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2.0 out of 5 starsI wouldn't recommend this book -- there are SO MANY much better ones out there
Reviewed in the United States on November 13, 2016
This is a weak and troubling story -- why waste time on it when there is so much better literature out there? As Henry David Thoreau said, "Read the best books first, or you may not get the chance to read them at all." I will make a few suggestions at the end of my review.
As to this story: Pete has distant, un-involved parents, and therein lies the crux of the problem. Pete's parents apparently once got burned by religion (something they will not discuss with him) so they won't attend church with Pete or discuss his ideas about religion (a HUGE parenting mistake). As a result, Pete gets drawn far too obsessively into the idea that nothing matters in life but religion. He is clearly a lonely person in need of real human relationship, and as a parent pre-reading this book for my teen sons, it was painful to read how disconnected Pete was from his parents.
Then a charlatan revival Preacher Man comes to town: Pete immediately gets sucked in by the Preacher Man's charisma, and since Pete's adoration feeds the Preacher Man's ego, the Preacher Man ENCOURAGES Pete to run away from home and leave town with him! Omg! Any adult reading this book is going to immediately believe the Preacher Man is a pedophile, and, again, it is painful to read as Pete makes his preparations to run away. (I was literally groaning to myself as I read.) Pete's religious values are not very deep if he doesn't see any conflict with lying to his parents and leaving home without getting their permission or even telling them!
The most decent thing Preacher Man does is to not show up at the rendezvous point and take Pete with him as promised -- which, of course, devastates Pete. Pete feels the Preacher man betrayed him (this novel is marketed as a story about betrayal) and never seems to realize that he got a lucky break when the Preacher Man stood him up! Indeed, the only possible indication that God is ever really present in this story is the fact that the Preacher Man had a change of heart and didn't actually take Pete with him.
With respect to that idea, the author lost a wonderful teaching moment by not even suggesting that possibly the REAL God/Jesus -- who otherwise appears to be completely absent from the story -- might, in fact, have been in control of the situation all along, waiting quietly to step forward and save the day. Pete is left wondering if "God had a real purpose in allowing the Preacher Man to hurt me so much," but never considers that maybe he should be thanking God that God stepped in to ensure he didn't actually run away or leave with Preacher Man. Just saying.
As I mentioned above, instead of recommending that anyone read this weak and somewhat troubling book by Rylant (about 'religion' but not containing any real treatment of human/moral/religious values) why not recommend one of the following?
Lois Lenski, Strawberry Girl (you want a book which is ACTUALLY about human/moral/religious values? This story absolutely illustrates the religious value of 'turning the other cheek' and 'repaying evil with kindness')
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden (another story filled to the brim with actual human/moral/religious values) John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men (the human/moral/religious value of how we treat the mentally disabled) John Steinbeck, The Pearl (the human/moral/religious value of how a poor man lives with dignity in a corrupt world) Walt Morey, Gentle Ben (the human/moral/religious value of how humans treat animals) Christopher Paul Curtis, The Watsons Go to Birmingham (the human/moral/religious value of ending racial violence) Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner Trilogy (The Breadwinner, Parvana's Journey, Mud City) (the human/moral/religious value of ending war and caring about the fate of refugees and cultures that differ radically from our own)
And of course there are many, many others.
P.S. I wouldn't recommend Cynthia Rylant's Newbery Award winner 'Missing May' either. It is also a weak and troubling story -- how in the world it won the Newbery, I will never know. How THIS book (A Fine White Dust) was named as a Newbery Honor winner I will also never know. Neither novel deserves the honors they have been given.
P.S. P.S. The only thing I have read by Cynthia Rylant which is well done and worth recommending is the short story "Checkouts" about teens who are attracted to one another, but each is scared to make a move, 'plays it cool' and hides his/her interest, such that they never meet, the moment passes, and the opportunity is missed. THAT is a story which happens regularly in real life, is worth reading, and has a real and important teachable message to impart: don't play games with other people, or pretend you do not care when you actually do, because you are playing with fire and might well end up missing out on a beautiful friendship or relationship. "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," "Carpe Diem -- Seize the Day," "you never know when the opportunity you passed up is going to be the last one which ever comes your way," etc. etc. All of these snippets of wisdom are true, true, true, and a teen SHOULD read a story which makes that point.
3.0 out of 5 starsSELF SACRIFICE FOR PERSONAL GROWTH
Reviewed in the United States on June 9, 1999
Thirteen-year-old Pete relates the dramatic summer events which helped him come of age. Seems like all his life he has been fascinated with the Church--just waiting to be Saved. But why are his parents just superficial Christians? How can he justify being best friends with a cocky atheist? And why can't he bring himself to throw out the dusty shards of a ceramic cross which he hid in his bureau drawer, in frustrated grief? Ah, that was the Summer of the Revival, of confessions, revelations, and hope for salvation. Pete's parents were only vaguely aware of his private turmoil. One thing was for certain: that traveling Preacher Man had one Hell of an influence on this naive youth--who just wanted to serve the Lord. It sure would be hard to sacrifice home and friends to follow in His steps. Was Pete really ready to take to the road as a fisher of men? What about family loyalty? It becomes a Tug of War over responsibilities. This book is a short, intense read concerning teenage obsessions, adult foibles and the gradual dawning of gratitude for supportive parents and faithful friends. Pete grows to appreciate the simple joys in life, like the view and memories from his own bedroom window. How and where can he best serve Jesus? This introspective story does not drip with piety; rather, it relates the quest for the truth and trust. The book accumulates literary tension as Pete is waiting to sacrifice his sheltered life in order to start a new one. A fine undercurrent of suspense keeps readers hooked. Atheists--fear not, for there is no attempt to convert. It's not religion that the author examines, but human response, dreams and failings. As the back cover asks: "How much do you have to give up to find yourserlf?"
5.0 out of 5 starsI loved it, but not everybody will
Reviewed in the United States on August 10, 2001
As an adult reader, I think this book is remarkable. I found it to be totally gripping and extremely intense. I couldn't put it down. However, I don't know if young readers would enjoy this book very much. The thing that made this book so remarkable to me was the emotional impact that it left on me. I think that this is because as an adult I can look at my own life experiences and relate to the deep and troubling issues that the character in this book battles with. If I had read this book when I was middle-school age, or perhaps even in high school, I dont' think I would have gotten nearly as much out of it. It wouldn't have left such a strong emotional impact because I wouldn't have had the insight and understanding that I now have as an adult. I am not saying that young readers should not read this book. I think that there is much to explore in this book, and highly recommend it. I'm sure that there are many younger readers who would enjoy this book and who would be able to gain a lot from it. However, I can also see how many readers, especially (but not exclusively) younger readers, would not enjoy this book very much. This is the kind of book that causes you to search your own soul. The author doesn't give you the meaning behind it all but leaves you to make your own meaning out of it. Some people will find a lot of meaning for themselves, and some will find very little. Basically, if you are just looking for a story that has an exciting plot and lots of action or suspense, then this is probably not the book for you, because if you just look at the story on the surface then you probably won't get much out of it. But if you are looking for some truly thought-provoking literature that explores issues of the human spirit, then I would highly recommend this.