” Review

where the crawdads sing cover

Where the Crawdads Sing

I may be a little late to the game with this review since Where the Crawdads Sing has been garnering attention for over 4 years now. I actually read it when it came out but wasn’t doing adult book reviews at that point. With the new movie bringing it to the top of best-seller lists again, I re-read and revisited my thoughts on this much-lauded book. As I re-read it (and stayed up too late) I remembered why it’s a bestseller. And then I remembered why I ended up hating it.

SPOILER ALERT: This review is going to utterly spoil the big reveal about the murder mystery. Sorry folks; I’m going to recommend against reading it anyway.

Busy Mom Quick Synopsis

6 year old Kya watches her mother, siblings, and father abandon her one after another. With minimal community support, she scratches out a precarious survival alone in the marsh. As she comes of age, she desperately seeks love and acceptance in the wrong places. A mysterious and isolated woman living alone in the swamp, the townspeople regard her with suspicion. When the town’s golden boy is murdered, fingers quickly begin to point Kya’s way. Does she have a single friend to defend her?

Why it’s a best-seller

First of all, it’s a beautifully written story about nature. That’s not a compliment I hand out lightly. Delia Owens must have a deep love of the flora and fauna of the North Carolina marshes. Her genuine delight in natural beauty and belief in the healing power of nature make this book memorable. As a fellow nature lover, I enjoyed her descriptions of the wonder of God’s creation.

Secondly, it’s a heart-warming story. An abandoned young girl from an abusive family beats the odds to educate herself and build a successful career as a writer and illustrator. It’s the stuff of Hallmark movies and human interest articles. Honestly, it’s so far-fetched it strains credibility.

Third, it’s a fast-moving storyline with a murder mystery intertwined. It keeps you turning the pages after your bedtime.

Why I don’t recommend Where the Crawdads Sing

First and foremost, skip this book because of the gratuitous sex scenes. There are multiple fade-out to fully described scenes, some with an underage teen Kya, along with a rape scene. Can you skip over them fairly easily? Yes, you see where the scene is going and can skip a few pages. Did they need to be in this book? Nope. They add nothing to the story and feel voyeuristic. And they definitely make this book a hard no for teens.

On a more philosophical level, I disliked the theme about people being fundamentally highly evolved animals. Kay interprets human interactions in animal terms, perhaps not completely unnaturally given her isolated life. But the author does not lead the reader to the conclusion that Kya is wrong here. Kya’s morality is a Darwinistic survival of the fittest code of ethics. And this leads to the ending, which I hated.

Throughout the book, the big conflict is whether Kya is guilty of the blatant murder of her former boyfriend Chase. As the reader, you’re assuming soft-spoken and nature-loving Kya is innocent. You’re condemning the townspeople for prejudice and judgment against an eccentric outlier. When her lawyer brings forward enough doubt to convince a jury to acquit her, you’re cheering.

But then… the last pages of the book, you realize she did it. She cold-bloodedly plotted the murder of the ex-boyfriend who lied to and later attacked her. Was he a horrible human being? Yes. Does this make me feel any better about the “heroine” murdering him with full intent and not in self-defense? No.

What bothered me most about this jarring conclusion was the feeling that throughout the entire book, the author is trying to set up the reader to condone the murder. It’s like Delia Owens is trying to have the reader walk away going, “Well, maybe murder is okay, sometimes.”

Not a conclusion that sits well with me!

For books I do recommend for adults, check out my For Catholic Parents page!

Road Trip! Explore the United States with chapter books!

Have the wanderlust? Enjoyed Around Europe in 20 Chapter Books?

Let’s explore the United States through classic chapter books!

United States chapter books and map

Northeastern United States

Enter into rural New England life with a group of 6 cousins living with their grandparents in Maine at the end of the 1800’s. Charming and often funny anecdotes of family and farm life.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Stories from Old Squire’s Farm

Go back in time to the 1700’s and visit the dense Maine wilderness where Matt watches over his family’s homestead alone. He quickly learns the frontier is home to heartless criminals- but also finds unexpected friends and allies in the local Indian tribe.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Sign of the Beaver

Visit New Hampshire and meet Miss Hickory, a charming little doll made out of an apple twig. Animals, dolls, and nature collide in this charming Newberry Winner.

