Archive for the ‘Reading & Review’ Category

The Hunger Games

Well, I read it. Then I went to see the movie with my husband, who actually stayed awake through the whole thing, and then pronounced it “interesting.” (This is a man who dozed off in the middle of Avatar in 3D.) It was interesting. And disturbing.

The Hunger Games was originally published in 2008. The movie has now launched it into the cultural stratosphere.

Briefly, the setting is somewhere in the future. The United States is now Panem, a surreal Capitol surrounded by 12 struggling districts. Once a year, each district must send a boy and a girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, to The Hunger Games. The Games take place at the Capitol inside an immense theater (think The Truman Show). Recreated as a rugged wilderness, the “Tributes” fight to the death until only one survives. The arena is filled with hidden cameras, and everyone in the Capitol and the Districts can watch – and even place bets on the winner.

Pretty clever stuff, right? I can’t quibble with the creative skill. And I can’t help but like the main character, 16 year old Katniss Everdeen. Author Suzanne Collins creates a tough, resourceful, and self-sacrificing young woman. When her sister’s name is drawn as their district’s female Tribute, Katniss offers herself instead. Commendable, considering the horrific task ahead.

Yes, there’s plenty of weird, bizarre stuff, and it’s an interesting plotline. But, and this is where I part company with the Love This Book! Such a Great Movie! fans, I had to deliberately keep reminding myself that the underlying theme of book and movie is kids killing kids.

They are under the control of abominable adults, you say. Okay, I get that.

But consider this scene where Katniss is thinking about the “list of kills”:

The boy from District 1 was the first person I knew would die because of my actions. Numerous animals have lost their lives at my hands, but only one human. I hear Gale [a friend back home] saying, How different can it be, really? Amazingly similar in the execution. Entirely different in the aftermath. I killed a boy whose name I don’t even know. But then I think of Rue’s [a 12 year old tribute killed by this boy] body and I’m able to banish the boy from my mind. At least, for now.’

This is obviously not Lord of the Flies. There is very little thoughtful reflection or emotion in the terrible ritual of slaughter. I think this is what bothers me most. Collins has written the book at high school level and could have created characters who think seriously about what they are actually doing and what it actually means.

Instead, we get this exchange between Katniss and her partner, Peeta:

 ‘My best hope is to not disgrace myself and . . .’ He hesitates.

‘And what?’ I say.

‘I don’t know how to say it exactly. Only . . . I want to die as myself. Does that make any sense?’ he asks. ‘I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not.’

I bite my lip feeling inferior. While I’ve been ruminating on the availability of trees, Peeta has been struggling with how to maintain his identity. His purity of self.

Purity of self? Here is an opportunity to talk about the value of life, the sanctity and preciousness of it, for everyone, including all the kids pitted against each other. Instead we get “I just wanna be me.”

 The flyleaf breathlessly describes this as a “searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present.” Really? Where in your present or mine are teenagers fighting to the death in a manmade arena at the behest of adults?

However, it does provide a great opportunity for parents to discuss the big themes in the book, and those important things that might be missing. For those of you who have read the book or seen the movie, I’d love to have you post your responses here. Do you  have questions you think would make for good discussion with teens? I invite you to post them, also.



When the Itsy Bitsy Spider Isn’t

She wants to sing her new song. My soon-to-be-2 granddaughter stands in our living room and twists her toddler fingers into climby-spider shapes.

So I’m happy to find a colorful board book about the critter in our local KMart. I glance through it quickly, like the creative illustrations, and bring it home.  As it happens, Natalia is spending the night with us. I show her the book, anticipating a happy smile.

A slight frown. A wary look. “Do you want me to read it to you?” I ask before bedtime. “No.”

Later, she awakens out of a sound sleep sobbing,”No itsy bitsy spider!”

As you can imagine, the book quickly disappears from her library, consigned to a spot high on top of the bookshelf. I decide, in a fit of pique, to write a snarky post about spiders in general, and this one in particular. It does seem like an odd thing to tell a child. “This spider, sweetheart, is certifiably insane. He keeps doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.” Plus, I was pathologically afraid of spiders as a child. I’m not exactly wild about them as an adult, but I don’t have the same reaction as a friend who called in hysterics one evening from atop her dining room table after a mouse ran across the room.

My research on arachnids begins with our trusty 1994 World Book Encyclopedia. Spiders. Oh my. The illustrations are detailed (“graphic” comes to mind), including closeups of spider faces! There are 30,000 known kinds, very few can actually harm people, and spiders are “helpful to people because they eat harmful insects.” Well, don’t I feel better.

Fact is, bug spray is way more effective and a lot less ugly.

