Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
Before I Saw You
Amy K. Sorrells
Jaycee Givens has more than her share of heartache. After an unspeakable tragedy, her heroin-addicted mother goes to prison. Seeking comfort and security, Jaycee becomes pregnant by her abusive boyfriend. She weighs her options: abortion, adoption, or keep the baby in her poverty-stricken, drug-infested trailer park. Sounds awful, but Jaycee is lovable and wise. “Where we’ve come from isn’t near as important as knowing Who we belong to,” she says. And the story contains lighter moments like her shopping excursion for stretch pants at Walmart. This uplifting story celebrates motherhood and highlights God’s redemptive power.
Send Down the Rain
Vietnam War veteran Jo-Jo Brooks lives a solitary life in the mountains of North Carolina. A chance encounter with a woman and her two kids leads him back to his childhood home in the Florida Panhandle, and back to the only woman he’s ever loved. Jo-Jo’s decision to live a lie for the benefit of others creates unnecessary frustration for everyone—including the reader. Martin is a master storyteller, but in this case his protagonist’s self-sacrifice is painful. Moral of this vexing story: Honesty is the best policy, no matter how much it hurts.
The Hope of Azure Springs
A young girl with seemingly nothing to offer brings joy and transformation to an 1881 Iowa town. No one—especially the sheriff—expects the injured and unconscious girl to make such an impact on the community. As he pursues the men responsible for Em’s condition, he begins to see her as more than a pitiful waif. One thing keeps her going: reuniting with the sister she lost while traveling on an orphan train many years earlier. A sweet, ugly-duckling-turned-beautiful-swan story for historical romance fans, and a commendable debut novel for Fordham.
The Love Letter
Actress Chloe Daschle believes there’s one true love for everyone. But after several disastrous relationships, she’s lost hope for herself until she meets Jesse Gates, a writer whose screenplay is based on a love letter written by his 18th-century ancestor. Chloe lands the female lead in the movie adaptation, but complications lead Jesse to abandon both the project and her. The book jumps from present-day Hollywood to American Revolution–era South Carolina. The author’s attempt to showcase Chloe’s faith in Jesus falls short when her attitude and actions contradict her words.
In the nonfiction Leaving Cloud 9 (Thomas Nelson, 2018), Ericka Andersen chronicles her husband Rick Sylvester’s experience growing up with a single mother controlled by mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, and abject poverty. It details his journey to adulthood including the childhood traumas that led to his PTSD and bipolar disorder. Part social commentary on the invisibility of white poverty in America and part biography, the book’s overall message is, “You don’t have to be a victim of your circumstances.” Similar to the fictional story Before I Saw You (reviewed on this page), this book’s theme seems bleak but has a hope-filled conclusion: God is bigger than the obstacles we face, and He’s in the redemption business for anyone willing to accept His free gift. —S.B.