Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chronicles of the Broken

Amanda Washington wrote Chronicles of the Broken in an attempt to give her teenage boys an alternative to Amish, romantic fiction. Washington definitely met her goal! Chronicles of the Broken is an edgy novel, designed to meet non-Christian teens where they are at.

"The broken" are five teens and a fill-in youth leader, whose overlapping lives intersect in a powerful winter retreat. Led by Pastor James, the odd mix of teens must learn to interact without the help of television or the internet. Pastor James tries to teach them about the Bible, but first, they must work on being civil to each other and overcoming stereotypes. When one of the teens falls off a cliff, everyone wonders what God is trying to teach them.

The prologue details Marcus' fall off the cliff, and the first seven chapters are essentially character sketches, written to introduce us to each of the five teens, Pastor James, and Rachel, his assistant. The teens are dealing with a range of problems, from abuse, gaming addictions, broken homes, and the death or serious illness of a parent. They are from inner-city, middle class and wealthy families. Pastor James is a young man with a checkered past, but a heart for God. Rachel is newly separated from her husband, and agrees to help with the retreat more as a way to get her mind off of her troubles and escape from her mother. Eventually, they all find common ground, and learn about who God is and what Jesus has done for them.

What I Like: Washington knows how to get a reader's attention. After reading about Marcus' fall in the prologue, I had to keep reading. I didn't find out what happened until half-way through the book. I also liked the way she used the first seven chapters to present very different characters with different stories. She does a great job bringing the stories together and making us care about all of the characters.

I especially like Pastor James. He is a complex pastor, who can relate to the teens or be annoyed with them, by turns. Throughout the retreat, he never loses sight of his goal (to show the teens who Jesus is) even though he throws away his web notes on "How to lead a youth retreat," after about the second day.

I also like the ending. : ) Without giving away too many details, the ending is satisfying, fits the characters, and is hopeful but realistic. Washington presents the hope of Christ without making you think if you just become a Christian, everything will be perfect. In addition, by the time Washington presents the gospel, readers are already invested in the lives of the characters. I would guess even decidedly non-Christian readers would finish the book, in order to see what happens to everyone.

What I Dislike: I can't decide if this is a dislike, or just a warning. When I said the novel is edgy, that is exactly what I meant. The teens talk the way high school students really talk--not the way their mothers' wish they talked. For example, when Jessica falls in the hall at school, she accidentally grabs another girl's chest as she is trying to keep her balance. The other girl shouts, "Hey, that chic grabbed my boob!" A boy standing nearby chimes in, "That's hot. Can I watch?"

In another instance, Trevor's bartender mother returns home late after work one night. The next morning, Trevor sees a strange pair of men's shoes in the closet. He is supposed to wake his mom up, and wonders if he should just say, "Hey, mom. Hey, strange, naked guy in my mom's bed."

On the one hand, teens can relate to this kind of conversation, and I doubt they would put the book down because it is too preachy or too Christian. On the other hand, the language may make parents cringe, particularly if you are used to settings more conservative than public schools.

Overall Rating: Very good

Age Appeal: Young adult (14 and up), although I would probably wait until teens are 16 or over

Publisher Info: Leeway Artisans, 2011; ISBN: 978-0-9823349-8-0; Paperback, 283 pages, $11.95

Buy it at for $9.59.

Special Info: The book deals with teen pregnancy, underage drinking, drug use, and selling of drugs.

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Anonymous said...

Hi - I agree with most everything you've written - this is a great book which is written in "real world" terms, and her characters sound just like today's teens might sound. I love that this book is so easy to relate to.

I understand how you might worry about some of the "edgy" subject matters, however I would lower the age restrictions to 13+. Unless the kids are going to a private Christian school, or are being home schooled and kept away from the reality of teens and how some of them behave, most of them have "heard it all" by the time they get to high school. I don't believe there is anything in this book that will shock anyone.

That being said, this was a good review of a really good book.


Erin said...

Thanks for your comments, Vickie! I always have a hard time putting age recommendations on books. : ) I agree--if you are used to public high schools, you probably won't be shocked by the book. However, I wanted parents to know the language is a bit more rough than most Christian books. Thanks for reading CCBR, and I am glad you enjoyed the book! : ) Erin