The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie)


Born "with water on the brain," 14 year old Junior is seizure-prone and poor as dirt. Here he tells the story of life on his Spokane Indian reservation, in all its shocking and gut-wrenching glory. Junior's physical issues and desire for a different life cause him to be something of a target on the "rez," and before long he finds himself enrolled at Reardan, the closest mostly white high school. Violence, cruelty, alcoholism, racism, and tragedy are normal daily occurrences for Junior; though his voice is laden with wit and charm, still the book is peppered with negative stereotypes about the Native American culture.

The oppressive poverty is the worst, and the root of all the other issues. Junior's take:

"It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's nothing you can do about it. Poverty doesn't give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor."  (pg. 13)

Though it is overrun with stereotypes, the difference for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is that as the narrator, Junior is a funny yet deeply self-reflective Native American. He describes experiences with his culture that cannot be disputed by those of another race. Another consideration is that through use of Junior’s very strong, specific voice, these stereotypes are brought to light to reveal their complex combination of truth and utter ridiculousness.

Because it is so heavy laden with negative stereotypes, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian may at first seem a risk to young readers in promoting the very untrue notion that Native Americans are inferior to other ethnicities. Because of the way Alexie tells Junior’s story, the novel does more good than harm in the realm of typecasts. Awareness of the stereotypes and disputing the untruths promotes the integrity of the Native American culture. Young readers without experience in or with the Native American culture will be surprised at what Junior has to say about his life, but one of the most essential qualities of great literature is that it brings awareness to and appreciation of cultures different from our own. 

Choosing to SEE (Mary Beth Chapman)

Thanks to a hot Kindle sale, I was able to read this narrative biographical journey of Mary Beth and the Chapman family throughout their rather tumultuous life experiences. In the book, she tells of her early life together with Christian singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman. She also tells of their family's growth through birth and through adoption. She writes very candidly about the sad accident which caused the death of little Maria, one of their daughters. This is a book that resonates with every mother, and unlike many of the popular "celebrity" books written today, Mrs. Mary Beth is as real as it gets. I'm thankful for her courage in writing this book.

Raising Adopted Children (Lois Ruskai Molina)


Of all the adoption books I read, this was by far one of the most comprehensive. It is my opinion that frequently adoption book authors make the mistake of either being either too flowery with not enough actual helpful content or being too cold and diagnostic without the proper accent of emotion. This book struck a good balance between the two. 

One of my favorite aspects was that she went to great care to include tips and advice for every possible scenario in adoptive families. It was the first time I've read a book that includes information for adoptive families who already have biological children, and advice on how to promote bonding between the two. It was for the first time that I read in this book a several-page section detailing adoption and breastfeeding, and how and when to decide if it's right for your family. 

I've long since returned this one to the library, but still my mind drifts back to statements of truth about the adoption experience from this book. That probably means it's time for a hard copy to go on my shelf! 

Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret (Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor)




What do you believe in? 

I'm not talking Mac over PC, or Percy Jackson over Harry Potter, or even Nutella over peanut butter. (Though of course, the correct choices are in fact Mac, Harry, and Nutella.)

No, but really...what do you really believe in? What do you believe in so strongly that you would give up your money, your home...even your family?

Hudson Taylor's single focused passion, which fueled his efforts as a pioneer missionary to China in the 1800's, was his salvation in Jesus Christ.  

Hudson Taylor lived a life of sacrifice just to have the opportunity to travel to China and work with the people there, and during his years serving the Chinese he experienced death, destruction, violence, and resistance from the government. He lost children and even his wife. He lost his health. At one point, he even lost his mobility. But, champion of faith that he was, Hudson Taylor never wavered from his calling to serve the people of inland China through medical and evangelical missions. He was known as an oddball because he was the first to dress in traditional Chinese attire and to shave his head (leaving the long braided ponytail) in the customary manner of the people he was serving. But eventually others realized that his strategy was working, as it earned him favor and understanding with the Chinese. 

His biography, written in 1932 by his son and daughter-in-law, alternates betwixt excerpts from Hudson's personal letters and journal to narrative descriptions of the events he and his family faced during their years in China. The book emphasizes the strength of his faith, and explains throughout that his "spiritual secret" was a joyful and willing submission of trust to God's plan for his life and for the people of China. 

I found this book oddly sluggish at times yet compelling at others. Ultimately, I was utterly fascinated by Hudson Taylor, but I found this particular telling of his life and work substandard. His legacy deserves a better, more clarified biography than this particular book offers.

Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most (Wess Stafford)

Today, Wess Stafford is the president and CEO of Compassion International, which is a global child-focused sponsorship organization grounded in Christlike principles. Compassion International helps over 1 million impoverished children and their families with basic needs and education in at least 26 different countries. Today, Wess Stafford is at the helm of one of the largest and most efficient aid organizations in the world.

Fifty years ago, Wess Stafford was growing up in a tiny West African village (with French influence) called Nielle. In this book, he describes his childhood and the wonderful pieces of wisdom he discovered about life through the people of Nielle...the most important being that all children are important. He writes about the differences in typical American culture and typical African culture, and how valued children tend to be in African circles. Children are given important jobs. They are always included, never shut out or sent to a play room to be occupied while dinner was cooked. They were watched over but not hovered over. Life was and is very dangerous for a child in Africa, so they were and are taught responsibility and how to contribute at a very early age. Children are counted on because all children are important.

Stafford's interesting perspective on child advocacy comes from his experiences of being highly valued as a child in Nielle, but it also grows out of some very ugly experiences in a boarding school several months out of the year in another part of West Africa. There he and his sister, along with hundreds of other kids, were abused in the worst ways possible by people who had been entrusted with their care. Describing a few dark memories from this time, he shows how ugly people can be to innocent children...especially when those people know that the children cannot speak out for themselves and will not be heard by anyone who could help them. Their experiences are much like that of millions of children who are abused and neglected on a regular basis. Adults abuse children because they are powerless. Most of the time adults abuse children who are too small to have a voice, or they scare them into silence. Stafford challenges readers to view children as God sees them: as important. He gives several examples from Scripture when God had a big task and only a little child would do. Jesus Himself publicly admonished his disciples at least twice because they were trying to belittle the relevance of children in His presence.

If this sounds like a book for you, be warned that there are some truly horrific stories within these pages. Some of them are from Wess Stafford's visit to Haiti or Rwanda. All of these stories, combined with Stafford's personal childhood, have sparked a bottomless passion within him to advocate for children on every level of society but especially the most powerless: the poor. He presents some specific ideas for changing the way the world thinks about children, and ways to elevate them from being a discarded member or society to an intensely valued member of society. Wess Stafford is intensely passionate that all children are important, and by the time you finish the last page, you'll believe that just as deeply as he does.