Buy it through my Amazon link: Miss Hickory

The small but tough Morgan horse breed was developed in Vermont. In this true story told by acclaimed author Marguerite Henry, travel to the New England countryside and farm and learn how this all-American breed developed.

Buy through my Amazon affiliate link: Justin Morgan Had a Horse

Tour Sam Gribley’s tree home in upstate New York‘s Catskill mountains. Sam describes how he survivies the tough winters alone in the mountains by learning how to live off the land.

Buy it through my Amazon afflink: My Side of the Mountain

Discover the ghostly remains of a New York lake resort town with Portia and Julian in Gone Away Lake. This is a lovely story of nature, intergenerational friendship, and the New York countryside from beloved author Elizabeth Enright.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Gone Away Lake

Chester cricket is a country “boy” who finds himself making new friends nad experiencing the wonder of New York City, Times Square, and some unexpected friends.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Cricket in Times Square

Tour turn-of-the-century New York City with the 5 sisters of All of a Kind Family. Experience life for a Jewish family living in the Big Apple in this wonderful story of family life and adventures.

Buy it trhough my Amazon afflink: All-Of-A-Kind Family

Enter the world of New England sailors and learn about early navigation and ships in Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, based on true events in Salem, Massachusets.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

For slightly older audiences, Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women really brings alive the atmosphere of Concord, Massachusetts.

Buy it through my Amazon afflink: Little Women

Meet Ginger Pye, the smartest dog in small-town Connecticut in Eleanor Estes’ beloved classic about kids and their dog.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Ginger Pye

Visit Civil War era Pennsylvania and learn about the momentous events along the Susquehanna River and how they impacted one boy’s life.

Buy it through my Amazon afflink: Flames Across the Susquehanna

Go back to explore Revoluntionary War Era Philadelphia with Benjamin Franklin and his faithful mouse Amos in this whimsical story from Robert Lawson.

Buy it thorugh my Amazon affiliate link: Ben and Me

The amazing ture story of Father Farmer takes you to rural New Jersey in the Colonial period. Learn about a time nad missionary field when priests were unwelcome and adventures abounded.

Buy it through my amazon afflink: Priest on Horseback

Or, visit small-town New Jersey and laugh at the escapades of small-town American kids in Henry Reed, Inc.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Henry Reed, Inc

Southeastern United States

Part of acclaimed children’s author Lois Lenski’s Regionall Books series, Coal Camp Girl takes the reader to coal country in the West Virginia mountains.

Buy it through affiliate link: Coal Camp Girl

Visit coastal Virginia in this unforgettabale story of two resourceful children and one special horse.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Misty of Chincoteague

Travel to North Carolina to an 1800’s Quaker farm where orphaned Martitia struggles to find her place among a large family of cousins. Best for 12+ due to light romance part of story.

Buy it through my affiliate link: They Loved to Laugh

The charming Fairchild Family share their everyday adventures as they search for arrowheads, learn about trading, and work on their farm in the gorgeous Kentucky mountains.

All 4 books in the series are excellent. Buy through my affiliate link: Up and Down the River

Visit the war torn South with Hannalee, a young Civil War era girl who fights to return to her home in Georgia after being relocated by the Yankees.

Best for 12 and up due to a couple mild curses in some editions of book.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Turn Homeward, Hannalee

Meet a Florida farm family in Lois Lenski’s beloved classic Strawberry Girl.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Strawberry Girl

Learn about Helen Keller’s childhood in Alabama in this excellent and inspirational children’s biography.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Helen Keller

Explore the Mississippi River Valley with Minn, a snapping turtle. Kids love all Holling C. Holling’s books that take them on journeys!

