An earnest but odd addition to the Christmas literary canon.

THE JOURNEY OF CHRISTOPHER

A Christian teenager finds his faith tested during the holiday season in this inspirational debut novel.

It’s Christmastime in Chicago, but 16-year-old Christopher is having trouble getting into the holiday spirit: “Christopher was starting to think the whole celebration was nothing more than a clever lie. Santa Claus wasn’t portrayed accurately, and it wasn’t really Jesus’ birthday. He wondered what was real about the holiday.” He begins to question whether Jesus or God is even real. One night, he finds a gift box in his bedroom. When he opens it, a bright light comes shining out and the room begins to spin. Christopher gets sucked into the box, where he finds himself in a void that takes on the shape of Soldier Field. Here he meets a tall, athletic being named Michael—the same name as his father—who teaches Christopher that seeing isn’t necessarily the same as believing. Armed with only the crystal cross Christopher received as a gift for his Confirmation (and subconsciously reached for as he was being pulled into the box), they begin a journey across the galaxy. Christopher visits alien worlds where the locals still believe in Jesus—though some have fared better than others. Can this trip through the universe help Christopher rekindle his faith in Jesus? DiSalvo’s prose is conversational and clearly imbued with a Chicago-centric worldview. Here Christopher’s father, Michael, is described: “He epitomized the cliché of what a man from Chicago should have been: hardworking, blue collar, and strong yet compassionate.” The novel is essentially a retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, though it is more Jesus-specific and involves aliens. (Whether that sounds like an improvement or not is probably a good measurement for how much readers will enjoy the book.) Even for such an obviously allegorical work, the characters are thin: Christopher and his dad are both stand-up guys whom the whole neighborhood respects. The lessons Christopher learns along his journey do not feel particularly Christian, moral, or personal (à la Ebenezer Scrooge), but rather vaguely fantastical. This may please those looking for some new Christmas fiction, but many readers will be left scratching their heads.

An earnest but odd addition to the Christmas literary canon.

Pub Date: June 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-973663-72-0

Page Count: 166

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2020

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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