Monday, September 21, 2009

Truth or Dare

Truth or Dare is the first book in the Scenarios for Girls series by Nicole O'Dell. It follows Lindsay Martin and her three best friends: Macy, Sam and Kelly. As the new school year begins, these eighth-grade girls seem to have the world on a string. Before long, they decide to start a weekly sleepover tradition. Each Friday night, they stay at a different girl's house. Like all slumber parties, these nights involve junk food, silliness and games. In their case, the main game is Truth or Dare.

It started innocently enough. Kelly taught the girls the game and everyone had a great time the first week. After the parents discover baseball cleats frozen in a bucket, they make a new rule: no destroying property with the dares. But even with the new rule, the risks quickly escalate to a level that makes Lindsay uncomfortable. To make matters worse, the girls push Lindsay to promise she'll do a "dare" and not a "truth" at the next sleepover.

Lindsay is the only one of her friends who is a Christian. She's the only one whose parents require her to go to church and youth group. She really likes those things and wants to please God, but she wants to stay tight with her friends too. This causes a conflict, especially when her pastor and youth pastor seem to be stuck on the same message: avoid the appearance of evil. Lindsay learns that even if she's not doing anything wrong, hanging with those who are doing something wrong can harm her reputation and her ability to share Christ with others.

This lesson becomes painfully tangible at the next sleepover. First, Kelly fulfills her dare by drinking a whole can of beer from her parents' fridge. When it's Lindsay's turn, the girls dare her to walk to the corner store and buy a can of beer. She says she can't, that the dare isn't fair, but the girls insist that if she doesn't complete the dare, she can't be part of their group anymore. Kelly claims it's a matter of honor: she agreed to play the game and if she doesn't do this, then she isn't keeping her word and they can't trust her. Macy and Sam agree with Kelly, but insist that Lindsay doesn't have to drink the beer; she just needs to try to buy it. If the shopkeeper won't let her buy it, that's okay and they can still be friends as long as she tries.

At this point in the book (110 pages in), readers must make a choice for Lindsay. Does she stand up to her friends and refuse the dare? Or does she go along to keep her friends? Two endings are written for the book. Readers decide what they think Lindsay should do, then turn to the page for that outcome.

In the first scenario, Lindsay stands up to her friends. She calls her mom to pick her up and spends the night crying and praying over her decision. Meanwhile, the girls decide someone else has to finish the dare. Since Sam's turn was next, she had to do it. The shopkeeper calls the police when these thirteen-year-old girls try to buy beer. Kelly, Macy and Sam are all suspended from school for three days and they've each got a heap of trouble at home. Even with all the trouble, they still refuse to talk to Lindsay. Eventually, though, Macy apologizes. She wants to remain friends, but struggles to be strong with Kelly being such a forceful leader. It takes a while, but the girls slowly work things out. Lindsay is given a great opportunity to show biblical forgiveness and even gets to tell them a little about Jesus.

In the second scenario, Lindsay goes along with her friends. While she's trying to buy the beer, the police arrive. She's arrested and charged, suspended from school and asked to step down from being a student leader in the church youth group. Her relationship with her parents is tense and awkward, and her friends still aren't really talking to her. A long time passes before Lindsay recognizes that things will never be the same until she gets things straight with God. Her actions weren't wrong because she got caught, but because she didn't stand up for what was right. Once she acknowledges this, the path to healing begins. She apologizes to her parents, her friends' parents, her pastors and youth leaders. Even in this scenario she finds a way to share Jesus and God's truth about forgiveness.

The last page of the book offers personal application. It gives a prayer and a place for readers to sign, acknowledging that they have learned from Lindsay's story and, as a result, commit to making godly choices.

What I Like: This is a strong book, relevant and challenging. It confronts peer pressure head-on. The best part: it internalizes the story for readers. It forces them to think through what they would do in this situation and then provides the outcome for both choices. I really like that both scenarios offer redemptive truths. Even when Lindsay makes poor choices, she learns something and finds forgiveness and restoration. I like that Scripture is provided on more than one occasion. This pushes readers back to the Word of God, which is always beneficial.

What I Dislike: Overall, this is a great book, a tad cliche in some spots, but a great book. However, two items of content nit-picked at me.

During the youth group meeting, the pastor offers weak Scriptural support for his argument. His talk (which utilizes James 1) seems to encourage kids to seek trials because of what God can do in us through them. Trials do make us stronger, but they should not be our goal. I would have liked to see him encourage kids to seek God first (Matthew 6) so that they may stay strong in the trials that will inevitably come.

Also, the night before the last sleepover, Lindsay's mother offers advice that seems contradictory to what her pastors have been saying. Lindsay is nervous about the sleepover and doesn't really want to go. She's afraid of what will happen there. Her mother, instead of supporting Lindsay's decision to stay away from compromising situations, encourages her to go anyway. She insists that Lindsay's job is to be a strong witness to her friends. I feel she knowingly put her in a situation where she knew her daughter felt uncomfortable and too weak to resist temptation. While the pastors are asking believers to flee temptation and avoid the appearance of evil, Mrs. Martin asks her daughter to walk through the fire and come out unscathed.

Overall Rating: Very Good.

Age Appeal: 10-15

Publisher Info: Barbour Books, 2009; ISBN: 1602603995; Paperback; $7.97

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Special Info: See our reviews of other books by this author.

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