Buy it through my affiliate links: Minn of the Mississippi

Another excellent Lois Lenski Regional Series book, Bayou Suzette brings Lousiana to life for readers.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Bayou Suzette

Midwestern United States

Travel with a little boy’s carved canoe through Michigan‘s Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean in this nature-filled voyage.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Paddle-to-the-Sea

Explore the woods of Wisconsin with beloved American tomboy Caddie Woodlawn. Sibling escapades, growing pains, and farm life against a backdrop of tough winters and bright summers.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Caddie Woodlawn

Experience pioneer life in Minnesota with Laura and Mary of Little House fame.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: On the Banks of Plum Creek

Or, visit turn of the century Minnesota town and join Betsy, Tacy, and Tib in a series of funny and heart warming small town adventures.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Betsy-Tacy Treasury

In the wilds of North Dakota, one farm family finds unexpected assistance from an injured Thoroughbred named Old Sam.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Old Sam, Dakota Trotter

Experience the harsh winters and short summers of the South Dakota grasslands with Laura Ingalls in By the Shores of Silver Lake and The Long Winter.

Buy through my Amazon affiliate links:

By the Shores of Silver Lake

The Long Winter

Laura and Mary’s most famous adventures took place in Kansas in the beloved Little House on the Prairie.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Little House on the Prairie

Enjoy some humor from Iowa with these three tall tales about the hilarious McBroom family.

Buy through my affiliate link: McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm

All Eben McAllister wants is to get away from his boring small town life in Missouri. So his dad makes him a deal: discover Seven Wonders in his hometown and then he’ll get a trip to the city. A wonderful message about finding wonder in friends, family, and your own town.

Buy it through my affiliate link: The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs

Life on a Missouri river town is never more lively than in Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Visit Chicago with a young Irish lad named Conn and experience the excitement of building the first Ferris Wheel and the Chicago World Fair.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Great Wheel

In this Newberry Honor book, Jethro, a young Illinois farm boy, experiences first hand the stresses of the Civil War Era.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Across Five Aprils

From making way too many doughnuts to capturing a gang of robbers with a little help from his pet skunk, Homer Price is always up something in small town Ohio.

Southwestern United States

Billy and his two hounds roam the Ozark hills in this beloved Oklahoma classic. Warnign: tear-jerker that may upset younger or sensitive kids.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Where the Red Fern Grows

In frontier era Texas, teenaged Travis takes on a man’s responsibilities on his family farm- including some tough choices. Warning: sad ending that may upset sensitive readers.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: Old Yeller

Visit the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Against an arid desert backdrop, Brighty the burro wanders free. A Marguerite Henry classic.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Brighty of the Grand Canyon

In this semi-autobiographical novel, two young men travel around the southwest in an old Ford called “Shiftless,” scratching a living by art and odd jobs. A later installment in Ralph Moody’s Little Britches series.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Shaking the Nickel Bush

Western United States

Tour California and search for gold with Jack and his butler Praiseworhty in this funny and heart-warming adventure.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: By the Great Horn Spoon

Here’s another Gold Rush era book about a brother and sister who travel by covered wagon from Missouri to California. A lovely nuanced story about family, friendship, and whether gold is the key to happiness.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: The Secret Valley

Based on true events, this is an easy-reader version of the story of Snowshoe Thompson, a courageous mail carrier who traveled along through Nevada’s treacherous Sierra Madres Mountains.

Buy it through my Amazon affilaite link: Snowshoe Thompson

Ralph Moody’s Little Britches is a timeless classic about life on a Colorado ranch with its breathtaking beauty and backbreaking hardships.

Buy it through my Amazon affiilate link: Little Britches

Wander through the wilds of Wyoming with Peter Lundy, a boy who loves a horse more than anything. Learn about the rare medicine hat pattern, mustangs, and life on the rough western prairie in this horse novel from acclaimed American author Marguerite Henry.

Buy it through my Amazon affiliate link: San Domingo: The Medicine Hat Stallion

Explore the western United States including Montana, Idaho, and Oregon with this amazing living history book that brings Lewis and Clark’s Expedition to life.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Seaman

Visit the Fellows family in the deserts of Oregon where homesteading is not for the faint of heart.

Buy it through my affiliate link: Year of the Black Pony


“The Ark” and “Rowan Farm” Review

the ark by margot benary isbert cover

Charming Post-war historical fiction about German refugees

There are so many thought-provoking and well-written historical fiction stories about World War II. I even did a list of World War II Chapter Books for Catholic Kids last year to round up all my favorites in one place. But when I discovered The Ark and Rowan Farm recently, I knew I had missed out on an important perspective! I’d read so many books from Jewish, American, English, Polish, and other allied perspectives. But I had never heard about the aftermath of World War II for the German people: the average family who found themselves penniless and homeless in an impoverished and fractured country.

