"A moving, exquisitely written tale of a young woman’s search for meaning."– Kirkus Reviews
In this YA debut, a plucky Bible-era heroine finds contentment by following her heart.
Mara lives in ancient Jerusalem with her demanding mother and compassionate father. Even though she’s a girl, the Jewish Mara studies the Torah and yearns for a different life than the one expected of her: marriage, children and housework. One day, her friend Nathan tells her of a new teacher named Yeshua who claims to be the son of God and preaches a new sort of religion that involves finding God within one’s own heart. When she discovers that Yeshua’s life may be at risk, she embarks on a mission to protect the mysterious, wonderful man from harm, and finds enlightenment and danger along the way. In luminous, rich prose, Mara’s tale delves into the daily life of a Jewish woman in biblical times. Mara is a relatable teenager, chafing at the rules of the adult world; she’s unable to identify the source of her discontent until she realizes that it comes from her own search for identity. Although Yeshua (also known as Jesus) makes only scattered appearances throughout the book, his presence and teachings profoundly affect those around him, and readers witness this in Mara’s response to him. Several characters refer to him with the lovely phrase, “His pure shining.” The middle of this smoothly plotted novel hinges on an intimate conversation between Yeshua and Mara, a satisfying encounter for characters and readers alike. Mara understands that he sees her “as a ray of unselfish love,” which “made her feel worthy and blessed.” The ending presents a rather sophisticated message for modern young adults, as Mara finds acceptance and builds a new relationship with her parents by using the peace of her newfound faith. She reaches a conclusion that many people never do: Finding one’s place in the world brings enough joy and satisfaction to fill a lifetime.
A moving, exquisitely written tale of a young woman’s search for meaning.
A simple, encouraging picture book with a religious message.
Otto’s (Daughter of Jerusalem, 2013) latest book is best suited to pre-readers or early readers. It emphasizes the importance of being true to oneself, and encourages children to sing their own “You-Song.” Each person, the story says, has a You-Song, provided by God, which can be heard whispering or booming in an individual’s actions. When the song doesn’t sound pretty, “[i]t’s just the world’s jangle trying to muffle it.” When this happens, the book urges children to find a happy place or event to tune back in to their You-Songs. The narrator then notes that although no one can have the song of another person, multiple You-Songs can join together to become a We-Song; that is, children may befriend others and work together with them as a team. By singing You-Songs and We-Songs, the narrator says, children are doing the work of God and sharing his blessing. Otto includes vibrant, full-color photographs of a variety of children engaged in different activities, such as painting or playing outside. The book’s simple, repetitious text may make it useful for parents or teachers as a read-aloud, or for beginning readers. Each page has two short sentences or fewer, and the most complicated passage (“Jangle-free, / the You-Song can blend / with lots of songs around you— / one-of-a-kind songs / that God sings in others”) is still relatively simple, with many repeated words. The large, easy-to-read, bold type helps emphasize this easy style, while the bright, clean photos will draw listeners and readers in. Educators may use the photos as a way to expand upon the book’s message by asking listeners about the different actions depicted. The religious message is nondenominational, mentioning God but no specific religious faiths or texts.
Attractive photos and easy-to-understand prose make a winning combination in this positive picture book.