mini-reviews of books recently read, part 2 (of 2)

the children of divorce: the loss of family as the loss of being, by andrew root

5 stars
i’m tellin’ ya, andy root is a prolific author, and he’s cranking out a crazy-wide variety of books that youth workers (and others) need to read. in the last few weeks, he released the promise of despair: the way of the cross as the way of the church. and, i just finished reading the galleys for his upcoming release, the children of divorce (which release on august 1). first a book with IVP, then one with YS/Z, then the just released abingdon book, and this upcoming one with baker: apparently publishers want to publish andy root. and there’s a good reason why — he actually has something to say. the children of divorce is an academic book, but certainly not impenetrable. it’s a book of practical theology, bringing in the disciplines of social theory and psychology, to posit some implications on today’s children and teenagers whose parents divorce. one of the most “framing” sections of the book for me was understanding — right up there in chapter 1 — the historical shifts of marriage throughout history, and how that greatly impacts how children (and teens) perceive themselves in the midst or wake of divorce.

i was asked if i would consider writing an endorsement for this book. i never write one unless i’ve actually read the book (amazing how often that isn’t the case). but this book was easy to endorse, as it’s way-important reading for youth workers (and any parent or grandparent — or, anyone who cares about kids). here’s the wee endorsement i wrote:

Youth workers have always know that the impact of divorce on kids was substantially deeper and all-encompassing that pop culture would want us to believe; but Andy Root, thankfully, gives us the articulation for why. Reading the book felt like sitting with Root at a table set up — precariously, uncomfortably — in the 3-way intersection of history, psychology and theology. I learned more about family in the first chapter than from any other entire book I’ve read.

the glass castle: a memoir, by jeannette walls

5 stars
this stunning memoir released several years ago, and it was sitting on our bookshelf, as my wife had read it. i’d heard great things about it, and can only say they undersold it. rarely, if ever, have i read a true story that so defies the “good/bad” continuum on which we like to plot families of origin. really, jeannette walls’ upbringing is ghastly, and one i would not want imposed on even the most annoying or horrible kid i’ve ever met. but, at the very same time (or, more accurately, intermittently) there are regular moments of love and insight and adventure that lift this off that continuum. i’ve met many kids from privileged surburban homes (the opposite of walls’ experience) whose parents provide for physical needs, but spend their lives completely disengaged from their kids in every emotional and relational way. just when i was wanting to smack her parents, they did or said something breathtakingly wonderful. and just when i was thinking i might give them the benefit of the doubt (something the author seems at peace with doing, in the end), her parents become icons of off-the-charts selfishness and stupidity. it’s an amazing story in-and-of-itself; but the implications are greater than the story. most parents (myself included) fall on both sides of the bell curve; only a few fall, consistently, to one side or the other; walls’ parents are so outside the standard deviation in both directions that the bell is no longer meaningful.

the next 100 years: a forecast for the 21st century, by george friedman

4.5 stars
whoa. while one might consider it the height of hubris to write an entire book making predictions about the geopolitics of the world for the next 100 years, the dude pulls it off. what i mean is: when he predicts that russia will gain strength in the next few years, then fall apart by 2020, he offers enough great reasons and backing that it just makes sense. and when he writes about turkey and poland and japan being the three other world superpowers (in addition to the u.s.) by mid-century, it is not posited as an opinion, but, rather, a well-informed hyper-logical estimation. and the world war around 2050? wow. the whole thing started to give me a mental image of a long string of dominos stood on end, expected to knock each other down: if at some point, there’s a little deviation, the string will eventually break down. and the deeper i got into the book, and the later the predictions got into the 2nd half of the 21st century, the harder and harder they were to believe. that said, even the stuff he suggests will occur in 2080 (like, massive tensions between the u.s. and mexico that could be the beginnings of the u.s. slipping from strongest superpower status) seem based in extremely logical and, even, likely realities. fascinating book. i kept thinking of the missions implications of it all!

rides of the midway: a novel, by lee durkee

2 stars
i was looking for a novel to read recently, and found this on my bookshelf, remembering that i’d bought it a few years ago on a recommendation i read somewhere. i dove into it, and was digging it for a while. it’s a sort of coming-of-age story, of a teenage (then college age) boy growing up in the deep south, in the 70s. but i started wondering where the heck the story was going. was it a morality tale? a ghost story? a character piece? just as i started to suspect i was wrong for my early-pages enjoyment of the book, i came to a startling realization. it was a good 3/4 through the book when i realized this: i’d already read the book. now, that tells me something, if i didn’t even remember reading it (knowing it would have been in the last 4 or 5 years, at the most). and, though i finished it — because i hate not finishing books — it was like finishing a meal you are grossly disappointed with. don’t bother.

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