I'm glad to be back with my fellow bookies this Wednesday! I haven't been reading all that much lately (gasp! I know!), and I think it probably has something to do with the fact that I have so many other things I should be doing and so many other things on my mind, and therefore reading just for the fun of it has taken a back seat to everything else. (Insert frowny emoticon here. Because no reading = no fun.)
For what seems like ages now, sitting atop the mile-high stack of books in my "to read" pile was a little gem called Dear God, I Don't Get It, a Catholic novel for middle school-aged readers by Patti Maguire Armstrong.
CatholicFiction.net. I am normally very shy about asking authors for copies of their books, and instead buy books that I want to read anyway and then write reviews using my personal stash. But having been sent a complimentary copy of this wonderful book a few months ago, and wanting desperately to do a good job of promoting a work by a Catholic author I really admire, I developed a severe case of not only writer's block...but reader's block (if there is such a thing). I knew that this should be the first book I tackled, once the holidays were over, but I kept putting it off--even though it's a slim volume and I'm a fast reader. And I didn't feel right reading other books before I read this one--that seemed sort of disloyal somehow. So, I just sort of...stopped reading.
I'm happy to report that although I sat down to read Patti's book a week or two ago and then got distracted by life and put it down, I started it again last night and pretty much devoured it in one sitting. This book is not only great for your middle school-aged child, moms; it's also great for YOU. It's so well-written, and so humorous at times, and so filled with the beautiful teachings of our Faith...well, maybe I should let the review I wrote up this morning do the talking for me. So here it is:
I have just finished Patti Maguire Armstrong’s delightful and insightful Catholic novel for young readers, Dear God, I Don’t Get It, and before I say another word, I have one very important question to ask: where was Armstrong’s book fifteen or twenty years ago, when I was raising my five sons?! I sure would have liked to see them bringing this gem home at book report time, instead of some of the mainstream, secular award-winning books that were stocked in their Catholic elementary school’s library.Dear God, I Don’t Get It is such a winning combination of entertainment and enlightenment, and as the mother of all sons, I especially appreciate the fact that it’s told from the perspective of a young boy. It has been my experience that so much of the modern fiction aimed at youngsters is written to appeal more to readers of the feminine persuasion—but this story is one that both boys and girls can enjoy in equal measure.
The protagonist and narrator of Dear God, I Don’t Get It is 12-year-old sixth-grader Aaron Ajax, the oldest in a family of three brothers. He introduces us to the rest of his family members, and even to their pets. Of Leonardo the parakeet he says, “I had just taught him to say ‘pretty bird’ and ‘good morning.’ He had taught himself to say, ‘It wasn’t me.’ I guess he’d heard it enough around our house that he’d picked it up on his own.” Hearing those simple words, we know that the Ajax family is a normal one that includes spirited and sometimes naughty little boys. But Aaron also tells us that his family has recently gone from being somewhat apathetic in their faith—sometimes even missing Sunday Mass when it was inconvenient—to truly putting God first in their lives.
The Ajax family has had a good life in Kalispell, Montana, and Aaron is surrounded by longtime childhood friends, including a best friend from his first day in kindergarten. Therefore, he is distraught to find out that his dad has lost his job—and now that he’s found a new one, it means that the family must move from the only home he’s ever known to Bismarck, North Dakota, where he will be the dreaded “new kid” in school.Aaron prayed that this wouldn’t happen; why didn’t God listen to his prayers? And that is the underlying question posed by Armstrong’s book: why does it seem that so often, our prayers aren’t answered the way we want them to be?
Aaron goes through some cringe-worthy experiences as he adjusts to his new life in North Dakota. He longs to be both a saint and a hero—inspired by the books he’s read about such individuals—but falls into the age-old human trap of rationalizing his actions, of thinking that the ends justify the means. As his life seems to be spiraling downward, he begins to doubt that God is listening; yet he continues to pray for help and guidance, to trust that God must have a plan for him.
Luckily, Aaron has the kind of parents who have passed on the Truths of the Catholic Faith to their boys. And luckily, his wise and caring parents expect him to live up to a higher standard, but at the same remember what it was like to be young and don’t mete out unreasonably severe punishments for the mistakes he makes. What’s beautiful is the way Armstrong reminds us, through Aaron’s father’s words to his oldest son, that we must put ourselves in our Father’s hands, with childlike confidence: “It helps if you turn your troubles over to God instead of carrying the burden alone…Many times when I haven’t gotten what I wanted, down the road I saw that in God’s wisdom, he gave me something better.”Thanks in large part to his parents’ loving guidance, Aaron Ajax is changed by the end of the story, even though it takes place over a very short period in his young life. Ultimately, he sees that God can use all things—even the bad things that happen—for good. Aaron not only learns to accept God’s will, but he also learns the true meaning of being a hero.
Armstrong’s book is humorous at times, and exceedingly well-written, and her characters are fleshed-out and utterly real. The story draws the reader in (even this adult reader, who found as much to enjoy in it as any middle-schooler), and it imparts some serious Catholic theology, morality lessons, and information about the lives of the saints—but it does all this without preaching from atop a soapbox or cramming those lessons down the reader’s throat.
Every kid who reads Dear God, I Don’t Get It will be able to relate to Aaron’s difficulties and the way he struggles with his faith when things don’t go his way; and every adult will do the same, and be reminded of the need to understand that when we pray, we must pray that God’s will be done, not ours.
I love everything about this book--even the delightful illustrations on the cover and sprinkled throughout the book. (And good news--this is the first in a three book series. Dear God, You Can't Be Serious, due out in the spring of 2014, is the next installment in the trilogy.)
Now check out the titles over at Jessica's.