Literature Mature Teens

Brave New World

Author(s): 
Aldous Huxley
Copyright: 
1932
Publisher: 
Various Publishers
Number of pages: 
180 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Free love, birth control, test tube baby factories, cloning, mutants, and sex, sex, sex. There are good reasons to have your mature students read this book, but you must do YOUR homework and read it first.

Huxley, writing during the giddy early days of the eugenics movement, has written a remarkable novel. His story portrays that movement's ideas taken to their logical consequences. There is a complete disconnect between sex and procreation. Sex is STRICTLY for pleasure (not even for unity). Babies are 'decanted' in factories by impressive scientific processes.

His story speaks on many levels. His brilliance is in deducing the way in which men could rationalize what unfolds before the reader as a revolting world pretty much at peace with its incredibly selfish self.

Huxley has developed what could be our future. He has taken more than a little thought to account for the sustainability of this world. As in our own world, there are occupations which require more and less intellectual acuity. By decanting babies of different intellectual ability AND training them differently everyone should be happy in their station. Some embryos are given all the benefits during development and become "alphas". Some are given less than perfect treatment and become "betas"... And some, by selective poisoning and light deprevation etc. become epsilons (semi-morons, but therefore happy in their lowly functions in society).

Everyone enjoys sex, so everyone is conditioned from day one to be 'free-lovers'. And since babies are decanted no one has to carry or care for offspring (the words "mother" and "father" have become foul language!).

This is clearly the natural consequences of a society which wants to divorce sex from procreation. Thirty years after Huxley wrote the book mainstream society was just picking up on the theme. This selfishness steamrolled into abortion. In Huxley's world this is no longer necessary (usually). But for those who are not sterilized at birth (some fresh eggs are needed to keep the factories going) contraceptives (and strong conditioning to use them faithfully) are provided.

This brave new world has even done away with money. In fact, there is a much more direct transaction on payday - as the workers leave their place of employment on Friday they are given their payment/ration of soma - the perfect drug with no hangover or anything!!! Huxley nails it again. Such a selfish society needs an escape - it is drugs. Did he see the 60's coming or what? And is he right about where we are headed?

But not everyone is happy. There is an "odd" fellow in the book. He just doesn't feel satisfied even with every thing one could lust for (an alpha of course). Huxley's world even has a place for him. He gets exiled with all the other misfits to Greenland.

There is more and more and more in this book. It doesn't preach about the evils of contraception, of free-love, of drugs etc. It simply displays them and their consequences without remorse. In doing so, even in the best of circumstances, their evils are laid bare. And in this way the book is both thought-provoking and good for discussions. But there is more. Huxley has wrapped many layers into this book. The story is sickeningly believable on it's surface. But he has put in symbolism and allusions to many more things that I cannot even begin to tell here. See this article from Envoy Magazine for examples. Or consider how peace is obtained by making men LESS than full men.

One more note. To return to the admonition that you read this book before your child; there is a lot of sex in this book. That can be difficult for any teenager. However, when the student is prepared to look seriously and critically at the messages in the book this should not be a problem. Huxley does not aim to arouse but to inform.

Click Here for Study Questions

Additional notes: 

While some might suggest that this book belongs on our "Red Flag List", we think it should suffice to warn parents that this book is for mature readers and to highly recommend, if not insist, that parents read this book before giving it to their children (in order to determine whether their children are ready to handle the content and be prepared for some heavy-duty discussions of sexual ethics.) Our Study Questions will also give parents an idea of the scope and content of what this book delves into.

Review Date: 
9-10-2001
Reviewed by: 

Dawn of All

Book cover: 'Dawn of All'
Author(s): 
Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson
Copyright: 
1911
Publisher: 
Lepanto Press
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
282 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

This book, together with its counterpart Lord of the World, is an early venture into the "speculative" genre of fiction. Written in 1911, it could be considered early science fiction with its descriptions of future technology, but it is really much more a religious and philosophical exploration of the effects of belief systems on society.

