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Review of “Atlas Shrugged

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Atlas Shrugged: Catholic Parent Review

The last couple weeks I’ve been deep in the philosophy of Ayn Rand as I submerged myself in Atlas Shrugged until late in the night. And I can’t deny I enjoyed this iconic novel. Despite totaling over 1000 pages, Atlas Shrugged is surprisingly readable, especially when you consider that is fundamentally an apologia for Rand’s philosophy: objectivism. I found that I agreed with more of Rand’s ideas than I expected, but her philosophy as a whole is fundamentally incompatible with Catholicism. That means you as the parent have some critical thinking to do about whether this book is appropriate for your teens.

A Myth Retold

The title Atlas Shrugged points the reader to the Greek myth of Atlas, the titan who was sentenced to forever hold the world up on his shoulders. Rand equates the brilliant businessmen who produce the ideas and money that keeps the economy growing with Atlas: the few carrying the weight of a whole world on their shoulders. In Atlas Shrugged, one genius named John Galt decides to teach the ungrateful parasites of the world a lesson by convincing all the brilliant businessman and capable workers to go on strike. The world collapses without them. They come back and remake the world according to Rand’s Objectivism.

Objectivism and “objectivism”

So what is Objectivism? Well, traditionally the term “objectivism” was used as the opposite of “subjectivism” in philosophy. Aristotelian metaphysics states that an individual possesses life independent of his or her mind whereas Hume’s school of thought is that a being is only real as the mental presence which acquires our representation of it. Rand, and Catholicism, follow Aristotle’s metaphysics and affirm that a being has existence independent of its mind.

Put more simply, Aristotelian metaphysics argues for an objective reality that exists outside the mind and that the mind can understand.

So far we agree.

But Rand took the term Objectivism and used it in a more all-encompassing sense to describe her philosophy, which applies to both the political and economic realm and the moral realm.

Atlas Shrugged and Politics Today

What I really appreciate about Atlas Shrugged is the prescience Rand shows about Communism and its pitfalls. If Rand’s philosophy strays too far towards egoism, Communism goes to the other extreme.

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand traces the inevitable path of a world where private property is abolished, merit unvalued, and excellence frowned upon. In one chilling section, she describes a factory of several thousand workers who decide to abolish salaries and instead vote to distribute the money based on “needs.” Of course, the result is that no one has motivation to work hard, and everyone has motivation to try to be the neediest and most pitiful. The factory soon stops making a profit, the workers hate each other, and the town faces starvation.

In the setting of Atlas Shrugged, America is the last capitalist society; the rest of the countries are communist in government. The American government demands that the businessman surrender their profits to send huge sums of money to the starving Communist countries. Higher and higher taxes are placed on Americans to feed the rest of the world. Even within America, increasing tax burdens are placed on the producers- the workers- in order to support an ever growing welfare state. In response, the American workers begin to stop trying to earn more than the basis for survival since the rest of their money will be taken anyway. When the big businessmen follow suit and stop producing, the economy collapses and the entire world is plunged into a primeval darkness both literally and figuratively.

Atlas Shrugged was written in 1957.

When it comes to politics and economics, Atlas Shrugged has a message America might need to hear today. But when it comes to Rand’s applications of her economic philosophy to morality, there are some parts of Rand’s Objectivism we just can’t accept as Catholics.

Rand’s Objectivism and Morality

As Catholics, we believe in the sanctity of human life. In Objectivism, Rand argues that there is no intrinsic value in human life. What determines and bestows value to a life is the free choice to think and choose values. For Rand, survival is achieved by choosing to pursue one’s own self-interests exclusively. Selfishness is her ultimate virtue, and altruism her ultimate vice.

Sacrifice is the ultimate altruism, so of course Rand detests it with a passion.

Rand and Religion

Now, as I read Atlas Shrugged, I realized that Rand valued many traditional virtues greatly: justice, temperance, honesty, prudence, and even humility in its true sense of knowing one’s own worth. But she insists that all of these virtues are simply part of man’s battle for survival: his struggle to fulfill his own natural purpose, independent of anyone else.

I think she misunderstood religion, and especially Catholicism. There’s a great Fulton Sheen Quote: “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” Rand must have been one of those who misunderstood Religion.

Some of what she hates is a straw man. She claims that religion tells us to love our neighbor more than ourselves, whereas Catholic commentary on Mark 12:31 always emphasizes that in order to love your neighbor as yourself, you must first love and care for yourself.

She also equates religion with an excuse for people to demand what they haven’t earned in the name of charity. Of course, in its true sense, charity has to be a gift freely given: not something ever demanded as a right. (Note that here as in many places, I noticed parallels with the current state of our country where the government demands taxpayer dollars be given to “development” in other countries without our volition.)

For Rand, one of the greatest sins is a man using someone else’s pity as a weapon to manipulate them. Interestingly, in The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis comes down on this particular sin with a vengeance also. Now, a discussion between Rand and Lewis: that would have been worth hearing!

