In this modern version of The Scarlet Letter, Rachel Stoltzfus lives within a community of Old Order Mennonites. She has had a child out of wedlock, and the scorn she experiences begins to dissolve her relationships, including her close friendship with her twin sister. When her longtime suitor, Judah, offers to marry her and give her a new beginning, Rachel puts him off, choosing instead to seek independence outside the community. But soon, an unexpected illness pushes her to reach out to those she left behind. Like Hawthorne, Petersheim clearly dramatizes the weight of sin, but she deviates from the original by leaving room for repentance.
Trevin Wax is known primarily for his nonfiction, including two books and many articles with publications like Christianity Today. But in his first work of fiction, which he terms “theology in story,” Wax uses the tale of a doubting Thomas named Chris to convey sound, biblical theology in an engaging way. While the book isn’t as artistic as C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, it does contain many of the same positives. Chris wrestles aloud with his questions about Christianity (Aren’t all religions the same? Would Jesus really condemn homosexuals?), while his grandfather lovingly answers them with hard-won wisdom from the pastoral trenches. An entertaining and beneficial read.
Grammy-winning Christian recording artist Rebecca St. James says she has spoken with many young women who struggle with cutting—a form of self-injury used to cope with stress. Joined by seasoned teen author Nancy Rue, the two bring the practice to light through the story of Kirsten, a college architecture student who ends up in a local hospital after a cutting accident. The kindness that Kirsten is offered through a campus minister and others is moving, and her attempts to recover on a working farm lead to romance and newfound strength. Her journey toward freedom—from cutting as well as the brokenness that drives her behavior—is centered on her own experience, without Christ or His Word.
When veteran photographer Eva sets out to find her brother in rural Mexico, she takes a job photographing Mayan ruins to avoid suspicion. Mexican landowners and local peasants have been in armed conflict for some time, and since both mistrust Americans, she discreetly searches for clues about her brother’s whereabouts. While the book contains drama, Eva’s growth throughout the story is the real focus. She is deeply affected by the piety of her employer’s family, and her brother’s letters, among other things, challenge her selfish worldview. Despite questionable theology and offensive language, the book wrestles masterfully with ideas of grace and redemption.
The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas by Ann Voskamp brings the author’s unique writing style—grace-filled, powerful, and poetic—to the subject of Christ’s advent. Using the tradition of the Jesse Tree (which includes printable ornaments on her website), The Greatest Gift offers 25 Scripture readings and meditations, as well as poignant quotes and a to-do section with small ways of “Unwrapping More of His Love in the World.” As she works through the Old Testament preparation for Christ, Voskamp invites readers to peel back layers of sin and sentimentality that cloud our vision during the Christmas season and savor again God’s salvation.
Some readers may balk at an occasional strained metaphor, such as calling the Christian a “womb” in which Jesus may dwell. But for those who appreciate Voskamp’s emotional, literary style, The Greatest Gift may itself be a gift worth unwrapping. —E.W.