Diary of a Teenage Girl: Becoming Me by Melody Carlson

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 Summary
Sixteen-year-old Caitlin O’Connor is pretty sure that her life is too boring to write about in a journal. But at the start of a new year, Caitlin begins to chronicle her day-to-day life as she encounters the drama of peer pressure, popularity, and dating. Her life becomes more interesting than she bargained for when she uncovers a dark secret about her dad and when she gets caught between the attention of more than one popular high school boy. As she abandons old friendships, makes new ones, and asks where God is in her life, Caitlin struggles to find out who she is and who she wants to become.

Pros
Written through diary entries, Caitlin’s voice is realistic, candid, and relevant to young adult audiences. She doesn’t hold back how she feels about the cute boy she know she shouldn’t like, or how she isn’t sure how she feels about God anymore. In her diary, Caitlin is completely open about her experiences, even when she is making excuses for her actions.

Caitlin’s story explores various issues that teens face today, such as teen drinking, peer pressure, teen sex, and affairs. Many young adults will be able to relate to different aspects of Caitlin’s story and appreciate her honest voice throughout the novel.

Cons
While Caitlin’s voice is realistic and honest, I didn’t personally like Caitlin. Perhaps this is because I am a bit more removed from this age, but I found her to be rather whiny, self-centered, and not terribly interesting. That’s just me. I’m sure that other readers, be they adult or young adult, will find Caitlin’s brash journal entries engaging and will like her for that reason.

Conclusion
While this book didn’t tickle my fancy, there is certainly merit in the way the content connect with a young adult audience. This is a great read for young adults struggling through the dramatic high school years, or those trying to make sense of what they believe about God.

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The Shack by William P. Young

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For the past three years, Mack has struggled to keep his faith in God and to maintain healthy relationships with his wife and children. A horrible tragedy took the life of their youngest child, damaging Mack’s ability to trust that God truly loves him and loved his child. But when Mack receives a note from Papa, the name he and his family use to refer to God, asking him to meet at the location where tragedy struck, Mack knows he must respond. There, Mack has a first-hand encounter with God and the opportunity to change the course of his life. But will Mack be able to overcome the years of bitterness that have calloused his heart?
Pros
This novel is all about searching for God in the chaos of human life, seeking answers to the questions that have plagued us through the ages. Where is God in our pain? How can a good God, a loving God, allow innocent children and people to be so severely harmed? Through straight-forward, honest language, Young seeks to grapple with these questions through Mack’s suffering. The conversations that Mack has with God in the persons of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, offer a logical and thoughtful discussion of these questions.
The story of loss, suffering, and forgiveness are universal. So many people can relate with what Mack has endured and have asked the same questions he asks. This novel offers a means by which people can see God in their suffering, and understand where suffering, free-will, and God’s love intertwine.
Cons
Some readers may be more than taken aback by the descriptions of God in this novel. In my personal opinion, it is good to consider how we’ve established our vision of who God is physically. Are these ideas Biblical, or simply accepted ideas? It is important to remember that this is a work of fiction; Young is not asserting that this is what God looks like, but simply imagining how God could reveal himself to a human in special need of his presence.
That said, my qualm with this novel is that it is presented initially as truth. The novel’s Forward message claims that Young is ghostwriting this novel for his friend, Mack, and that all of the events are factual, though seemingly far-fetched. The Author’s Note after the novel explains that the novel is actually completely fictitious, that some of Mack’s experiences are based on the author’s own suffering. Originally, Young claims that he wrote the novel for his family and wrote the forward about ghostwriting as a joke for his family. My issue with this is that most readers may not read the author’s note and that this story is presented as factual. I appreciate the perspective and ideas that this novel offers, however, I believe the forward should have been removed and the story completely presented as a work of fiction.
Conclusion
The Shack is a moving novel that touches on questions that so many Christians and non-Christians have had over the ages. It certainly is a creative take on the personage of God and how he reveals himself, but I would argue that C.S. Lewis does something similar in The Chronicles of Narnia. The difference is, Lewis presented his work as fiction. I still recommend this novel as an important read for those seeking God, with the qualification that this is a fictitious work. Mack’s experiences, while not factual in regard to this story, do represent experiences of many grieving fathers and families, and the questions raised are still pertinent to Christians seeking truth.
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A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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“Bah, Humbug!” grumps Ebenezer Scrooge, a crabby old miser with little more in his life than work and a cash-box. It’s Christmas Eve, and Scrooge wants nothing more than to go on with routine—eat at the tavern and return home to his quiet abode. But when he sees the face of his deceased partner on the doorknob, the unused bell rings for the room next door, and he begins to hear the clanking of chains down the hallway, Scrooge knows this will be no ordinary Christmas Eve. Visited by four ghosts, Scrooge is forced to face the life he has built for himself and the legacy of apathy he is doomed to leave behind, unless he finds the inspiration and the courage to change his course and embrace Christmas for the joy and goodwill it brings.

A Christian Perspective
This story is one of the most beloved Christmas stories of all time. What’s beautiful about this story is that readers can appreciate it for different reasons at different stages of life. As a child and young adult, I loved the idea that someone as bitter and lonely as Ebenezer Scrooge could find joy again in the fellowship of others. As an adult, the power of this story is in the ability for someone to change.

Scrooge shows little to no compassion in the first stave of the novel. With his love of money and his stringent work ethic, Scrooge believes he is entitled to what he gets and that others should follow his example and work to achieve the same financial security. There is some merit to Scrooge’s endeavors. Hard work is important, but what he fails to see is that some are less fortunate or are unable to work at the same level or in as well-paying a profession as he is for various reasons. With backstory, The reader glimpses the life of an underprivileged boy who had little in life and believed that financial security and hard work would give him peace. As Scrooge goes back in time, he sees how other people poured joy and love into his life asking nothing in return, how people with much less than he experienced mirth he had long forgotten. With each ghost’s visions of Christmas, Scrooge realizes how cold he has been toward others and the wasted opportunities he had to serve others.

Joy is found in serving, as Jesus taught us through his example; “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) Scrooge sought contentment in wealth but found in the end that real life is in love, in relationships, and in giving to one another. As Christians, this story provides an important reminder that we find real life in Christ, in His sacrifice that enables us to live freely in love—unafraid for our futures, knowing that God will provide for our needs. As Scrooge sees others living in that unfettered love, he learns to love again, to open his heart to people and to give of himself  with money, time, and love.

Conclusion
It’s important to keep the true story of Christmas at the forefront of our minds and hearts over the season, but stories like these are important if we are going to learn how to live out the joy that Christmas brings: With Jesus Christ coming into our world, we have hope for our salvation and a bright future. Jesus taught us through his life on earth the importance of caring for those in need—whether that is someone in physical need, like the Cratchits, or someone in emotional restoration, like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Over the holiday season, I encourage you to experience the redemptive story of A Christmas Carol in a new way. This short classic packs plenty of drama, suspense, humor, and Christmas Spirit to refresh your appreciation of the season and our reason for celebrating.

What do you think?
So many of us are familiar Charles Dickens classic story of Christmas, through reading it as a student, watching the numerous film adaptations, and re-reading the novel as an adult. How have your perceptions of the story changed over time? How do you think this story is relevant to modern audiences? Leave your thoughts and comments below!

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