Original Sin is another huge stumbling block for Rand. She sees it as a cop out: a free pass on which to blame all our imperfections. In her view, man is born able to think clearly but begins to doubt his own mind and judgment as he submits his mind to others’ rules. This may be Rand’s view of the ultimate sin: to be untrue to our own idea of what is right.

Sound a little bit like the Catholic idea of never going against your conscience? It does to me. Of course in the Catholic view of conscience, a conscience must be formed correctly in order to be trustworthy.

There may be more common ground than Rand realized in her fundamental ideas and Catholic social teaching and beliefs. But unfortunately, in Atlas Shrugged, her conclusions are vehemently anti-religion, anti-God, and anti-charity.

Rand and Death

In Atlas Shrugged, the term “death” refers to a failure to live. Living, of course, refers to exercising one’s capacity to think and reason for Rand. So “death” in Atlas Shrugged refers to men who refuse to use their capacity to think. She describes such men as “no longer living.”

What exactly Rand thought about death in the sense of the separation of mind and body I wasn’t able to figure out from Atlas Shrugged. I don’t see how her philosophy encompasses this inevitable eventuality, unless perhaps she believed that there was nothing after death. This latter surmise is a probability given her hostility to Christian religion with its emphasis on a heavenly reward.

But Blaise Pascal’s classic wager comes to mind as I consider Rand’s philosophy: is the wager that there is nothing after death worth whatever pleasure we can wring from this world? Or is sticking with religion worth it given the unnerving possibility that it might be true?

Atlas Shrugged and Teens

Should teens read Atlas Shrugged? Philosophy aside, what else would parents want to consider about this book? The language is clean, and there is no graphic violence. However, there’s quite a lot of sexual content. One of the protagonists, Dagny, punctuates the book with her sexual relationships with 3 different men. Promiscuity is completely acceptable in Rand’s philosophy. (I actually found this surprising given the easily observable benefits of stable families to the individuals of the family.) Dagny’s sexual encounters are described quite sensually and take up a lot of pages. There’s also a lot of rhetoric about sex with multiple people not being a betrayal or immoral.

As far as the philosophical aspects of Rand’s Objectivism, I think that it’s too dense for most teens to sift through without guidance. As often happens, there’s enough true premises included that it’s quite difficult to determine where exactly the logical flaws are in Rand’s arguments. To really understand and refute the philosophy, a teen would need a solid grounding in metaphysics, ethics, and more.

Given the overt sexual content and hefty dose of flawed philosophy, I don’t recommend this even for older teens unless the parent is involved and helping unpack this dense and thought-provoking story.

For great books for Catholic kids, check out My Book Lists!

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Review of “Mistborn” Series

mistborn series Brandon Sanderson

The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn: a person born with the ability to burn metals in their stomach to feed super powers. Flying over cities, ripping walls apart, controlling others’ emotions, and turning any metal object into a projectile are all possibilities in Brandon Sanderson’s iconic Mistborn Series. This high-adrenaline series is high on the list of fantasy I often hear recommended to Catholic teens so I’m chiming in with my review this week.

A Very Brief Series Synopsis

In Book 1, Mistborn, you’ll meet Vin, a teenage street Skaa (peasant) with a surprisingly talent: she’s Mistborn. A daring band of rebels led by Kelsier recruit Vin as part of their plan to overthrow the tyrannical Lord Ruler (who has seeming omniscience and omnipotence) and free the Skaa. During the course of the plotting, Vin falls for Elend Venture, a rich noble, who ends up assisting Kelsier’s crew to kill the Lord Ruler. To kill the Lord Ruler, Kelsier voluntarily sacrifices his life to become a hero to inspire the Skaa revolution.

Then in Book 2, The Well of Ascension, Vin, Elend, and the surviving crew struggle to set up a fair government, fight antagonistic nobles, and figure out why the environment is spiraling into chaos around them. Vin eventually releases a great power from the Well of Ascension, thinking she is releasing a power which will save the world. Unfortunately, turns out she unleashed the power of Ruin: one of the two forces on this Dualistic planet.

Finally, in Book 3, The Hero of the Ages, Vin and Elend rush around trying to find a way to defeat Ruin before it destroys the world with earthquakes and volcanic ash. Eventually, they find a way past seemingly insurmountable obstacles to destroy Ruin’s body and mind, allowing Sazed, one of the crew, to balance the power of Ruin with the power of Preservation and remake the world.

A Thrilling Journey

Mistborn is an addictive roller coaster ride of a series. You see plenty of epic battles, duals between powerful Mistborns, truly disturbing villainous monsters, and inspiring heroes. What really makes you like Mistborn is the solid cast of characters who believe in trying to save their world from Ruin no matter what, superhero style. The main characters, Vin and Elend, are actually a likeable, sweet couple who are surprisingly chaste. They even have a subplot of learning to love in a very unselfish and self-giving way. The minor characters are well-developed and memorable also.