Margot Benary-Isbert is uniquely qualified to write about the German refugee plight. Born in Germany in 1889, she lived through World War II with difficulty due to her failure to cooperate with the Nazis. After the war, her home was given over to the Russians and she fled to western Germany where she spent many years sharing a small apartment with two other refugee families. She wrote The Ark and Rowan Farm to provide encouragement and hope to German youth. And she succeeded!

The Ark

In The Ark, we meet Margret Lechow, a teenage war refugee. With her mother and three surviving siblings, Margret struggles to survive and find a home. Like many German families, the Lechows lost their home, money, father, and one sibling in the war. But the Lechows are special because they still have hope and a will to survive and thrive. You’ll love the positive portrayal of the frail mother who holds the family together. And your heart will be warmed by the teenage kids who don’t hesitate to take on adult responsibilities to keep their family fed and sheltered.

The Ark is a story about how small kindnesses can change lives. Whether it’s the Lechows befriending an orphan boy, a cranky old lady finding it in herself to give a little, or a generous farmer taking a risk and offering a job to a stranger, lives change for the better.

Rowan Farm

A year after the events of The Ark, sixteen year old Margret and her family are reunited at Rowan Farm where they set up house in an old boxcar. The joys and pains of reunion with their war-damaged father are dealt with gently. Margret struggles to move past her memories of losing her twin brother, again handled with discretion, though it is clear her brother was shot in front of her.

Animal lovers will enjoy the fact that Margret finds healing through caring for litters of Great Dane puppies, rehabilitating a Shetland pony, and growing her flock of chicks and sheep. As a farmer, Margot Benary-Isbert obviously understood the magic of nature, animals, and growing things to heal trauma and restore meaning to lives.

There’s a wonderful subplot about a group of schoolchildren working to build a home for returned war veterans.

In this second book, there’s a small touch of romance in the background between sixteen-year-old Margret and her employer’s son, but absoutely no content at all.

Clean and Charming

The Ark and Rowan Farm are two of the most charming and well-written books I’ve read in a while. I enjoyed them thoroughly as an adult. But, the intended audience is teens, for which I found them quite appropriate. No language, great discretion about war violence, and no sexual content. I recommend both books for middle school and older to provide a humanizing perspective on typical German families in the post-war years.

Buy both books through my Amazon Affiliate links: The Ark and Rowan Farm

“Blessed Carlo Acutis” Review

book cover blessed carlo acutis

Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager in Heaven

Last fall, my family “discovered” Blessed Carlo Acutis through a Holy Heroes Glory Story CD. We learned about this amazing youth who managed to accomplish so much in just fifteen short years of life. My kids were enthralled not only by how young he was but how recently he had lived and how similar his life was to theirs. He died only a few years before they were born! He wore jeans! He used a computer!

A Saint for 21st Century Kids

My kids aren’t the only ones who love Blessed Carlo and feel an instant connection to his story. This young man is inspiring kids around the world as his story spreads. Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager in Heaven is a brand-new book by Sabrina Arena Ferrisi. Drawing on Church documents and interviews, especially personal interviews with Carlo’s mother, Ferrisi retells Carlo’s life story. Kids (and adults!) can learn about his Eucharistic devotion, charity work, favorite pets, love for computer programming and film making, and much more!

But Ferrisi also includes an explanation of the official path to a declaration of sainthood. Kids will learn about the 3 stages on the way and what is required at each stage. They’ll be even more amazed that Carlo was declared a Blessed less than 15 years after his death!

There’s also plenty of color photos of Carlo, his family, and more for kids who love visuals.

Who Will Enjoy This Book?

Target age: middle grades through high school. But younger kids will enjoy hearing parts of the book read aloud, especially if they’re already familiar with Blessed Carlo’s life from Glory Stories. I enjoyed this short book thoroughly as an adult. I was touched and inspired by Blessed Carlo’s love for both God and neighbor. This young Blessed’s life truly exemplifies the two great commandments!

