Monday, October 4, 2010

Some Great Reads: Fiction for the Whole Family on Encouragement

The a "Catholic encouragement" books, the theme loosely for the month of October, is far from perfect wording (I'm up for suggestions!) but I did select that as a good alternative to "Catholic self-help books."  

After all, the main book I reviewed, and that anchors our discussion, Beyond Blue, is not self-help but a memoir of Therese Borchard's journey of seeking help and hope during a lifelong struggle with mental health issues.  And yet reading it, as I wrote about in my review, I found it not only a moving read, but a book with genuine "take-away" messages that we can all employ in our own lives.

That's not true just of memoirs about specific issues that many people grapple with, but also true of novels.  Fiction can do a lot of things to help us process--informing, soothing, and just plain taking us away from our current troubles.

I tend to be more old-fashioned in my likes and dislikes of modern fiction--give me Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope any day.   What bothers me most about some kids' or young adult fiction is a kind of hyper-realism, where every blemish and event must be recounted in horrific, or just sad, detail.  I can think of quite a few books in this category, but I'm not going to recommend those today.  Here are some ideas of books that tackle topics related to mental health, but from a more sensitive and hopeful perspective:

*Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan tells the Depression-era story of Esperenza, a Mexican girl raised in privilege and who ends up in migrant fields in California.  I can't believe I did not know about this gem of a book previous to discovering it on Treasure Chest for Tweens, but it is luminous.   I cannot imagine why it did not win one of the big children's books awards, like the Newberry Medal.   Esperanza herself appears to experience mild kinds of panic attacks at different formative times, and her mother is hospitalized both for Valley Fever (caused by the dust in the California farm fields), and depression.  These are handled empathetically and realistically, and there's no fairytale ending, but a sense of hope permeates.  The author's note at the end explaining how some of the events mirror her own family's experience is very beautiful.

*Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.  This book was actually made into a fairly decent movie, not true of many books (other than Jane Austen).  But the book itself is much better, handling the issues of a mom's alcoholism and abandonment with grace and sensitivity.  The characters in the book are just that--"characters" as in a typical Southern novel (not my favorite genre, showing I really liked this book)--each has his/her own quirks and foibles, but these are celebrated and not condemned. 

*Leap of Faith by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.  This is another true gem I discovered from Treasure Chest for Tweens.  This needs a post all of its own, and will have one in the future.  Wow!  Abby decides to convert to Catholicism, at first to annoy and get the attention of her atheist parents, after she is forced to go to a Catholic school when she is kicked out of public school for attacking another student.  Beautifully handles bullying, the mystery of faith, the RCIA process (really!) and life in a Catholic elementary school.   I don't know whether author Bradley is Catholic or not, but she's written a Catholic (and catholic) book that is sensitive and beautiful and hopeful.

Right now I'm drawing a blank on others--these are all recent reads at our house.  What are some books that you would recommend for younger readers that handle some sensitive issues really well?

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