I set World Book and its creepy pictures aside and pick up Natalia’s reject. The first 2 pages are the lines you and I know: the waterspout, the rain, the sun. But, turn the page, and surprise! We have a reason for Itsy’s efforts: he has spun his web high on the rooftop – for a better view – and is simply trying to get home. He dons goggles in a second attempt. He shields himself with an umbrella, bounces on a trampoline, detours across a clothesline. He’s blown into a tree with beady-eyed, and possibly angry, birds.

Is he discouraged? NO! He’s clever! He’s resourceful! He’s tenacious! He’s the Ginger of Spider World!

The author, Kate Toms, is a Christian writer living in England and has a wonderful line of children’s books. Here is the moral she chooses for this story: Don’t wear a frown – even when the rain comes down! I’m going to add Winston Churchill’s famous line, which appears on a plaque in my office: Never, ever, ever give up!  So, perhaps Natalia and I will have another go at Itsy in the future.

He has, as it turns out, a great deal of determination and a great attitude.

Nothing itsy-bitsy about that.

Getting home is the ultimate goal. Are you determined to live a life that gets you there?

One Thousand Gifts

One Thousand Gifts

Ann Voskamp

2010 Zondervan

Every once in awhile a book comes along that reminds you of things you know but were neglecting. Without question, living a life of continual thankfulness is something most believers aspire to. What we have in One Thousand Gifts is the marvelous story of one woman’s desperate longing to really live, and how God met that longing.

Ann Voskamp is the wife of a Canadian farmer and mother of 6 children. As a child, the tragedy of watching her 4 year old sister die in a tragic accident in their front yard marked her life. Years of spiritual darkness and depression followed. A revelation of eucharisteo, joyful thankfulness, changed her life.

She chronicles her journey with admirable honesty. Voskamp’s style reflects her own admission that she is more poet than writer.  She writes: “God calls me to do thanks. To give thanks away.”

I recommended this book last fall at our church’s annual women’s retreat. Subsequently we decided to practice eucharisteo together for a year via a Facebook group. The response has been remarkable. God’s love and care for us has so many faces, disguises, and reflections.  As our eyes practice seeing, the blessed revelations flow in a daily FB stream.

At the end of the book, the reader will be much more aware of daily, divine offerings of joy – and be inspired to both write them down and give them away. Recommended, indeed.



By Laura Hillenbrand

2010 Random House

In May, 1943, a B-24 went down over the Pacific. Three men from the plane survived and managed to climb into rafts. One of them was Louis Zamperini, a former juvenile delinquent turned aspiring Olympic runner. Louis and the pilot survived and were picked up by a Japanese ship and later handed over to a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The next 2 years took Zamperini to the far frontiers of human suffering.

Hillenbrand, who did such a masterful job with Seabiscuit, applies her same precise attention to detail in this deeply moving book. Although the reader’s attention is focused on Zamperini’s hellish experiences, there is a great deal of information about the war in the Pacific.

A book like this reminds the reader of the true cost of American liberty. These men were our neighbors, our friends, boys who grew up in a paradoxical era – kinder, simpler at home, while horror and mass death surged across Europe and the Far East. They were swept suddenly into war and what many of them endured defies our ability to comprehend.

Hillenbrand has given us a great gift here. Every generation needs to be reminded of the sacrifices made by those who came before. This book does that. Powerfully.

P.S. At this writing, Louis Zamperini was still alive and would have just turned 95.

Kisses from Katie

by Katie Davis with Beth Clark

2011 Howard Books

There are some people who seem born to a distinct calling in life, and who pursue that calling with a tenacious single-mindedness.  Katie Davis is one of those people.

On a missions trip to Uganda as a 16 year old, she fell in love with its people, particularly the children. Within three years she had left her privileged life in Nashville, TN for the red soil and extreme poverty of that east African country. Soon, she had rented a house and adopted 14 young girls.

There is a kind of breathless quality to this book.  The reader is swept along through scenes of grinding poverty, families decimated by AIDS, rampant illness, and always – hunger.  Katie moves through the overwhelming need that surrounds her with a faith that is mature far beyond her years, and marvelous in its simplicity.  “Every morning, as I wake up with some impossible task in front of me, I know that God will meet it with impossible strength and love.”  Excerpts from her diary appear throughout the book.  She appeals constantly to God’s Word and personalizes the experiences of men and women in the Bible.  “I see the God who used Moses, a murderer , to part the Red Sea; a God who let Peter, who would deny Him, walk on water.  A God who looks at me, in all my fallen weakness and says, “You can do the impossible.”

Highly recommended. Like me, you will probably be spending some serious time in prayer asking God to spend you a little more for His kingdom.

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