Positive Themes

Plenty of good themes to point to in this series. One repeated thread is that fighting a losing battle is preferable to sitting by and letting evil conquer. The protagonists in Mistborn understand that dying is not the worst thing; dying is preferable to disloyalty, cowardice, or shirking responsibility. Others includes that self-sacrifice for a greater good is a noble choice, and trusting your friends and being hurt is preferable to never trusting at all.

Grappling with Tough Topics

Book 2, The Well of Ascension tackles some tough topics. Many fantasy novels center around a plot to topple a corrupt government. In The Well of Ascension, Brandon Sanderson takes this one step further to the aftermath. You’re a group of reckless rebels who vanquished an oppressive ruler against impossible odds: but what now? What kind of government do you form? How do you bring democracy to people who have lived under a tyrant for a millennia?

This book was the most interesting to me because it actually forces the reader to think critically about different forms of government. Elend, always the white knight (or now, king) is a well-educated idealist who thinks he has the theory for an ideal government structure. But how does his ideal government hold up to the reality of a war-torn country? Is it better to back down or seize the power by force? There are no easy answers to these and other political questions in The Well of Ascension.

Content?

There’s almost no language in Mistborn. Alcohol use is common, but not glorified. Sexual content is fairly low, but there are several mentions in Mistborn about nobles taking Skaa women as their mistresses then killing them to avoid diluting the noble bloodlines. Elend admits to being forced by his father to bed a Skaa woman at the age of 13, but is very guilty about this part of his past. In The Well of Acsension, there is mention that some people assume Vin is Elend’s mistress since they are dating, but that she is actually not.

However, the violence score for this series would very high. Vin, Kelsier, and others engage in frequent and bloody hand to hand combat involving details such as heads being ripped off. There’s also a cast of truly disturbing enemies including Inquisitors with bloody spokes for eyes and Kollosses, which are mutated humans with bloody ripping skin. These villains go around violently slaughtering entire villages of Skaa peasants. They also engage in a really unsettling method of stealing power from Mistborn by pounding spikes through their living bodies.

Negatives

One downside of Mistborn is the confusing spirituality and theology of Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere.

First, you have what I consider a somewhat anti-religious agenda. In Book 1, Mistborn, you have a paralleling of a Redeemer figure dying for his people, and appearing subsequently to inspire his followers. But (Spoiler), the appearances are a hoax. Kelsier studies other religions and decides he must die heroically to start a revolution. Before dying, he hires a Kandra, a shape changing being who eats someone then mimics their mannerisms. After Kelesier’s heroic death, this Kandra will eat him and appear to his followers for maximum psychological impact in starting the revolution.

EDITED TO ADD: A “Mistborn” fan has informed me that Kelsier’s character arc continues in other Sanderson books in a way that shows Kelsier is an anti-Christ figure of sorts, so that context makes me less concerned about this agenda in “Mistborn.” I plan to read more of the series to verify this.

Dualism?

Dualism is the belief that the world is the result of two opposing forces such as dark and light, good and evil, or some other pair of conflicting powers. This belief is primarily seen in Eastern religions, though has also appeared as the basis for early Christian heresies such as Manichaeism. Dualism is utterly incompatible with the Christian monotheistic worldview, which labels evil as an absence or privation of goodness (God).

Taken by itself, the Mistborn Trilogy seems to be pushing a dualistic worldview. The plots in the second and third books are primarily focused around the conflict between the two opposing forces of Ruin and Preservation. One of the protagonists, Sazed, spends most of The Hero of the Ages going through a crisis of faith rejecting all religions that have ever existed as illogical and false. He eventually finds peace by deciding the true “religion” is a balancing of the two forces. In fact, (SPOILER) the series concludes with Vin sacrificing her life to destroy the mind of Ruin, then Sazed taking over the task of balancing the forces of Ruin and Preservation to shape a better world.

However, further research into other Sanderson books and his fantasy world, the Cosmere, reveals that the seemingly dualistic theology of the planet in Mistborn is misleading. Sanderson’s Cosmere is not actually dualistic, but neither is it Christian in its theological premises. The powers, or gods, in the Cosmere are 16 “shards” of a single destroyed Creator god.

In the end, there is no God in the Christian sense in Mistborn. Sanderson’s Creator has been shattered into 16 forces, which men have assumed, making them demigods of sorts. Sanderson is still working on the series, so only time will tell how he concludes the theological side of his Cosmere.

