Not Secrets, but Promises: Faith, Hope, and Love... in That Order!
Written: Apr 18, 2012
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Biblically-sound Christian book for young readers; character development; multiple themes.
Cons:If there are any, I'm choosing to ignore them.
The Bottom Line: This book instills both faith and creativity. Buy it; you don't want to fray the library's copy or incur fines from not turning it in, do you?
It's so much more entertaining, more joyful, more downright glorious when a typical walk to the nearest coffee shop becomes a sojourn into the life of John Bunyan and the allegorical structure of The Pilgrim's Progress. You leave your home which, because it cannot possibly have anything to do with the City of Destruction, is instead the house of Bunyan's Interpreter. As you pass the houses on your right, you hear chimes issuing from your neighbor's yard. These transform themselves into cymbals and even harps in your mind. The aroma of roses floats your way, carried on a lovely breeze. Roses in and of themselves are beautiful, but lilies are more Biblically significant. Since you can't tell where the fragrance is coming from, and since you don't know but that those might be white roses, you decide to write some lilies into the mental scene. The brick wall near which you walk is called Salvation. The hill, the cross, and the book you read do not exist on this walk, but they're present, too. The dirt path you traverse has something to do with the Slough of Despond, particularly on rainy days when the ground is muddy. Careful crossing that street... Your staff--I mean, your long cane!--might come loose from your grasp if you encounter a crack in the pavement. In fact, the commercialism and bustle of that street might just as well be considered a very quiet valley or Vanity Fair. You haven't decided which. There! You've reached the coffee shop. What's that? The woman behind the counter is smiling kindly, a group of people seem to be having a Bible study at a nearby table, and you can hear one of the Christian radio stations in the background? You must have found your way to the Palace Beautiful!
Of course, you could just walk to the coffee shop, order your vanilla-infused, cinnamon-topped chai, and be done with it. But, beloved reader, is it not far more edifying to imagine things of the Lord as you traverse? Isn't there still some spark of creativity, some glimmer of innocence, that longs to be expressed? If you've given up such pursuits on the grounds that they seem childish, I'm truly sorry to hear it--you're missing out. If you still want me to justify this method of exploring life, you and your children might benefit from Nancy Rue's faith-filled work, Sophie's Secret. This is especially true if your children happen to be young girls between the ages of eight and twelve.
First, a few notes about the twelve-book Sophie series. We'll examine Sophie's Secret, which happens to be Book II, momentarily. However, character development in Nancy Rue's work is so genuine that I feel it deserves its own focus.
Sophie LaCroix, whose name means "Wisdom" and "the cross", is a shy twelve-year-old with a profound desire to please and an even stronger imagination. At any given time, she may envision herself as Marie Antoinette, an archeologist, an Irish maiden, or a medieval lady upholding a code of honor. Sometimes, this tendency gets her into amusing mischief, as even she "becomes" an archeologist and digs enormous holes in the family's backyard in hopes of excavating relics from the past.
While Sophie is well aware that her daydreaming does not reflect reality, her concerned parents wish to quell her curiosity about life--at least enough to enable her to concentrate on academics. Accordingly, Sophie sees a child psychologist who is gradually helping her to channel her creativity. Now the proud owner of a video camera, Sophie works to make films of her daydreams and adventures; with this outlet, she is less likely to daydream in class or during important family events. Her psychologist, Dr. Peter, also encourages her to pray--"just talk to Jesus"--and to use her vivid imagination to focus on Bible stories. She is then to apply Scriptures to her life and try to do as Jesus would have her to.
In Sophie's Secret, our delightful protagonist visits Jamestown with her parents, older sister, younger brother, and some out-of-town relatives. There, she sees an excavation taking place and decides to "become" an archeologist. She and her friends will give themselves new names, find some shovels and buckets, and unearth...
You see, Sophie LaCroix--now Demetria Diggerty--is having some problems... in her living quarters. Of course, these will not keep her from the "excavation" or the film that she and her friends are making, but it does result in her grounding for a time. Sophie's father, believing his daughter to be unfocused, is inordinately strict and would like nothing better than for Sophie to participate in sports rather than drama. Hence, the grounding. So, what does our enterprising Miss Diggerty do? Why, she takes her exploring self off to the attic! There, she finds some papers that might reveal why her father is so distant with her, why he looks nothing like her, and why she seems to be the only daydreamer in her family. How will Sophie handle these new quandaries? Will she and her father ever come to understand one another? Will she accept his firmness as love, and will he recognize her creativity for what it is? What about the personal trauma that Sophie's fears bring about?
There, dear reader, I shall leave you--at least as far as the story is concerned. But, I shan't close without offering my impressions of this book, which is truly brilliant in its own right. First and foremost, this is a Christian story written to bring children closer to God. Throughout this book's twelve chapters, Dr. Peter encourages Sophie to engage in some rather profound study of the Scriptures. For example: What did Jesus do when He first entered the temple as a boy? How did He seek His heavenly Father's will, and how and why did He leave with Mary and Joseph afterword? How can this be applied as wisdom, loving the Lord, and obeying one's parents? Scriptures are taken from the New International Version--a relief, since Nancy Rue is fond of using The Message in some of her other books. Of course, the journey is not a simple one: Sophie becomes confused, reads the Scriptures reluctantly at first, and sometimes mis-applies their meaning. But, she always tries hard to do God's will--even if her realizations take time. The element of faith in the Sophie Series, and in this book especially, is strong and consistent, Biblically sound and beautiful in every way. Many of my readers will ask if this book is "moralistic". Honestly, I have no idea and never have. Books are just books, and they do not fall into one category or another for me. I can say that discussions of God are present throughout the book and that they are woven seamlessly among the other themes of school, friends, family, and film-making. So, for me, it's the perfect amount.