Msgr. Benson wrote the book, he comments in a preface, as a response to readers of Lord of the World who felt he painted too bleak a picture of a future where Christianity was marginalized and all but extinguished by the forces of Modernism. This book takes the opposite premise as a starting point - that the truth of Catholic claims have been almost universally recognized except by a few stubborn Socialists.

A dying priest of the turn of the century, who has lost his faith to the modern conceptual framework of science and psychology, slips into a coma and find himself, with no memory of his past, in a future world which seems strange and unsettling to his Modernist sensibilities. The science and psychology communities studying miracles under the authority of religion at Lourdes? An Ireland which has become basically a country-wide contemplative order? Learned men telling him pityingly that it is only the half-educated mind which can compartmentalize faith and reason rather than realizing they are both tools for the search for Truth? The USA government a monarchy, with Massachusetts a haven for a last remnant of earnest, earthbound Socialism?

The searching, intellectual, slightly distanced tone of these observations suits the character of the protagonist-priest. With his intellect, he sees the force of the Catholic claims; but his heart continues to resist. A crisis comes when he witnesses the trial and execution of a pure-minded but self-confessed heretic priest under the secular authority. How can this be right? Can this ascendant Church, whose supremacy is acknowledged world-wide, be truly the Church of its suffering servant Founder? In a world where societies punish heresy as a crime, and "freethinkers" are sent to exile, how can church leaders claim to be allied with He who is meek and humble of heart? The church has shown herself to have the Truth, but does she have a heart?

Monsignor Benson uses this projected future society to explore some of the criticisms of our past, historical Church and offer some perspective on the paradox of a Holy Church whose earthly work is carried out by weak, fallen man. I don't think it is any coincidence that the dying priest has lost his faith while co-writing a book about the popes. When a ferocious German socialist party, willing to annihilate the world rather than concede defeat, threatens Europe and kills Catholic envoys, it is a pope who show how meekness and courage can be reconciled with authority in one person, the person of Christ's Vicar.

Reading this book, the Catholic reader must examine his assumptions and think about profound topics. Though the reading and interest level is suitable for a ninth grader, I think the novel should be read under supervision, with some care to explain to the student the genre and intentions of the book. I think it would be more profitably read along with the companion novel Lord of the World and possibly as a starting point to a study of various ideologies and how they affect the day to day details of society.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
3-19-02
Reviewed by: 

Fahrenheit 451

Book cover: 'Fahrenheit 451'
Author(s): 
Ray Bradbury
Copyright: 
1953
Publisher: 
Ballantine Books
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
179 pages
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Fahrenheit 451 is on the reading list of almost every high school in America, and with good reason. It is thought provoking and hip. There are reasons to love this book and reasons to worry about it. It is Bradbury's reaction against censorship and the blossoming of television. Some of the things he writes about have come true in our time, which makes his story all the more intriguing.

First the story: it is in the future, but not too far off, with global war looming. The protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman. Books have been banned and anytime a cache of them is found, the firemen are dispatched to burn them. As the story develops the reader finds out why books are illegal. Evidently in the past, some special interest groups wanted certain things out of books so they wouldn't offend people. As more and more of these things were censored out of books, they became insipid. Television became an alternative to books and the focal point of the lives of most people. The ideas in real books are seen as dangerous, as possibly making people think or feel, so they must be destroyed.

Guy is seemingly content until he meets a young girl whose family reads books and actually speaks to each other. This attracts him and the reader finds out he has a stash of books in his house that he has taken from various burns. He is also very moved by a woman who dies in a fire intended to burn her books. He starts to desire books more and more and finally, after he scandalously reads poetry to his wife and her friends, he is doomed and his house is burned. He tries to escape the law and gets helps from an old professor. He finally makes it out of the city and finds a whole community of "books," people who have memorized books, including the Bible, so that when the great war comes and people need books and their beauty again, they will be available. Just as he meets these book people, the bombs begin to drop.