Conclusions with a little help from C. S. Lewis

Master fantasy writers George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis believed that the purpose of fantasy was to enter another world, learn truths in that world, then bring them back to your own world to help live a good life. Applying this to Mistborn, what truths might your children bring back through the wardrobe, or perhaps in this case through the mists? Well, all the postives I mentioned above: self sacrifice, loyalty, choosing the good even against seemingly insurmountable odds. But on the other hand, they will also have spent quite a lot of time in a rather confusing theological headspace. It’s definitely a tradeoff, and not one I’d recommend except for older, mature teens.

So if you have older, mature teens who really love fantasy and want to read Mistborn, here’s what I’d recommend doing first: make sure your teens are solidly grounded in Catholic theology. Be sure they have the maturity to not be seduced by the mists into applying any of the false theology of the Sanderson universe to our world.

For other great books for Catholic teens, check out my Book Lists!

Books on Evolution and Intelligent Design for Catholic Teens and Adults

One day your teenager is going to ask the evolution question. “Was Darwin right and if so what does that mean for the Genesis creation account and our faith in a Creator?

If Darwin was correct in his theory that all life on earth can be explained by natural selection and evolution, how can the Genesis account be correct? Once they begin questioning the veracity of the Bible and God’s role as Creator, a teen’s faith can quickly crumble.

But does it have to be a Faith versus Science dichotomy?

There are 3 major lines of thought on the origins of life.

1. Darwin’s Evolutionary Theory is the most accepted in scientific textbooks. It assumes no Creator.

2. “Young Earth Creationism” is a primarily Protestant theory of the origin of life; it assumes the Genesis creation account is true on a mostly literal basis and posits a very young earth to fit with the account.

3. The third theory of the origins of life is Intelligent Design theory, which has been promoted by a minority of scientists ever since Darwin published the “Origin of Species” in 1859. Intelligent Design Theory accepts many of Darwin’s discoveries and theories, but still claims the need for a Creative Force: the Intelligent Designer.

My approach to the Evolution Question as a teen was to tackle it head on by reading everything I could find on the topic! I read a variety of books pro-Darwin, anti-Darwin, pro-Young Earth, anti-Young Earth, and pro-Intelligent Design. The key point to remember is that these are all scientific theories, which means none of them are proven. Whatever your opinion on the question of life origins and evolution, it’s worth looking at all the theories.

Though I include books that explain each theory, there is a predominance of pro-Intelligent Design books on this list since I personally find that synthesis of faith and science most convincing.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I earn a small fee for qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.

Pro Darwinian Evolution

Why read The Origin of Species? To get a fair idea of what Darwin actually claimed and what his evidence was.

Official Catholic Teaching

Humani Generis is Pope Pius XII’s teaching on the question of Evolution. He makes several important distinctions about what the Catholic Faith requires us to believe as regards the origins of human life. Key points include: that Catholics must believe the soul to be immediately created by God and that there is room for discussion about the creation of the human body. But Pius XII firmly states that Catholics must reject polygenism.

Pro Intelligent Design

Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box is one of the simplest and most elegant challenges to Darwinian Evolution I have read. He draws on emerging research in Biochemistry to show the fulfillment of some of Darwin’s own reservations about his evolutionary theory. After explaining the irreducible complexity of the cell, Behe argues for the existence of a Designer.

Pro Intelligent Design

Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell is an in-depth look at the sheer information contained in each DNA molecules, and what that means in terms of evolution and life origins. This book specifically focuses on the first origins of life.

Pro Intelligent Design

Darwin’s Doubt is a continuation of Meyer’s Signature in the Cell. Broader in its scope than the previous volume, Darwin’s Doubt looks at the Cambrian explosion, Darwin’s reservations about his own theory, and how most evolutionary theories presuppose an existence source of complex information.

Pro Intelligent Design

The latest in the Intelligent Design/Darwinism debate, Debating Darwin’s Doubt, is Stephen Meyer and other Intelligent Design scientists’ response to some of the criticism he received for Darwin’s Doubt.

Pro Intelligent Design

For the philosophically minded, From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again is a convincing argument for Intelligent Design based on final causality and formal causality. Gilson’s teleological argument is pure philosophy: no appeals to religious authority or revelation.

Synthesis of Catholic Teaching

Polish priest Michael Chaberek’s recent book is a well-done synthesis of 2000 years of Catholic teaching on Creation and the various Catholic commentaries on evolutionary t heory in the last 200 years. Chaberek is notable for his honesty in explaining that though he is a proponent of Intelligent Design, there is nothing inherently contrary to Catholic belief in the concept of macro-evolution.

In Six Days by [John Ashton]

Pro Young Earth Creationism

In Six Days is a synthesis of many pro-Creationism scientists reasons for their beliefs. Geologists, paleontologists, and more explain their reasons for believing in a younger earth.

The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by [Gould, Stephen Jay]

Pro Darwnian Evolution

The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen Jay Gould is one of the more convincing modernized Darwinian theories that attempts to “fix” some of the more glaring errors in Darwin’s original work while keeping the key tenets of Macro-evolution. His theory of punctuated equilibrium is fascinating. He posits long periods of stability punctuated by sudden bursts of evolutionary change. Why these sudden bursts of change?

