Saint John Don Bosco:

"Never read books you aren't sure about . . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?"

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Leap of Faith by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This book is the one I had hoped The Red Blazer Girls would turn out to be: a book set in a Catholic school that treats the Faith seriously and respectfully. The book never delves into moral teaching or theology in any depth, but when it does present the Catholic faith, it tends to be accurate.

Abby is forced to attend Saint Catherine’s school after being expelled from public school. She is the only child of working parents who have no time for her. She first enters into the RCIA classes at school mostly to gain attention from her mom and dad. Events lead her sponsor to confront Abby’s dad with the blunt (and accurate) accusation of harboring anti-Catholic prejudices. This sponsor also boldly pointed out that such a prejudice is one of the last socially acceptable ones in America. After which, Abby confronted her father’s close-mindedness towards Catholics. How refreshing. This truth rarely makes it into print nowadays.

In the end, Abby finds something real and attractive in the Church and the liturgy. Sometimes, she even experiences glimpses of peace. The book ends with her decision to enter the Church even though her faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior is still difficult for her to embrace.

I didn’t expect this book to be an inspirational read of deep and faithful Catholicism, and it didn’t veer from my expectations. It is an engaging story and presents perspectives of how many people approach the Catholic faith: some with skepticism, some with deep-seated prejudice, and, in the case of the main character, with a mind open enough to find a smidgen of faith: enough to get her started on the journey. We’re left with hope that, with Christ, she may persevere to the end.

Content-wise: there is a mention of the priestly scandal (no details, a general statement is made that priests “did worse things to children” than what happened to Abby in her old school…I explain below how she experienced sexual harrassment).

Her friend, Chris, lives with his divorced mom who is Abby's sponsor for RCIA. The book presents a breezy, natural picture of Chris bouncing back and forth contentedly between his parents. Some children may handle divorce well, but I think this could subtly add credence to the current cultural standard of acting as though divorce-is-common-and-that's-OK. It was confusing to me that the book referenced Chris’s father living with older children. It doesn’t say it’s from a previous marriage, but that could be the case the way it is presented. Chris’s mother is not re-married, and there is not enough information to figure out much about his father. There is no message about the serious nature of divorce, and no presentation of Catholic teaching on marriage. There is nothing specifically contradictory to Catholic teaching, but I would not present this without discussion and not to young tweens.

What also makes the book definitely older-tween-to-young adult fare, is that Abby leaves her old school due to sexual harrassment by a boy there. She tried to tell adults what this boy was doing, but he was the son of the principal, and she was not believed. She got a knife to scare him off on advice of her cousin. When he threatened to pull her pants down in public, she stabbed him in the arm. The other detail given regarding the harrassment was that he whispered dirty words into girls’ ears.

It was impressive that Abby, in a conversation with Father Micah, took full responsibility for her actions and even spoke of other choices that she might have made instead of bringing a knife to school.

This honest presentation of modern Catholic school life is both realistic and contemporary. Your older tween/young adult will finally get a book that leaves the snarkiness and condescension for religion checked at the door. (If not in Hell where it belongs.)

See: Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The unity and indissolubility of marriage: 1644; 1648;
Separation; Remarriage without annulment: 1649; 1650; 1651
Annulment: 1628; 1629

Safety Rating: 1 Vatican Flag


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