In the edition that I read, Bradbury writes a 25-years-later "coda" about the public's reaction to his story. For example, he has had feminists tell him that he should have more strong female roles in his stories. They do not see that they are doing just what he describes as causing the demise of books in this story. He finds it ironic that special interest group publishers without his permission have censored his book. What they were trying to cleanse was his language. There is some swearing in the book, but it does not detract from the genius of the story. Guy Montag longs more and more for what people had in books, for the beauty of words and ideas, and ultimately, for the chance to be human again.

This story would be good for a high school junior or senior who is ready for serious discussion on the themes of censorship and the movement of society toward technology. With more and more youth turning to visual technology, and especially interactive visual technology as Bradbury describes, this story is a great testament to keeping literature and the ideas of the ages present in our home schools.

Review Date: 
5-6-04
Reviewed by: 

Helena

Author(s): 
Evelyn Waugh
Copyright: 
1950
Publisher: 
Loyola Press
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
230 pages
Setting: 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

I usually make it a point not to read an introduction to a book; I never want to be prejudiced by someone else’s take on a story. But since this would be the fourth time I would read Helena by Evelyn Waugh, I decided to read the introduction by George Weigel in Loyola Press’ reprint of this classic. And I am so glad I did.

I had always marveled that Waugh said he considered this to be the favorite of his novels when it was never as critically acclaimed as some of his others, and was, until this reprint, pretty much on the edge of obscurity. Weigel explores Waugh’s rationale, revealing some of what Waugh was thinking when he created the character of Helena.

What the reader must know is that this is not a work of accurate historical fiction, but a statement of Waugh’s idea of personal sanctity. Addressing the objection that Helena isn’t portrayed as a “saint,” Weigel reports that Waugh said:

I liked Helena’s sanctity because it is in contrast to all that moderns think of as sanctity. She wasn’t thrown to the lions, she wasn’t a contemplative, she didn’t look like an El Greco. She just discovered what it was God had chosen for her to do and did it. And she snubbed Aldous Huxley with his perennial fog, by going straight to the essential physical historical fact of the redemption.

I think appreciating this thought is the key to appreciating the whole novel, and what makes it a great Catholic story. It is historical fiction that is not meant to show the historical time period (though it does do that admirably), so much as to show one woman’s pilgrimage toward sanctity.

Waugh makes Helena the daughter King Coel (of “Ole King Cole” fame) and puts Constantius in Britain before he was historically there. She leaves her beloved home to marry Constantius and follow him into the political intrigues of the struggling empire. She is finally put aside so that Constantius may make a political marriage, and in those years of solitude she doesn’t simper and feel sorry for herself; she becomes a strong, successful woman who ultimately finds the Christian faith—a truth among the strange philosophies of the time. Once Constantine is Emperor and she is restored to the pages of history, she sets out to find the True Cross. No one knows how she finally found it, but Waugh has her meet in a dream the “Wandering Jew,” one who is doomed to walk the earth because he didn’t help Jesus on the road to Calvary.

One interesting thing is that Waugh does not portray Constantine in a good light at all. Although, Constantine did convert on his deathbed, Waugh has his character plan it that way; I suppose to make some sense of his not converting sooner. He seems a kind of contrasting archetype to the sincere seeking soul of Helena. Constantine says:

You start again, quite new, quite innocent, like a newborn child. But next minute you can fall into sin again and be dammed to all eternity. That’s good doctrine, isn’t it? Well, then what does the wise man do—the man in a position like mine where it’s impossible not to commit a few sins every now and then? He waits. He puts it off until the very last moment. He lets the sins pile up blacker and heavier. It doesn’t matter. They’ll be washed away in baptism, the whole lot of them and all he has to do is to stay innocent, just for a very short time, just to hold the devil at bay for a week or two, perhaps a few hours only.