Pro Intelligent Design

The Privileged Planet is a fascinating look at the uniqueness of planet earth. This book offers a physics and cosmology based challenge to the notion that our place in the universe is random.

Looking for more great lists for Catholic teens? Check out some of my other book lists!

Looking for more great books for Catholic Adults? Check out my lists for parents!

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Review of “The Tree of Healing” and “The River of Life”

These two lovely books from Catholic author Diana Gonzalez Tabbaa are a breath of peace in a stormy world. With a simple and gentle voice, Tabbaa takes on the difficult question of children facing the problem of suffering. (Have you noticed I love books about the question of suffering?) The Tree of Healing and The River of Life are the perfect books to help tweens and teens grapple with the problem of pain.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I earn a small fee for qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.

The River of Life

Twelve year old Anthony lives on a beautiful estate with his loving and holy parents. But when his father dies suddenly, Anthony’s faith and trust in God are shaken. He sinks deeply into grief and loneliness. But soon, he rediscovers God’s love and goodness through the healing power of nature, hard work, and a little help from a mysterious young man named Raphael.

“God has been using all creation to draw me to Him.”

The River of Life

The Tree of Healing

Thirteen year old Rose, Anthony’s daughter, can’t remember her deceased father. Her mother is broken by the loss of her spouse and emotionally distant with Rose. This is a moving story of a lonely young teen who finds love in the right place: God’s arms. As in The River of Life, Tabbaa weaves in themes about Creation, mysticism, and heavenly help.

Beautiful and Moving Books

I can’t say how much these beautiful stories moved me. The lovely art and poetry round out the stories and provides a spark to encourage contemplative prayer. The mystical undertones are unusual to find in fiction- a wonderful surprise. I imagine The Tree of Healing and The River of Life will help draw many young people closer to Christ through contemplation of suffering and Divine Providence.

“It is within Your Heart, open at the cross, that I may pour myself out with You and share in Your Life, the Life of God.”

The tree of healing

I received a copy of “The Tree of Healing” and “The River of Life” from the author in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

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Review of “A Hidden Miracle”

a hidden miracle book cover

This recently published young adult fantasy novel gets full marks for creativity! Imagine surfing, guardian angels, fairies, cancer patients, and miracles all in one story. That’s far out, as the surfers say. A Hidden Miracle by Gerilyn Herold is a thought-provoking coming of age fairy tale about a teenage fairy with a big heart and some difficulty following rules.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I earn a small fee for qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.

The Plot

Gabriella, a 14 year old fairy, is tasked with delivering a miracle to a famous surfer who is dying of cancer. Big problem though: the evil Scabulen fairies convince the surfer to reject the miracle. Gabriella is determined to redeliver the miracle- even if that means breaking a few rules along the way. She makes a lot of mistakes along the way, but in the end helps redeliver the miracle and save her human.

Things to Like

A Hidden Miracle imagines a universe where tiny fairies help the guardian angels by delivering gifts of grace, healing, and hope to humans. I loved this new take on fairies. The visualizations of grace as colorful gifts multiplying the divine light in humans are quite beautiful and provoke the imagination in the best way. The visualization of demon fairies as ticks was completely spot on and compelling also.

This book is clearly Catholic in its worldview with Guardian Angels, the Eucharist, and priests all playing roles in bringing grace to human hearts. As in C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, A Hidden Miracle makes the battle between good and evil with its spiritual and corporal fighters real and believable to our jaded human minds. That’s a powerful worldview we need today!

This book is clean with no language, no sexual content, and minimal violence. There is one sad memory of the troubled surfer’s boyhood verbal abuse at the hands of his father. Also, there is a mention that the 14 year old protagonist is attracted to her older teen friend. However, the two teenagers seem to understand the need to wait to pursue any sort of relationship until they are older.

Parental Guidance Needed

As much as I loved this fairy tale’s take on spiritual warfare, there were a few parts which I think could be confusing to young readers. This is a story about a fairy who breaks the rules, but with good intentions. The question is: do good intentions trump rules? Well, what kind of rules are they? Who made them? Are they rules about morality or arbitrary safety rules? Are they from God? Or made by the opinion of the majority? When does conscience trump rules?

These are all good thought provoking questions, and I think it’s great to encourage kids to think about them and learn about law and rules. But in A Hidden Miracle, these questions are raised and then not clearly answered. Parents should be aware that this book will have their teens asking questions about different types of rules, whether intention matters, whether conscience overrides rules, how a correctly formed conscience plays in, and so on.

