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Notable Books | Four books about strange worlds reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "How Mark Souder fell," June 19, 2010

Girl in Translation

A moving novel about the immigrant experience, told from the perspective of a young girl who moves to Brooklyn from Hong Kong at the beginning of sixth grade. Her mother works in a sweat shop in Chinatown where Kim joins her after school. The novel conveys the girl's confusion as she adjusts to a new language (the author conveys humorously how English sounds to her), school, work, and a roach- and rat-infested apartment that lacks heat or air conditioning. She's smart, though, and works hard to lift herself and her proud mother out of poverty. The novel shows both the callousness of her new country and its many opportunities.

Sacred Hearts: A Novel

I'm not an expert on Renaissance Italy or convent life, but Sarah Dunant did a good job convincing me that she is. She makes cloistered life in a medieval Benedictine convent tangible. The story is at heart a romance. A young woman, forced into the convent by her wealthy father because he does not want her to marry a music teacher, resists her future. It's not unusual for a novice to be reluctant: The convent is home to women without a dowry, orphans, and those with deformities. They assume the novice will grow to love the spiritual rhythms as they have. The novel brilliantly captures the convent's complex human dimension: a mixture of Machiavellian politics, holiness, petty jealousies, intellectual and artistic passion, and compassion.

Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide

McCracken's provocative book puts the idea of hip or cool Christianity under the magnifying glass and finds it wanting. That's a surprising conclusion because McCracken is one who identifies himself as a hip Christian. He goes through the history of hip and traces its Christian types and the churches that endlessly pursue it. His line of thought concludes this way: "The desire to be cool, hip, fashionable, and recognized . . . it's all a vain pursuit and a waste of time. It comes from a very human place, but it's a distraction and a self-destructing futility. Our instinct toward cool will only be satisfied in Christ." Well worth reading by hipsters and the rest of us.

In the Land of Believers

Gina Welch is a secular Jew who decided the only way to infiltrate the purportedly crazy evangelical world would be to attend Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church and pretend to convert. She was baptized and even went on a mission trip to Alaska. This memoir shows she has a guilty conscience: Writing a book about all the people you lied to takes gall. But Welch comes out of the experience realizing that Falwell's people aren't all crazy idiots. She even imagines Falwell, if he hadn't died, absolving her: "'You know, Gina,' he'd say . . . 'no man was born a believer. The Lord is every bit as much yours as he is mine, and it's never too late to come on home to him.'" So true.

Spotlight

Most kids love dinosaurs, but parents often hate the pro-evolution propaganda that often accompanies dinosaur books. Cathy Diez-Luckie avoids the subject completely in her wonderful Dinosaurs on the Move (Figures in Motion, 2010). Scissors, crayons, and brads are all you need to bring her scientifically detailed dinosaurs to life. Mike Thaler's books in the Tales from the Back Pew series (Zonderkidz, 2010) will appeal to children who can't get enough of Bible riddles: "What did the flood prove? That God reigns."

Marla Stewart Konrad's Just Like You (Zonderkidz, 2010) introduces young folks to the idea that God loves children from all nations and tribes. The story: On the same day mothers give birth in the USA, China, South America, Russia, the Arctic, Egypt, southern Africa, India, and Australia. The refrain, as mothers greet their little ones: "Her mommy looked in her eyes and cuddled her close. She counted her fingers and toes, whispered in her ear, and sang her a lullaby." Each baby "was a beautiful baby . . . just like you."

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