Waugh’s writing is impeccably timed. The ache of Helena’s loneliness, even when she is with Constantius, is palpable. There is one place where Helena is trying to stop from laughing at something, and I found myself laughing out loud for her. Although this book is recommended on many high school reading lists, there is one scene in the first chapter that a parent might preread to determine its appropriateness for his/her children. At a banquet, Helena is daydreaming about being a horse, and it comes to a very sensual conclusion, in my opinion. It is important to the story, though, because as she comes out of her reverie, Constantius is staring at her and she knows that she belongs with him.

In addition to Weigel’s introduction, another great feature of this Loyola Press edition is a set of discussion questions provided at the back of the book. They are very thought provoking—not simple comprehension questions, but those that will provide opportunity for serious discussion.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Additional notes: 

Part of Loyola Classics Series

Review Date: 
11-4-2007
Reviewed by: 

In This House of Brede

Author(s): 
Rumer Godden
Copyright: 
1969
Publisher: 
Loyola Press
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
648 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

“This extraordinarily sensitive and insightful portrait of religious life centers on Philippa Talbot, a highly successful professional woman who leaves her life among the London elite to join a cloistered Benedictine community. In this gripping narrative of the crises surrounding the ancient Brede Abbey, Rumer Godden penetrates to the mysterious, inner heart of a religious community – a place of complexity and conflict, as well as joy and love. It is a place where Philippa, to her own surprise and her friends’ astonishment, finds her life by losing it.” – from the back cover

The Loyola edition includes an introduction by Phyllis Tickle and a few study questions. I found the introduction helpful and interesting; among other points, she said that Godden had lived "at the gate" of a Benedictine Abbey for three years while working on the novel, and converted to Roman Catholicism in 1968 (shortly before it was published). The study questions are rather meager for a volume of this size, but they could make a starting point for discussion.

Although on one level, In This House of Brede is simply an interesting novel, on another level it offers profound truths about the journey of a soul along its vocational path. Rumer Godden succeeds in giving the reader tremendous insight into the communal religious life through the various situations and conflicts involving the nuns at the fictitious Brede Abbey. Among other things, we learn about the process of formation: the postulancy and the novitiate, the real everyday life of the nuns, and the depth of the spiritual life of a contemplative community and how this impacts the world around it. The nuns are extremely well-characterized and very believable both in their human frailties and in their ability to serve as a channel of God’s grace.

Besides the enormous size of the book, it contains several themes that are not suitable for young readers, hence my recommendation that it be reserved for adults and mature teens. Among these themes are:

(1) the tragic story of the death of Philippa’s son – I found this a very difficult read myself

(2) a former employee (Penny) who has an abortion

(3) references to Philippa’s love life (prior to her conversion)

Other themes that may concern some readers include the financial crisis that the Abbess gets her community into and the discussions among the nuns regarding the election of Pope John XXIII and the second Vatican Council.

One quibble I have is with the wording when Philippa is counseling Penny to choose life for her baby. After Penny says that she wondered if she could “stop it” but her doctor wouldn’t do anything, Philippa responds, “Of course he wouldn’t. Doctors don’t like doing it even when there are strong reasons.” (p 404) Given that she makes several statements along the lines of “Babies … are people from the very beginning,” I don’t think she is implying that abortion is OK sometimes, i.e. for “strong reasons.” But it still bothers me.

Overall, I found this to be an excellent novel and I love the way that Godden portrays the action of Divine Providence in the lives of her characters.

Review Date: 
8-21-06
Reviewed by: 

Kristin Lavransdatter

Kristin Lavransdatter
Author(s): 
Sigrid Undset
Translator(s): 
Tiina Nunnally
Copyright: 
2005
Publisher: 
Penguin
Number of pages: 
1 184 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

I am delighted to see a popular edition by Penguin Classics of one of the world's greatest woman writers settling itself to be in print for any foreseeable future. This review refers to the 2005 paperback edition of the combined trilogy of Sigrid Undset’s master work Kristin Lavransdatter, translated by Tiina Nunnally.