You should also know that this is not the most elegantly-penned series I have ever encountered. Creative? Yes. Poetic? Not quite... But it isn't supposed to be. It's supposed to be about growing closer to God and how "a gentle answer turns away wrath" on a child's level. This is accomplished wonderfully. For all its use of imagination, descriptions of setting and of internal emotions are factual. Written in the third-person past, Sophie's Secret offers just enough of everything--sufficient setting description, sufficient physical description of characters, and sufficient dialogue. Where Rue truly shines is in her character development: Sophie is a round, dynamic character and even supporting characters have well-defined traits. Rue is not a contemporary Spyri or Alcott, but she is devout, and that, too, is sufficient.
I'm sure that many of my readers are wondering what lackadaisical reviewer took the place of Bethesda Lily at the keyboard, but I have changed over the past two years--and I believe that this growth is for the better. Perhaps it would help if I explained why and how I acquired Sophie's Secret to begin with. Learn a lesson from me, right here and now:Life is too complicated and too fraught with emotion to worry about metaphors, abstractions, rhythm, and voice. Facing crisis after crisis tends to alter one's perspective on life and writing. All you want is a safe place to hide, a few moments snatched from despair, a few seconds in which you can somehow remember that there is hope. Romance novels won't do anything for your aching heart, so you turn to children's books--especially all the Christian fodder you could never access as a child, but for which you always longed. What do sentence length and vividness of detail matter in this situation? Here is a writer who talks about Jesus, even at a child's level. Here is a family filled with love--much like your own, except that Rue's characters aren't experiencing actual tragedy. Here is a book you can read in two hours--you can read into the night, knowing that all possible "crises" will be resolved by 2:00 AM. You can see through this venire of storytelling and into the author's heart. "Nancy Rue loves the Lord," you find yourself thinking. "She sees hope. I must hope, too. Faith, hope, and love... Faith is the substance of things hoped for... Have faith in God..."
And then, little by little, God begins to pull you out of anguish--not the Slough of Despond you imagined on the way to the coffee shop, but the very real terror your heart had experienced for more than six months. The Good Shepherd is calling for obedience and a willingness to follow. You continue to read some of these books, if only for the purposes of reviewing them later--and, yes, you do plan to review the entire series as it becomes available in the Epinions database. These books are comforting and comfortable, and Rue's writing matters little under those conditions. It's like this: When you're having a difficult day, when you're frustrated and concerned, when you feel weighed down, and when you cry out to the Lord, sometimes you're helped right away. You're filled with joy, and somehow you find yourself humming a melody. "Jesus Loves Me" or some other song you surely ought to have abandoned in Sunday school comes floating in and out of your heart for the rest of the day. That, on a written level, is Sophie's Secret.
What differentiates this book from others in the series is that it is so tranquil, and that the resolution is so joyful. Tranquility first: Somehow, the motifs of attics and cozy nooks for contemplation lend this book an air of soft, gentle peace. Did I mention that this book is best for young girls!? And now for the idea of resolution: I shan't spoil the story, but I will intimate again that this is a children's book, and children's books don't usually end in tragedy. Actually, critical readers will probably classify the resolution as too tidy--wrapped up in pretty paper and tied with a bow, as it were--but don't we all like to receive presents sometimes? I will note that this book is one of the best-resolved in the series; other books' endings are a bit less polished.
Young readers should enjoy the interplay among school; Sophie's group of friends, who call themselves the Cornflakes; and their rivals, a group of popular girls whom Sophie has designated the Corn Pops. Vivid expression again... Anyway, Sophie's social interactions influence home life, and vice-versa. Again, I enjoy the fact that Rue focuses on a number of elements here--a refreshing change from those children's books that focus solely on school, friends, or family.
What of this book's target audience? Well, I vividly recall being ten, and certainly being twelve. I would have loved Sophie's Secret. For children who are experiencing family strife, or for any young reader who has questions about God and wants to grow closer to Him, this is an exquisite book. Equally nice is the fact that this book may be taken as a stand-alone book, joyous on its own merits. Books in the Sophie Series may be read in any order; I believe I started with Book VIII. Shame on me! But, at least I now know it can be done.
Now, where to find it? I obtained an electronic copy at a library of sorts, but ultimately ended up buying the audio edition from Audible. I'm saving it for the future niece I may or may not have in a little over a decade... Or, I can just be honest and declare that I wanted to see how my reading/reviewing experience would be affected by hearing the nuances that an electronic version could not provide. My results: Judy Young is a proficient narrator who does a good job with voice inflections and even differentiating characters' voices. Her narration lacks passion, but this isn't a book for preschoolers, so I'm not too concerned about the unenthusiastic rendering.
And now, if you will excuse me, it's time for some creative thinking of my own. 'Tis time to pass by the actual lilies that rest on the window sill. Of course, you're probably aware that lilies are trumpets, praising God. I will unfold the pages of a beautiful scrapbook--in reality, finding the appropriate folders on my iPod where notes, journal entries, and memories of family adventures are stored. I'll come across a scrap of paper lying on a table and decide that its edges resemble the pages of a Bible. Or maybe I'll simply envision--no, know--that I have been clothed with the garment of praise. I'll see that this review was actually worship all along, understand that He has crowned me with beauty and filled me with joy, and cease all trumpeting and scrapbooking and lily-observation, at rest in who He has created me to be.
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