You can order your copy of Blessed Carlo Acutis from publisher Holy Heroes. Enter the discount cod CARLO15 to get 15% off your purchase to celebrate this new relase!

No affiliate link here, just a really awesome saint and story I wanted to share!

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of “Blessed Carlo Acutis: The Amazing Discovery of a Teenager” in Heaven in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

For more of my favorite books for Catholic kids, check out My Book Lists!

“How the Angels Got Their Wings” Review

How the Angels Got Their Wings, cover

Gorgeous and Grace-Filled!

In his latest picture book, How the Angels Got Their Wings, Anthony DeStefano continues his pattern of producing beautiful books for children. In this new book, he explains in his trademark gently rhythmic verse who the angels are, why some angels are bad, who the archangels are and what they’re known for, and where we might find them.

An Exciting Drama

Angels are a fun topic for kids. These amazing rational beings with real superpowers fascinate my kids. My five year old loved the vivid illustrations in How the Angels Got Their Wings, especially the cosmic battle between the good and bad angels. She also loved the concept of looking for angels in daily life. Whether they’re in disguise or invisible, we’re surrounded by these amazing beings all the time and definitely don’t think about it enough! This picture book will help kids of all ages to connect more deeply with these heavenly friends.

Find Out More

Note that particularly young or very sensitive children may be upset by the images of the devil, so be sure and check out the full length picture preview of the book on Sophia Institute Press before buying if you have very young ones.

You can buy this gorgeous and grace-filled picture book through my Amazon affiliate link, How the Angels Got Their Wings, or from publisher Sophia Institute Press.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “How The Angels Got Their Wings” in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

Love beautiful Catholic picture books?

Check out my reviews of some of the other great offerings in recent years from Sophia Institute Press!

photo of teepee under a starry sky

“Station Eleven” Review

Station Eleven

An immediate national bestseller, Station Eleven is a contemporary dystopia by Emily St. John Mandel. After a flu pandemic destroys 99% of the world’s population, most of the remnant live in small survival-focused communities. But not all. The Traveling Symphony travels around the Midwestern United States performing classical music and Shakespeare plays. Because “Survival is insufficient.” The real magic of this book is in its presentation of the truth that art and beauty and culture are worth preserving even in the darkest of times.

Survival is insufficient.

Station Eleven

Art and Beauty Matter

What made this book memorable was the fundamental truth that even in extreme circumstances, beauty and truth shine through. The post-pandemic world depicted in Station Eleven is bleak, ruthless, and uncivilized. In stark contrast to the overall darkness of a collapsed world, the truth and beauty in Shakespeare and classical symphonies shine forth and touch the hearts of everyone who hears the Traveling Symphony’s performances.

Likewise, the beauty of friendships and family are a powerful theme in Station Eleven. This is where we’ll find happiness in a dystopian world, the novel teaches, whether it’s siblings saving each other during the early days of the pandemic, loyal friends risking their lives for each other, or simply a father baking bread for his children.

But Goodness Should Also Matter

And here’s where the book loses its moral compass. Starting with a glitteringly beautiful premise about beauty and truth redeeming a dark world, Station Eleven loses its way in the moral morass of twenty-first century subjectivism and social agendas.

The biggest problem is the depiction of religion as a path to insanity and evil. The “Prophet” is a mentally unbalanced polygamist and killer who hunts the Traveling Symphony. This Bible-quoting villain is Station Eleven‘s one and only religious character or reference point.

On the other hand, all the “good” characters live according to their own moral systems- which are predictably modern and anti-traditional morality. The members of the Traveling Symphony engage in various extra-marital relationships. There’s a homosexual character who keeps bemoaning his dead boyfriend, which is so unnecessary to the plot and character the “normalizing” agenda just screams through.

Suicide is held up as an acceptable alternative to living in a difficult world. A disabled character kills himself to make it easier for his brother to survive.

Should I Read It?

Maybe. For all it’s problems, Station Eleven is a well-plotted and thought-provoking story. There’s a lot of shaky morality, but I will give the author credit for refraining from including any sex scenes whatsoever. That’s actually pretty unusual for a contemporary book in this genre.