The Penguin Classics page does a great job at introducing the novel to the public:

In her great historical epic Kristin Lavransdatter, set in fourteenth-century Norway, Nobel laureate Sigrid Undset tells the life story of one passionate and headstrong woman. Painting a richly detailed backdrop, Undset immerses readers in the day-to-day life, social conventions, and political and religious undercurrents of the period. Now in one volume, Tiina Nunnally’s award-winning definitive translation brings this remarkable work to life with clarity and lyrical beauty.

As a young girl, Kristin is deeply devoted to her father, a kind and courageous man. But when as a student in a convent school she meets the charming and impetuous Erlend Nikulaussøn, she defies her parents in pursuit of her own desires. Her saga continues through her marriage to Erlend, their tumultuous life together raising seven sons as Erlend seeks to strengthen his political influence, and finally their estrangement as the world around them tumbles into uncertainty.

With its captivating heroine and emotional potency, Kristin Lavransdatter is the masterwork of Norway’s most beloved author—one of the twentieth century’s most prodigious and engaged literary minds—and, in Nunnally’s exquisite translation, a story that continues to enthrall.

Seldom do we find such contrasting examples in quality of work as found in the two translations available of Undset’s master work. When we lived near Princeton, NJ, I was challenged to read the trilogy for a Catholic Woman’s Literary group at Aquinas House. My husband offered to buy it for me in Princeton on his way home, and in a good bookstore he found the then-brand-new translation by Tiina Nunnally.

I had the opportunity to compare the old Archer translation of the 1930s, which has been continually in print since the 1920s, to this new one. For someone who studied translation in graduate school, this was exhilarating. While the new award winning translation by Nunnally flows in fresh, contemporary style, yet reflective of the historical period, the old one had forced medieval English-isms and felt dry and rusty. In further comparing I noticed that indeed Archer has left entire pages out of the volume—and most especially pages of deep Catholic content. (For readers who have read the second volume, one of the passages left out include the spiritual musings by the heroine upon her arrival at the shrine of St. Olaf during her penitential pilgrimage.)

Indeed, the Penguin Classics web page comments:

This new translation by Tina Nunnally—the first English version since Charles Archer's translation in the 1920s—captures Undset's strengths as a stylist. Nunnally, an award-winning translator, retains the natural dialog and lyrical flow of the original Norwegian, with its echoes of Old Norse legends, while deftly avoiding the stilted language and false archaisms of Archer's translation. In addition, she restores key passages left out of that edition.

Sigrid Undset converted to the Catholic Church while doing the research for this great historical novel. Daughter of a noted Norwegian archeologist, and fascinated by her father’s field of study, Undset looked to the past as the setting of her greatest novel. In the process of digging Norway’s medieval world she found Catholic Christianity and wholly embraced it. I believe this process of finding one's true meaning in life is behind the superb quality of the story. Some argue that her four volume novel The Master of Hestviken is a more Catholic book because the Christian thought is already present from page one. Maybe so. But alas, no other work by Undset work has the crisp freshness of Kristin Lavransdatter. Undset seems to transfer into her most memorable protagonist the exhilaration of her newfound faith, which caused no small token on her own personal life. As Kristin in the novel, Undset’s own decisions in life, now in the light of her newfound faith, caused many personal sacrifices as well providing the realities redemption and purpose. Again from the Penguin Classics page:

In Kristin Lavransdatter (1920-1922), Sigrid Undset interweaves political, social, and religious history with the daily aspects of family life to create a colorful, richly detailed tapestry of Norway during the fourteenth-century. The trilogy, however, is more than a journey into the past. Undset's own life—her familiarity with Norse sagas and folklore and with a wide range of medieval literature, her experiences as a daughter, wife, and mother, and her deep religious faith—profoundly influenced her writing. Her grasp of the connections between past and present and of human nature itself, combined with the extraordinary quality of her writing, sets her works far above the genre of "historical novels."