One good message in A Hidden Miracle is that when you’re confused about what is right, the solution is to seek counsel from a parent or respected adult. So be ready to have a discussion!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of A “Hidden Miracle” from the author in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

a hidden miracle cover

If you are looking for more great books for Catholic teens, check out my book lists!

love heart flowers spring

Review of “The Plans God Has for You”

The Plans God Has for You

The Plans God Has for You: Hopeful Lessons for Young Women is a fantastic new book from Amy Smith and Emmaeus Road Publishing. Our modern world is fast-paced, stress inducing, and confusing for teens. Teenage girls desperately need to hear Amy’s message about hope, trust, and being a Christian in a fallen world.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I earn a small fee for qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.

Jeremiah 29:11

The heart of Amy’s message is found in Jeremiah 29:11, a perfect verse for teenage girls to memorize.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope.

Jeremiah 29:11

The Plans God Has for You dives deep into this verse, applying it to friendship, the sacraments, family, dating, and more. Amy urges girls to internalize this message of hope and love from God to us. She explains how this verse can carry girls through suffering, how it helps us approach our friendships and relationships, and how it calls us to shine Christ’s light in the world.

What Makes This Book Special

Amy speaks directly to teen girls with a voice they will easily connect with. She keeps her points short, sweet, and poignant. In The Plans God Has for You, teens will find references and quotes from their favorite Christian bands, classic movies, and popular modern saints. Of course, my favorite part was Amy’s generous quoting of classic books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, L.M. Montgomery, and Jane Austen. The best chapter, in my opinion, is the one where Amy delves into Austen’s themes about happiness, marriage, and true love. There’s deep wisdom in these classic novels that can teach modern day teens that true love waits, is patient, is hopeful.

Perfect for Teen Girls

I would happily gift this book to teenage girls I know. It’s inspiring, it’s easy to read, and it’s clean! The only mention of sex is a paragraph that affirms the value of chastity and the goodness of sex, when used as God intended between husband and wife. Parents will appreciate Amy’s effort to focus teens on enjoying friendships, family, personal growth, and their relationship with God. Although I think the target audience is teens, there is a lot of wisdom for college aged women too. And I enjoyed it as a mom! The Plans God Has for You is a breath of fresh air!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of “The Plans God Has For You” from Emmaeus Road Publishing in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

The Plans God Has for You

For more great books for Catholic teens, check out my lists!

Review of “The Princess Diaries”

Princess Diaries review book cover

This book starts out with an epigraph from A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which is a true classic about acting like a princess inside even in the worst of circumstances. Unfortunately, The Princess Diaries does not live up to the epigraph or remotely inspire princess-like behavior in its young audience. I really dislike it when books marketed for tweens and young teens are full of sexual content, so prepare for a rant!

The premise

This diary is clearly intended to appeal to the 12-14 year old crowd. It’s the secret musings of Mia, a 14 year old high school freshman with tough hair and a phlegmatic personality. Used to hanging out with the school misfits, Mia becomes unexpectedly popular when she finds out she’s actually a European princess. Positives in this book? There are some basic positive themes about good friendships and anti-bullying and Mia is a reasonably likeable heroine.

But really, who wants their 12 year old reading about sex stuff?

This book is chock full of a completely unnecessary amount of content focused on sex. For example, right off the bat Mia speculates about her mother’s new boyfriend: “he’s not so cool if he’s sticking his tongue in your mom’s mouth.” Mia goes on to wish that the cool boy in school would put his tongue in her mouth though. Throughout the book, Mia spends a lot of time thinking about whether her mom is sleeping with her new boyfriend, and at one point does discover him in her apartment in boxers.

Another highlight is a long conversation between Mia, her best friend Lilly, and Lilly’s 18 year old brother. They talk about condoms and spermicidal fluid, losing their virginity, and who they’d choose to have sex with if they were the last person alive.

Other highlights include joking about her best friend’s brother sexually harassing her, and also Mia brushing off a creepy blind guy who gropes her as unimportant. Mia also laughs at herself for not knowing what “frenching” was when she was 11, like her cousin did. At one point, Mia’s grandmother the Princess Dowager calls her a hooker. At another point Mia describes a woman who inspired her; the inspiring part seems to be that the woman has plastic surgery lips made from her vagina.

What’s the big deal with lying again?

Like other modern “children’s” books, The Princess Diaries sadly normalizes lying and deception as a part of life. Mia frequently lies to her parents. At first, she tells herself in her diary to “stop lying.” But then she seems to “grow” in her view on lying and her self-coaching becomes: “tell the truth except when doing so would hurt someone’s feelings.” And later, “stop lying, and/or think of better lies.”

Political Bent

Another issue of note is Mia’s rather anti-religion, “open-minded” worldview. She admires Madonna because she “revolutionized” fashion by dancing in front of burning crosses and “wasn’t afraid to make the Pope mad.” Mia is proud that she refuses to go to church because she “refused to pray to a god who would allow rain forests to be destroyed in order to make grazing room for cows who would later become Quarter Pounders.”

