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by Elizabeth Berg

Pub Date: Nov. 14th, 2006
ISBN: 1-4000-6538-0
Publisher: Random House

Just in time for Christmas, Berg (We Are All Welcome Here, April 2006, etc.) delivers a story about the Christ child, highlighting the romance between his young parents.

What to do with an iconic story known throughout the world? Berg does very little, keeping it safe and simple and with few deviations from the commonly accepted narrative, guaranteed to neither insult nor inspire. Sixteen-year-old Joseph meets 13-year-old Mary at a wedding (they are hiding, still children really, under a banquet table) and fall in love. They are betrothed, but will remain in their respective parents’ homes for a year, until their marriage is finalized with a wedding, and a wedding night. Mary, stubborn and inquisitive, is beginning to question her engagement to Joseph, who, despite his youth, is stern and proper, eager for Mary to adopt her submissive, wifely role. All is turned upside-down, though, when an angel visits Mary to tell her she is with child. Mary is sent off to stay with her cousin Elizabeth, while her mother delivers the miraculous news to Joseph, at home in Nazareth. What man would accept the story of a virgin pregnancy from his wife? Not Joseph. But rather than focus on Joseph’s natural reaction, Berg shows his doubts dispatched by an angelic visit of his own, whereupon he agrees to the planned marriage. They settle into a happy union as Mary prepares to give birth, when they unexpectedly must journey to Bethlehem. The story of their plight—Mary’s anger at Joseph for making her travel so close to the birth; her fear of being without a midwife; his desperation in a strange city where no one will house them for the night—is nicely told, bringing humanity to a scene that is often reduced to greeting-card familiarity. After the birth of Jesus, the family lives happily in Nazareth until Joseph meets an early end, in love with his wife, but still skeptical of the virgin birth. Berg makes conventional, contemporary choices—Mary is spunky; Joseph conflicted—but shies away from any keener analysis of faith or marriage or miracles.

Traditional, inoffensive—probably a holiday hit.