Few novels are able to remain so wholly in the readers' memories as Kristin Lavransdatter. Sigrid Undset had a gift that is seldom found. This is a story to be savored a paragraph at a time, and a fascinating window into a world that is so foreign and yet it becomes so close in the imagination. Keeping in mind that this novel is best appreciated after the reader has experienced much of life’s vicissitudes, it is still recommended for the high school students. When our daughter read it at the end of freshman year I told her to take note of her impressions and to compare them with her impressions of when she rereads it—hopefully fifteen to twenty years from now.

High school students could certainly benefit from reading Kristin Lavransdatter as an important sample of great Catholic fiction. The foreign flavor, in both style and cultural geography, is strongest in the first three chapters and can be a stumbling block, but a good reader will use those three initial chapters to fully immerse themselves into Kristin’s world. The story of love, romance, suffering and redemption will live in their memories.

One of the great Catholic element of Kristin Lavransdatter is the lesson of life around which it revolves: because of her initial lack of trust and obedience to her beloved father, Kristin undergoes a lifetime of suffering and pain, finding consolation and redemption only under the shadow of the cross. Few books will teach such a crucial lesson this vividly. Of course, this is a lesson than can be learned at any stage of life, yet lessons are best learned in the formation years of our children.

Kristin Lavransdatter is also the Women's Catholic Literary Club par excellence: a challenging yet deeply satisfying read, it could easily dominate an entire semester of meetings' discussions. If you have never hosted one of these, maybe this is the season to do it. Catholic homeschool mothers, I have noticed, enjoy great pleasure in discussing together their thoughts on great Catholic literature, most especially while enjoying a good Port.

Additional notes: 

The three volumes of this novel were originally published in 1920-22. Nunnally's English translation is copyright 2005.

Also available in this same translation from Penguin Books in three separate volumes.

Review Date: 
5-11-2006
Reviewed by: 

Lord of the World

Book cover: 'Lord of the World'
Author(s): 
Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson
Copyright: 
1907
Publisher: 
Neumann Press
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
322 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Lord of the World, written in the early part of the 20th century, is an intelligent and Catholic fictional extrapolation on the trend towards Modernism described and condemned by Pope Pius X in Pascendi Dominici Gregis and Lamentabili Sane

The setting is a future society where the Catholic Church is no more than an embattled remnant. In the popular and intellectual view, culture has moved past the "need" for faith in the supernatural. Near the beginning of the book, two young priests discuss with their superior how to regain some Catholic foothold in a culture which has been de-sacramentalized; of the two, one goes over to the enemy's side, while the other will be hunted and scorned for his faith. The latter priest, Father Percy, a sort of focal point of the book, has the odd distinction of being physically almost identical to his counterpart, a mysterious international leader who has a more-than-human influence on the people he gathers around him. This anti-Christ figure is personable, not obviously evil, and seems in all ways more powerful than the fugitive priest - but as Christ's representative, Father Percy is ultimately victorious in the task he is called to carry out. Their physical resemblance seems to be a device to underline the contrast.

The contrast is also demonstrated in their respective influences on a married couple and the husband's mother, who are key characters in the book. The mother is drawn back towards the sacraments as she drifts closer to death while the attractive couple move from kind "tolerance" to active antagonism for the church and all it represents.

Modern humanitarian secularism eases into savage barbarism and the light of truth seems to flicker and die, but though the events are dark, the ending demonstrates that the battle has been won on a supernatural level even while lost by worldly standards.

I would probably save this book for an older high-schooler who is mature enough to distinguish between tenets of the faith and imaginative extrapolation. It might be quite interesting to read this book alongside some secular works in the same genre - Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, or even some of the works of H.G. Wells. Another book written from a Catholic perspective, a science fiction post-apocalyptic classic from the 1950's, is Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz. One more book which deals with the effect of modernism on society is C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, the last of his Space Trilogy. I could see these books being read as an introduction to modern worldviews in perhaps 11th or 12th grade.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
3-19-02
Reviewed by: 

The Edge of Sadness

Author(s): 
Edwin O’Connor
ISBN: 
0
Copyright: 
1962
Publisher: 
Loyola Press
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
640 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

At first glance, Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor is a walk down memory lane. A memory of the American Catholic church before Vatican II, before the priest scandals. A lovely, nostalgic read.