Mia is also anti-gun, and pro-propaganda. She tells her readers that a stalker is allowed to buy a machine gun “in this country thanks to our totally unrestrictive gun laws.” Fact check: you can’t just buy a machine gun in America. That’s been illegal since 1986.

Mia’s a proud child of divorce. She lives primarily with her doting Bohemian mother and spends summers with her filthy rich royal father. Her parents are friendly to each other, but Mia confides that “things would majorly suck, I think, if they lived together.” She’s “perfectly happy” with her divorced parents.

Turning over in her grave

I doubt that Frances Hodgson Burnett and her heroine Sara are grateful for the tributary epigraph, which really doesn’t fit this teen novel. Unlike Sara, who strives to be a princess, Mia spends most of the book either complaining and acting out because she’s a princess or obsessing about boys and sex. I found little to redeem this book. It really reads like an intentional attempt to indoctrinate young girls into a certain political and sexual mindset.

There are so many better princess books out there! Shannon Hale’s fantastic Princess Academy series is a great example of a modern princess book which focuses on female friendships, sacrifices, and coming of age.

For other worthwhile Princess books, check out this list!

For better romances for teens, check out this list!

Review of “The Sword and the Serpent” Trilogy

Would you become a Christian if it meant certain persecution?

Cover "Sword and Serpent" review

The Sword and Serpent Trilogy is an exciting series which weaves together legends of many early Christian saints and martyrs into a fascinating narrative. Dr. Taylor Marshall, a Catholic Theologian and Philosopher, draws on what we know of the lives of iconic saints such as St. George, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Nicholas, and St. Christopher. Get to know these fourth century saints in a personal and inspiring way through these notable new novels.

“Saints aren’t born. They are forged.”

In his creative retellings, Dr. Marshall seeks to convey the humanity of great saints to the reader. By showing the journey of growth and conversion which saints like St. George and St. Christopher might have taken, Dr. Marshall makes these saints accessible and relatable to readers in a new way.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I earn a small fee for qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.

In the first book, Sword and Serpent, Jurian (St. George) loses his home and family because of Christian persecution. Jurian’s coming of age and maturity parallels his journey in faith as he moves past anger and revenge to follow God’s gentle guidance. Along the way Jurian encounters and is helped by courageous saints like St. Nicholas, St. Blaise, and St. Christopher. The dragon Jurian meets is not quite quite the dragon you might be expecting. And he slays the dragon, but not by himself.

In the second book, The Tenth Region of the Night, female saints get more page space. St. Catherine of Alexandria, Aikaterina, jumps off the page with her prodigious intellect and insatiable thirst for truth which leads her to the One Truth eventually. Intermingled with Aikaterina’s story, Jurian’s journey continues as he works to free St. Christopher from his persecutors.

In the third book, Storm of Fire and Blood, Jurian travels into exile in the wilds of Britain, bearing the sword Excalibur back to its homeland. Meanwhile, Aikaterina rules Alexandria for her ailing father and debates with Emperors. All the Christians prepare themselves for the coming storm of Diocletian persecution.

Some Fine Storytelling

Quite independent of the religious merit, the Sword and Serpent trilogy is worth reading as a well-crafted story. The attention to historical detail is meticulous. The balance of humanizing the saints without diminishing their holiness is superbly executed. There’s a fascinating subplot about the sword Excalibur and Arthurian legends. There’s another intriguing storyline about the influence early Christian saints may have had on a young Constantine. A bit of myth, a bit of legend, a bit of historical fact combine to make a captivating and inspiring series.

Wisdom from the Past

The Sword and Serpent books superbly portray the first centuries of the Church when to be Christian was to accept persecution and eventual martyrdom. The courage and faith of these early saints during the Diocletian persecution offers an inspiration and a challenge to us all. In our post-Christian world, our children need books like these to remind them of where we came from and what heroic virtue we as Christians are capable of achieving.

Enjoyable For Teens and Adults

The Sword and Serpent series is completely clean and appropriate for teens. There is no foul language. Alcohol use is somewhat frequent, in keeping with the historical time period when beer or watered wine was commonly drank by all people with meals. No glorification of drunkenness though.

Given the backdrop of Christian persecution in the fourth century, there is some level of moderate violence. For example, some Christians are burned to death; others are fed to wild beasts. However, there are no gratuitously graphic descriptions of these acts of violence.

I wholeheartedly recommend this fine series for all teenagers and also for adults! The Sword and Serpent series is a perfect impetus to renew our sense of faith and hope and rediscover the power of the Gospel message.

Looking for more great books for Catholic teens? Check out my book lists!

Review of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

Cover image The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a Science Fiction cult classic. Intended for adults, this clever book, full of sometimes off-color British humor, is now often featured on reading lists for kids as young as 10 and 12. Is it appropriate for young Catholic middle schoolers? I submit that it is not for several reasons.

Sexual humor

As is not unusual in British humor, there is a fair amount of innuendo in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. For example, there are similes such as: “He had an odd feeling of being like a man in the act of adultery who is surprised when the woman’s husband wanders into the room, changes his trousers, passes a few idle remarks about the weather and leaves again.” There are also references to sex, whores, and nudity. For example: “Eccentrica Gallumbits, the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon 6.” Or “five hundred entirely naked women dropped out of the sky on parachutes.”

Drinking

There’s a fair amount of drinking, often portrayed humorously. Ford, an alien stranded on earth, drinks excessively to pass the time. He also encourages Arthur, a human, to get drunk as a suitable preparation for death.

Poking fun at Religion

Another favorite “humorous” topic in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is religion. One of the major plot lines is that the Earth was created by Slartibartfast, a custom planet designer, by order of a group of hyperintelligent pandimensional beings who appear on earth as mice. These “mice” build super computers who are more intelligent than they are to answer questions such as “what is the meaning of life.” The answer to that question, according to the computer, is 42.

In the Name of Humor

Both the sexual innuendo and the religious jabs are obviously supposed to be funny. Sensibilities vary greatly about whether this sort of humor is actually funny or, in fact, offensive. Obviously this is a prudential judgment on each parents’ part about whether they are comfortable with their children reading this material. I most often see this book recommended for tweens and teenagers. Please remember that it was not intended for children and be forewarned about the religious jabs and sexual innuendo.

Looking for better books? Check out my book lists!

Review of “Dune”

Dune book review

Dune is often called a Science Fiction masterpiece. Now, in 2020, it’s coming out as a movie that will probably be a major hit. After the release of the movie, I’m guessing the Dune books will enjoy a new wave of popularity, so I recently read them with a view to determining their level of appropriateness for teen readers. In order to make this review a manageable length, I will concentrate on the issues I found in the first book.

Premise

Dune‘s setting is a futuristic interplanetary society where noble houses, a corrupt emperor, a power-hungry pilot’s Guild, and big-business CHOAM vie for power and wealth. There’s also the Bene Gesserit, a warrior-nun group which pursues its own agenda striving for racial purity and power. Wealth in the world of Dune is measured in terms of Melange, also called Spice, a drug which has whole universe under its thrall.

The plot centers around Paul Atreides, a teenager coming of age in one of the noble houses. Paul’s family takes charge of Arrakis, the planet which produces all the Spice. Paul is a unique combination of visionary, genius, and leader. With the aid of his Bene Gesserit mother Lady Jessica, he becomes the leader of the Fremen, a nomadic warrior tribe who control the Spice fields. At the head of the Fremen, Paul takes control of the Empire.

There’s no denying that the scope and richness of the Dune series is captivating. The insights about greed for power and wealth and its results are commendable. I even appreciated the first book simply as a literary work. But as a parent, I found several concerning aspects with this book on multiple levels.

Concerns

Drug Use: the entire planetary system in the world of Dune is addicted to Spice, their drug of choice. Many are well aware of this fact, but choose addiction because they want the heightened senses and visions the Spice brings. There is a heavy emphasis on the powers and enhancements the drug provides. A recipe for encouraging teens to try drugs, anyone?

Sexual content: Lady Jessica is a concubine. There is a scene where another Bene Gesserit “sister” is sent by her husband to sleep with a teenage boy whose DNA they want for their breeding program. Paul takes a concubine from among the Fremen and has a son with her. None of this is particularly graphic; it is more stated than described.

Anti-Catholic content: The Bene Gesserit are basically nuns. Well, except they’re obsessed with preserving the best genes, so frequently become concubines, commit adultery, and so on. They use terms like “Reverend Mother” for their leaders. They send “Missionaries” to other planets to sew seeds of “storylines” in case one of the sisterhood is ever in need. The concept of an “awaited Messiah” is one of these intentionally created legends.

Both the depiction of Bene Gesserit and use of Messiah motif are troublesome. In the world of Dune, the coming of a Messiah is basically a big hoax carefully planned for millennia. “Religion” is an intentional manipulative force used by the Bene Geserit to further their own secret goals of racial purity.

Conclusions

I really dislike it when authors take Catholic terms and intentionally try to pervert the mental connotations, seeding doubt and reversion in the reader’s mind when they hear terms like “Reverend Mother,” “Messiah,” or “Missionary.” In Dune, this agenda extended to the entire concept of religion. For me, that largely ruined the Dune books so I wouldn’t recommend them for teens.

But, if you have an older teen who loves science fiction and really wants to read them, I recommend encouraging an analytical approach. For example, ask your teen to intentionally try to spot all the examples of twisting Religion and Christian terms in a negative way. Or ask them to form an opinion on whether author Herbert was intentionally normalizing drug use and free love. A mature teen can gain a lot of benefit can by this kind of intentional analysis.

Looking for better books for your teens? Check out my book lists, especially my lists for high schoolers!