If you’re wondering about violence: yes, there’s some violence. Members of the Traveling Symphony defend themselves against the Prophet’s men on a few occasions. Somewhat graphic descriptions of wounds, but on the positive side a main character talks about the gravity of killing, how it haunts you forever, how awful if it has to be done even in self-defense.

If you are an adult who enjoy dystopias and you don’t mind sifting through the author’s anti-religious views, you may find Station Eleven worth the time and even moving. But I definitely do not recommend this book for teens or those who are just looking for a “good, clean book.”

If you’re going for it, here’s a link to buy it through my affiliate link: Station Eleven

For other book ideas, check out My Book Lists for kids and teens or my For Parents section for adult ideas.

Review of Fahrenheit 451

fahrenheit 451 cover

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

Fahrenheit 451

With a memorable first line, Ray Bradbury introduces his classic dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. In a world where books are forbidden and houses are fireproof, “firemen” prowl the streets and pump fire into any homes where books remain. But fireman Guy Montag finds an open book one day and sees the words “Once upon a time…” And his life begins to change.

Fahrenheit 451 is timely

For a book written three quarters of a century ago, Bradbury’s novel rings eerily true in our current day. Bradbury imagined a world where people were isolated by earbuds, entertainment devices, and a constant stream of entertainment. Looking at you 21st century teens- and adults!

Bradbury portrays a society which chose to abolish books because they made people uncomfortable. His imagined society began by censoring then turned to burning. Instead of books while rile people up, his world pushes pleasure and forgetfulness. These are the two remedies his world chose to the problem of pain and unhappiness.

Did it work? Not at all. In the opening pages fireman Guy Montag shows us a world where suicide is so common it’s become the norm. It’s socially acceptable for teens to drive at high speeds in an attempt to kill others or themselves. No one notices- or remembers- when their neighbor dies.

The Power of History and Education

Bradbury had a powerful message that his generation didn’t heed: whoever controls the education of the young and historical narrative controls the future. In the world of Fahrenheit 451 no one knows what is true or false because they have lost the ability to remember much of anything themselves and have no written records to help them. Guy Montag can’t even remember how he met his wife a decade ago. He is amazed when someone tells him that firemen haven’t always set fires but used to put them out.

But there’s hope. Guy’s life is changed when he meets two outliers. First, an old professor who has secreted away books both physically and in his memory. Then, a teenage girl who is awake to the beauty of nature and open to learning from the memories of her ancient uncle. Awakened himself, Guy can’t unsee the disorder of the world he lives in. He sets out to set a new kind of fire and wake up those around him.

A Warning and a Hope

Fahrenheit 451 is a warning. But it’s also a hopeful book. Guy finds other rebels and learns their plan to preserve the knowledge of the world in memory and oral recitation until people are ready to hear wisdom again. Like the monks in ancient times, Guy joins the ranks of the preservers of ancient wisdom.

Older Teens Should Read It

Because this book is thought-provoking and hopeful, it’s perfect for high schoolers. Any content? Well, it’s wonderfully clean from all sexual content. Bradbury says the romantic interest is “a man falling in love with books.” There’s a few instances of taking the Lord’s name in vain by characters in moments of crisis, though these could also be interpreted as genuine cries for help.

The most important thing for parents is to make sure their kids are mature enough for the stark despair of the early chapters where one suicide attempt is dwelt on in detail. There’s also some violence later including one man setting another on fire and watching him burn, described in some detail.

Despite these caveats, I think most older high schoolers will appreciate and take away a lot from this book! The symbolism is very rich and rewarding to track down. (Why the salamander? Why the snake? Why the hearth?)

But Also Adults

But if you’re an adult who hasn’t read it yet, Fahrenheit 451 is worth the time even for busy moms! It’s short: less than 200 pages. It’s fast-paced. And it’ll make you think! My moms book club really enjoyed our discussion on this.

You can buy a copy through my affiliate link: Fahrenheit 451

To find more books your high schoolers may enjoy, check out my book lists, especially Good Books for Catholic High Schoolers Part 1 (Age 14 and up) and Good Books for Catholic High Schoolers Part 2 (Age 16 and up).