But the thing that makes this book worthy of the Pulitzer Prize it won in 1962 is the fact that O’Connor’s story is truly ageless. The characters are drawn from humanity, painted with the author’s word-brush so lovingly and carefully that by the end of the book you know each of these folks intimately. And, you like them, in spite of their less-than-virtuous actions.

The story centers around a native Bostonian priest, Father Hugh Kennedy, a recovering alcoholic who guides us through the joys and troubles of his life in late 1950s Irish Catholic Boston. Seeing all through the eyes of this humble pastor, the reader is introduced to a wealth of characters: self-made first-generation Irish folks, political hopefuls, fellow priests and “outsiders” such as his Polish curate and a non-Irish, non-Bostonian bishop. The prejudices unveiled are humanely drawn; there's something redeeming in every character, something that Father Hugh finds regardless of their overt actions. Through the book winds a thread of Father Hugh’s own self-examination, a thread that is tested and strengthened by every encounter; encounters which lead Father Hugh just to the brink of despair, to the edge of sadness. But, grace pulls him back from the brink each time.

This book, although a hefty 600-plus pages, grips the reader from the first page. It reads quickly and elegantly as the humor and pathos of Catholic American life transcends the era and location in which the story is set. This book is a great read because it shows how American Catholicism was and how it can still be; how the Church is run by humans (who sometimes make mistakes) trying to minister to humans (who sometimes make mistakes) – all with God’s grace and beneficence helping us through.

Loyola Classics has added ten provocative questions to the end of the book for the edification of the reader or to facilitate discussion within a book club. These would make for a wonderful “study guide” if used with a teen reading club or individual book study.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Review Date: 
11-19-2005
Reviewed by: 

To Kill a Mockingbird

Book cover: 'To Kill a Mockingbird'
Author(s): 
Harper Lee
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

This modern classic, set in the segregated South of the 1930s, is the story of two young children who learn about life and the great character of their father, Atticus Finch, as he struggles with a difficult case in which he must defend a black man wrongfully accused of raping a white woman.

The story is told through the eyes of the younger child, a nine year old girl. This charming perspective, related in an authentic Southern dialect, makes for a surprisingly innocent way of tackling some rather tough topics. Catholic parents of today, who are forced to explain difficult topics such as abortion to their young children, will likely sympathize with this father and be impressed with how well he handles the situation.

Atticus, an aging lawyer and widowed father of two, is a man who spends his free time reading. His children find him somewhat boring and wish he could be more like their classmates' fathers who are young and athletic. As the story develops, the children begin to learn why their father is respected by those neighbors and friends whose opinions really count.

The story culminates in a court battle in which Atticus is assigned to defend an innocent black man in a hopelessly biased rape case. He is reluctant to take the case because he knows he has no chance of winning and is concerned about the emotional persecution his children will suffer in a community where racial tensions run high. Nevertheless, he knows he must do the right thing and proceeds with the case. The case itself and the man involved turn out tragically and the family goes through many difficult and even frightening things, but the book proves to be a great classic because of the great character development, the moral considerations the story addresses and the growth of the children as they suffer through the case with their father. It should provide a wealth of literary, historical and moral themes for teens or adults.

I'd like to address two issues that may concern parents regarding the content of this book. First, some parents have asked me whether, in a day where sexual sin runs rampant, such books as this should simply be avoided. I would answer that I certainly think books which glorify fornication or cause the imagination to dwell on sensuality during the sensitive teen years should be avoided. In contrast however, this book, particularly with appropriate guidance, should help teens to develop the moral context without which human sexuality so often lowers itself to mere pleasure and animal instinct. I believe this book does so without danger to the imagination. The rape was fabricated, the discussions concerning it are not at all graphic, and an implication that the young woman was actually a victim of incest is so subtle that it may very well be missed. The Christian answer to teaching children to avoid sin is not to ignore sensitive topics entirely, but to prayerfully and prudently teach children right from wrong and the consequences of sin in a manner suitable to their maturity.

