Monthly Archives: May 2022

Bravely, by Maggie Stiefvater

Merida is a teenaged princess, contentedly living in the ramshackle castle DunBroch with her blustery father, passive mother, annoying triplet brothers, and dramatic adopted sister. In the kitchen late one Christmas Eve, she hears a knock at the door and opens it in time to see Feradach, the god of ruin, taking off his gloves. She chases him, barefoot in the snow, to the holy well, where they are joined by Cailleach, the ancient goddess of creation and growth. Desperate to save her family, she makes a deal with them, agreeing that if her entire family is not changed in a year’s time, Feradach will place his lethal hand on her home. Everyone will die and everything she knows will be destroyed.

Propelled by this rash bargain and the threats of a bullying warlord, Merida sets off to visit three countries in a year, accompanied by various members of her family. If she is looking for change, she certainly finds it, although not in the ways she expected, and often in ways she strongly resists. Merida discovers that we are often unaware of other people’s interior lives—even those we love most— and that it is when we try to change others into our image of them that Feradach’s ruin begins to approach.

Maggie Stiefvater

This is a rollicking adventure tale that flows right from the Disney movie, Brave. Disney approached the celebrated teen writer, Maggie Stiefvater, asking her to write a novel that would show Merida’s life ten or so years after the end of the movie. Once she confirmed that she would have the freedom to go in any direction, she picked up her pen— or, laptop. Disney fans will not be disappointed. Stiefvater is one of my favorite YA writers, and I have reviewed her brilliant Raven Cycle books here and here, and her South American-flavored All the Crooked Saints here.

I listened to an audiobook of this title, read by the inimitable Fiona Hardingham, whom I have lauded before as the reader of My Plain Jane and others in that series. I didn’t even realize at the time that she also narrated Once Upon a Wardrobe, the story of C.S. Lewis’s childhood. She pronounces the Gaelic names perfectly, which is helpful, since I could never have figured out Cailleach otherwise. She narrates in a British accent, then slides seamlessly into a Scottish brogue for the many different character’s voices.

Maggie Stiefvater has crafted an exciting and meaningful tale, staying true to the original characters, which will please fans of Brave, while adding depth and understanding that is appropriate for a maturing Merida. Oh, and there might be a bit of a slow-burn romance in there, too.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I listened to a library audiobook. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Rise Up! Poems of Protest, Poems of Praise, by Andrew Wilbert Fitz and Mari Fitz-Wynn

Call and response: a powerful form of protest. Andrew Wilbert Fitz was the child of a couple born into slavery, the middle of eleven children. He lived through two world wars, went to college, patented new inventions, and wrote poetry. His granddaughter, Mari Fitz-Wynn, has curated a collection of his poems and added her own, responding to his call across a century, sharing his sorrow at our human sins and reflecting his strong Christian faith with her own.

Mari has arranged this collection so that her grandfather speaks first with his poems, then Mari presents a poem of her own, sometimes on the same theme. Using various verse forms, the poems are often meditations on scriptural passages, and Mari, in particular, has structured several of her poems as liturgies that could be used in communal settings. Praise for the beauty of creation is woven throughout, from the exultation of “Creation and I” to the joyful skipping verse in “Nature’s Symphony.” There are poems of encouragement, motivating the reader to use their God-given gifts and to generate ideas that will further the Kingdom on earth. One of the most powerful selections is “Dead Soldier,” which Andrew addressed to the young men in their graves, saying, in part:

“… tell of the heartless heads of government,

the kings, the princes, and the presidents,

who sent you forth to die for an empty cause

despising God and all His sacred laws.”

Throughout this collection are poems of lament, an outpouring of sorrow rarely heard in white churches today, although the Hebrew scriptures are filled with lament, particularly in the Psalms. Throughout the millennia, believers have cried out to God in private grief, but also in communal prayer that God would acknowledge injustice and send healing and comfort. Andrew’s parents spent their early years in bondage, and later he went on to serve in World War I and live through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights struggles of the mid-twentieth century. He saw that the government enforced these evil laws and that the white church rationalized the terror from the pulpit. He asks, “How long shall prejudice be mixed with prayer?” Mari, lamenting that our world still labors in sin, responds with her “Hands Up—A Litany,” asking for freedom from fear and concluding with praise.

I had the pleasure of working with Mari Fitz-Wynn at our library, as well as with her two grown children, Kiefer and Rooney, who wrote an afterword to this book. They are all kind and quiet souls, and her kids have gone on to pursue brilliant careers. After her husband passed away fifteen years ago, Mari began speaking at home education conferences and other venues and participating in creative entrepreneurial projects. In addition to this volume of poetry, which contains a foreword written by the Poet Laureate of North Carolina, Mari has published two books and many articles.

This inspiring collection may be purchased on Amazon or from Faith Journey Publishing, a company dedicated to giving a voice to mature Christian women of color.

Disclaimer: I own a copy of this book, given to me by the author. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. I do not receive remuneration from the purchase of this book.

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Star Child, by Ibi Zoboi

Octavia Butler’s parents were married for sixteen years before she was born, and her father died less than four years later. Born in 1947, after her father returned from fighting in World War II, she was a true Baby Boomer, and she was brought up by her mother and grandmother. Her mother was Octavia Margaret, but she named her baby girl Octavia Estelle: Star Child.

Octavia Estelle grew up in Pasadena, so she never experienced segregation, but that did not mean that her school years were happy. Since she was tall, Octavia was placed in third grade when she should have been in kindergarten, and since she was later diagnosed with dyslexia, learning to read was a struggle. She was a slow and dreamy child, the kind with an imaginary world inside her, and even as a young child, she carried around a pink notebook in which she wrote horse stories at first, and then later, science fiction. Although her mother was a very religious woman, Octavia was not, but we can see the biblical influence in many of her themes and in the very names of her books: The Parable of the Sower, The Parable of the Talents.

Ibi Zoboi, the author of this biography, is herself an accomplished writer. Her first novel, American Street, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Zoboi studied Butler’s novels in college, and later had the privilege of meeting her on a couple of occasions before Butler died in 2006. They share a June 22nd birthday. In this volume, Zoboi uses concrete poems, haikus, and other verse structures as well as prose narration to tell the story of this remarkable woman whose works she admired. She was encouraged that they both started writing at a young age, though she was in awe of the fact that Butler had had the courage to submit her stories to publishers when she was about thirteen years old. Zoboi shares photos of the two of them together, and as her schoolteachers said, Octavia is very tall!

Octavia Butler is credited with the creation of the genre called Afrofuturism, a Black subgenre within science fiction. Readers can see photos of the long and focused affirmations she wrote for herself in her own handwriting on lined notebook paper. She was absolutely determined to be a success, and, despite her natural shyness and her shame at being the daughter of a domestic servant, she let nothing stand in the way of publishing her stories, improving her craft each day. She went on to publish the bestselling Kindred and many novels that won the Nebula Award, Hugo Award, and Locus Award, among others, proving that this woman who grew up under Jim Crow, the Cold War, and McCarthyism could break through the stereotypes of her time and look to the future with hope and resolution.

Star Child is a slender volume written on a middle-grade level and is perfect for so many children: those who like to read science fiction, those who are late bloomers, those who scribble in their own tattered notebooks, and every child who needs a role model for breaking the tight bonds of outdated, narrow expectations.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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