This year, author Ellen Wittlinger wrote a novel :: This Means War!:: that wrestles with the reality of war waged on an international scale as well as on a relational one.
First glance gave the impression of a cute story addressing a “war” between a group of four boys and four girls, each trying to prove their superiority to the other, but after a few chapters are tucked under your belt it is clear that there are several types of war being addressed…each of them as deadly as the next. There was the potential war between Russia and the United States when Khrushchev threatened to unleash nuclear bombs on America; there was the war being waged in the kitchen and living room and every other room of the house between Don and Ethel, Juliet’s parents; the war of boys vs. girls; and the war of grief and fear threatening to overtake Juliet’s heart. While crisis is averted in most of the situations presented I ended the story with heaviness. Throughout the story Juliet sends up short prayers to God, pleading with him to protect them from war, to convince Lowell to be her friend again and to keep her parents alive for a really long time. At the end she sends up a final prayer thanking him for stopping the war, among other things (I don’t want to ruin the entire story for you in case you read it), and then concludes: “Anyway, I might talk to you again sometime or I might not…I know now that I’ll fight to live as long as I can, no matter how bad things get. Whether you’re out there helping me or not (206-207).” While this could be perceived as a good thing because, hey! she conquered her fears and shows signs of growing up, it still made me sad. Granted, I am extremely biased about faith in God and I realize I will view this through different lenses than someone who believes in something else, but it made me sad that after everything got wrapped up nicely she put God on a shelf much like kids put toys in a box after they have grown out of them. Is God something/someone we grow out of? I will admit that having faith sometimes feels like believing in a fairy tale but I want to believe that God is bigger than our selfishness, our complaints, our pleas for saving at any age and that our knowledge of Him and subsequent need of Him grows right along with our age.
I don’t know if this book will be in the running for Newbery ’11. Despite my bias about the God piece I thought it was well-written and constructed and dealt with big issues in a language and setting that kids could understand and relate to.
What are you reading these days?