Second, some may be concerned that the book makes some criticisms of Christians. It should be understood that the book does not villify Christians (most of the characters on both sides of the issue seem to consider themselves Christians), but highlights the hypocrisy of those who commit evil while calling themselves Christian. Clearly, the position taken by Atticus is solidly Christian. Also, understanding the hypocrisy presented in the book should be very helpful in developing a solid Christian conscience in preparation for a difficult and complex world.

While the book could be studied as early as eighth grade, it would probably be understood more deeply a few years later, in mid-to-upper high school.

Click here to view our study questions for this book.

Review Date: 
12-1-01
Reviewed by: 

That Hideous Strength

Book cover: 'That Hideous Strength'
Author(s): 
Clive Staples Lewis
Copyright: 
1946
Publisher: 
Macmillan Pulblishing Co. Inc.
Series: 
C.S. Lewis "Space Trilogy"
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
382 pages
Subject(s): 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Despite the fact that That Hideous Strength is the third book in the Space Trilogy none of it takes place in space. In fact it takes place in one of the most cozy, domestic settings you can think of. It is set in the small towns and College lounges of early 20th century England. The good guys live at St. Anne's - which is just a large home - and is named (here we go again with Lewis) after the Grandmother of our Lord. What could be more comforting?

This is NOT a comforting book. The intrigue and activity is startling. And 'Hideous' was a word well chosen.The National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments is abbreviated N.I.C.E. - but it is not. It is at once exciting, unfathomable and scary.

But to the story. We are back at College now. Our main character is Mark Studdock. A professor of course! He is just being brought into the 'in' crowd. This crowd is so much more progressive. And it is a key, he is sure, to some real recognition and power that he feels he deserves. That his wife, Jane, and he get estranged is not a big concern to him - he will have time to fix that later, when he is a big man. He is getting more and more 'in' as the book goes on. But N.I.C.E. has an air about it that makes the reader nervous (Lewis is a really good writer!!). There is something big going on at N.I.C.E. Mark is being promoted to the highest ranks. But they still won't tell him what is going on. And it all seems like chaos from within. And yet it is something he perversely wants more of. You are caught by a sense of it and then realize how good Lewis has made this allegory for sin and the subsequent seductive flirtation with evil that can spiral into the folly of Babel.

Meanwhile his wife has taken up residence with people at St. Anne's whom she slowly learns to trust. Jane is a very modern sort of girl. But she learns about other mindsets and sees the follies of her own while at St. Anne's.

"I thought love meant equality," she said, "and free companionship."

"...Yes we must be guarded by equal rights from one another's greed, because we are fallen. Just as we must all wear clothes for the same reason," said the director."Equality is not the deepest thing."
...

"But surely in marriage..."

"Worse and worse," said the director, "Courtship knows nothing of it..."

That is SO TRUE!!! Five words is all it took! Lewis is introducing his characters to new ideas again. We get to listen in. By seeing both sides converse and contrast you can't help but stop and think for yourself from time to time.

And there is the Pendragon. And there is Merlin. And then there is Mr. Bultitude, the pig. Sorry, can't tell you more. You have to read it!

This book explores good and evil in a very modern setting. Despite the fact that the setting at first looks quaint and ridiculous (set in the 1940s or some such for goodness sake! - they didn't even have stem cells!) it becomes clear that the underlying ideas about science are very current and the quaint and ridiculous is how most of today's theories will look in a few short years.

This book is also rich and deep. And while the first reading will be occasion for more than enough discussion further readings are well warranted. Just look at the worn and used cover of mine!

This book probably should not be read before the second half of high school.

Click here for our study questions on this book.

Perspective: 
Judeo-Christian
Review Date: 
3-17-2001
Reviewed by: