Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The God Squad in an Episode of Mission Him-Possible: The Distorted Mirror

The book The God Squad in an Episode of Mission Him-Possible the Distorted Mirror by Darlene Laney features six teenage girls (ages 12-15) of varying ethnic backgrounds that all attend  Carver Preparatory School. These once rough-edged girls have all bonded together as friends through their faith and desire to share their faith with others. They even came up with a name for their group: the God Squad. (The God Squad gives a nod to the inspiration for its name, The Mod Squad, a 1960-70s iconic counter culture television series about hippie undercover cops.)

As the girls' mentor, Ms. Foster not only counsels and guides them, she also gives them missions. In this book, the mission is to befriend a new student named Kelsey who has two issues to deal with. First, she is obsessively focused on looks and struggling with her self image. Second, she is making poor choices in order to fit in with the "popular" crowd. The girls aim to help her accept who she is in Christ.

The book begins with a short introduction from one of the characters, a girl named Mia, who says she will be the narrator for this episode. (Note: In actuality, she only narrates between chapters of the books, and not the actual story itself, which is told in third person.) In between chapters, Mia "converses" with you, the reader. On the about three-quarter length page, Mia invites you to reflect on times you have faced a similar situation, how you felt about it, and encourages you to visit the website and post your thoughts. These short interludes are very much like the commentary from a character following an Adventures in Odyssey program.

After that brief introduction, the reader meets all the six main characters-- seven if you count Ms. Foster-- and is given a glimpse at their meeting place (called the sanctuary) and their mission. We then meet Kelsey and see some of her inner struggle. From then on, the story follows the girls attempts to welcome Kelsey. Kelsey finds herself drawn to the friendship they offer, but at the same time not wanting to associate with them because she wants to hang with the "popular" crowd.

Things come to a crisis in the middle of the night, with Kelsey feeling cornered at a drunken Frat party and wanting a way out. In desperation, she calls Mia.

Mia and her friends come to the rescue, putting on their armor to go to battle for their lost pal. Each God Squad member goes into action. Mia uses the Sword of the Spirit to cut through the darkness (the frat halls) to get to Kelsey. Eve puts on the Shield of Faith to put out fiery darts of doubt and despair. Jade puts on the Hemet of Salvation to block their minds from fear and lies. Angel, Chris, and Sadie wear the Shoes of Peace, the Belt of Truth, and the Breastplate of Righteousness to go with Mia into the frat house to retrieve Kelsey.

After that incident, Kelsey realizes the follies of her choices and finally takes her life in the right direction.

What I Like: I appreciate how this book is supported by outside perks. First, readers are encouraged to become members of the God Squad. They can write via snail mail (an address is provided in the book). It also has a website. Finally, readers can visit the Facebook page to get daily G.E.M.S (God's Empowering Moments). I think that's a great way to connect with the reader and encourage them in their faith.

I also thought some of the questions Mia asked at the end of each chapter would make great talking points for a small group of readers or thinking points for a single reader to reflect on. The author seemed to have a good understanding of some of the conflicts and issues teen girls face. Plus, the overall idea of finding our worth in God and accepting ourselves for the way He made us is clear.

Finally, I appreciated how often the girls cooperated, supported each other, encouraged each other, and turned to the power of prayer. What great messages for teens!

What I Dislike: For me, there are a few minor dislikes I feel I should mention. First, the pictures are cute, but cartoonish, and a bit like a clean version of the Bratz dolls. I feel like they are a little immature for the teen target audience.

It's a little pricey for a paperback.

There are also at least Four catch-phrases in the book. Mission Impossible. SGF (Special God Force). God Squad. Prayer Power. I would have preferred the author pick one and stick with it.

Technically, I found several punctuation errors in the second half of the book.

UPDATE: Since publishing this review, CCBR heard from the author, who stated that the punctuation errors had been corrected in the latest version of the book. Yay!

Finally, much of the story structure is spent in a tedious cycle:  An event would happen that involved one or a few of the main six girls... and then all the girls would get together, and the event would be retold again. So you get a little bit of action and then a rehashing of all the action you just read about. Sometimes during these discussion sessions, a verbal response was given from each character. Here is a sample of what I am talking about from the epilogue (in response to a question from Ms. Foster asking how the girls were doing):
"Great," Mia chirped. /"Good," Eva added. /"Fine," Sadie supplied. /"Fantastic," Angel replied./ "Okay," Chris supplied. /"So-so," Jade replied.)

For me, that made the story stagnate.

Overall Rating: Good.  However, to be fair, I can envision some readers giving it a "very good" rating because of the opportunity to interact with the characters and the author online. That's a big bonus!

Age Appeal: None listed, but I recommend ages 8-12.

Publisher Info: Halo Publishing International, 2014; ISBN: 978-1612442976; Paperback and Kindle, 134 pgs., $13.95

This book is not available at Christianbook.com.
Buy the paperback from Amazon.com for $12.56 or the Kindle version for $6.95.

Special Info:  Laney also offers a book called God's Special Forces: A Manuel for Becoming a Young Woman of Quality.

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