Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Once Upon a Summer

Janette Oke, the well-known author of the Love Comes Softly series, also wrote Once Upon a Summer, the endearing tale of 12-year-old Josh, his Auntie Lou, and the three older men who raise them. Set in the Old West, Once Upon a Summer is the realistic story of a young boy questioning the faith of his fathers and learning what it means to believe in God for himself. Oke's likable characters provide down-home comfort, but the story has enough action and suspense to keep readers interested.

Although Auntie Lou is only six years older than Josh, she is the only mother he has ever known. When Grandpa and Uncle Charlie decide to marry her off, Josh's world begins to change. More changes are in store when Gramps moves all the way from out East to live with them, Josh acquires a dog, and the town preacher retires.

Josh wants Auntie Lou to be happy, but he doesn't like the idea of her married and living somewhere else. When Gramps arrives, he proves to be a powerful ally. He loves Auntie Lou, too, and he and Josh foil several of Grandpa and Uncle Charlie's matchmaking schemes. Gramps also knows how much Josh would like a dog. When Gramps brings home a puppy for Josh, he doesn't realize heartbreak is just around the corner. When the puppy is killed while Josh is at school, Josh decides he doesn't need God anymore. He is already angry with God for allowing his parents to be killed before he could have any memories of them, so after Patches dies, he decides to ignore God, despite Auntie Lou's protests.

Josh keeps busy between school, fishing, chores, and another puppy, but when the new preacher comes to town, Josh is forced to think about God again. The new preacher seems kind, but poor, so when he develops an interest in Auntie Lou, Grandpa and Uncle Charlie are less than enthusiastic. However, Preacher Crawford wins them over after he manages to save Josh's new puppy from being crushed and their farm from a dangerous wildfire.

In the end, Pastor Crawford shows Josh the reality of God's love and forgiveness, and Josh chooses to accept the love of Jesus. Auntie Lou is thrilled, and when she and the pastor get married, Josh gets to live with them.

What I Like: Oke does such a good job of showing us a young boy who is wrestling with his faith. Josh has had a rough life, and he questions why life is so unfair if God really loves him. Many readers will relate to these questions on some level or other, and Oke does such a good job of giving a gentle and wise response. Auntie Lou tells Josh she could make a box around her flowers, so bugs and hail couldn't hurt them, but then sun and rain couldn't reach them either and they wouldn't grow. She and the pastor both reassure Josh of God's love, without giving pat explanations. They admit they don't know why bad things happen, but they remain strong in their convictions that God loves us no matter what.

I also like the characterization. Oke's characters seem like real people, with different personalities and quirks. They are at times funny, serious, silly and strong-willed. I feel as if Gramps was my grandpa, and Auntie Lou a sister.

Oke also includes a fantastic episode where Auntie Lou explains to Josh she would never consider marrying one of the nicer men in town, because he doesn't go to church or know God. She speaks of the young man with utmost respect, and tells Josh she would never flirt with him because it would hurt his feelings. This is a great message for readers who are just beginning to be interested in members of the opposite sex.

What I Dislike: I am not a fan of books written in non-standard English. Oke conveys a Western feel by using words like "jest" for "just," "git" for "get," "purty" for "pretty," and so on. She also shortens all the "-ing" endings to "-in'." However, it didn't take me long to get used to the language and I enjoyed reading the book regardless.

Overall Rating: Excellent

Age Appeal:
9-12, but older teens would also enjoy it

Publisher Info: Bethany House, 2010; ISBN: 0764208004; Paperback, $13.99

Buy it Now at Christianbook.com for $9.99

OR Buy it at Amazon.com for $11.89

Special Info: Read our reviews of children's books by Janette Oke here.
This is a reprint edition-- the book was originally published in 1981.

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1 comment:

Beverly said...

Erin - great review! I totally agree with the things you said about this book.