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Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Finalist: THE FAITHFUL SPY by John Hendrix

faithful spy
I must begin with a disclaimer. Though I try to remain neutral in my analysis and discussions, I find myself incapable of such literary integrity in this context. I absolutely love THE FAITHFUL SPY written by John Hendrix. There are a couple flaws which friends have pointed out to me in our discussions and I am sure those will come out at some point as my renowned committee colleagues discuss this title—-but this introduction will focus on what I see as the three strongest positive literary aspects of this novel.

First of all, the character development of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is exemplary. It is a challenge to succeed at this in fiction, let alone crushing it within a story that is based on a true event. The way the author takes us inside the mind and soul of Bonhoeffer creates a dynamic, rounded character. I felt, as the book went on, I could say I KNEW and understood the character as I would know and understand my best friend. Bonhoeffer was a multi-layered character and Hendrix does an excellent job in carefully peeling away those layers without losing the reader’s interest in the process. Quotations from his childhood at the age of four—chapter one, page 8 [page numbers refer to the softcover edition]—take us into his mind at an early age and the explanation of his time in Harlem take us into the evolving convictions of this man who would risk his life to kill Hitler. Hendrix connects these convictions to the story on page 33 ,chapter 2… “To think that something like this kind of repulsive segregation could come to his Germany was impossible.” By the end of the novel, the reader can clearly see the heart of the man.

A second positive strength of the writing here is how Hendrix effectively weaves powerful threads of primary sources into the story of THE FAITHFUL SPY. I have read many novels which attempt this but only turn out sounding like a different, just as boring version of a school textbook. [ I am a school teacher of 30 years, so I can get away with that comment about textbooks.] The prose is written in simple, but beautiful language and the word choices are perfectly placed around the quotations that are used. I can cite many examples throughout the novel where this use of sources is done so well like beautiful verbal brushstrokes on a literary canvas that many see as masterful. The pictures painted with these sources are what ties the entire story together and builds the Bonhoeffer world inside the reader’s mind. Some exemplary examples are 1. The letter to his mom…chapter two, page 30.    2. Bonhoeffer’s journal… chapter six, page 138.  3. His quote about Hitler…chapter six, page 150. These are just a few examples of how Hendrix effectively draws a realistic picture of this historical event.

A third positive literary strength in this novel is how Hendrix beautifully complements the text with his bold, vibrant pictures woven throughout the novel. Now I am well aware of what the Newbery Criteria has to say about pictures and photos used within a novel. And, in my opinion—an opinion which has caused some of my best literary friends to give me respectful, impatient glares this year—- the text of this novel can stand strong all by itself without the pictures. But the drawings wonderfully reflect the themes of the story. Hendrix uses the colors of the backgrounds to symbolize the mood of what is happening. The pictures create another way for the reader to feel the emotions the words have already painted—emotions of fear, despair and hope. I must admit I am very biased in favor of effective graphic novels. I think this is a graphic novel…..even though during my second read, I did not feel that the pictures dominated my thinking like many graphic novels do. The writing of Hendrix is what makes this novel distinguished. The pictures are not necessary but do reflect the mood of the story as it progresses. I believe that one of these days a Gold medal will be placed upon the cover of a Graphic Novel—-I wanted it to happen with the first installment of MARCH—-. One could argue whether or not that statement is true and, when  it happens, how it will turn the Newbery world upside down. But, I find it hard to think one could argue against THE FAITHFUL SPY as being one of the most distinguished books this year.

Introduction by Sam

As usual, we will start with positive comments about the book, then open it up to broader discussion, including concerns and questions, later today.  Heavy Medal Committee members and other readers are all invited to chime in.

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Roxanne Hsu Feldman About Roxanne Hsu Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at roxannefeldman@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. A quick note: Sam has to travel for work and cannot be fully engaged on Heavy Medal until next week — we thank him for preparing this introduction and invite all to weigh in!

  2. I agree with you, Sam, that Bonhoeffer is a wonderful choice for a book, and I think that, as you say, Hendrix manages to get quite a lot of history and biography in for the size of the book, and to me it (mostly) did not feel too much “in the weeds” – as he said at the end, he had to leave a lot out! I read a book on Bonhoeffer when I was in high school, but I came away from this book feeling like I understood him like never before.

    One thing I love about Hendrix’s work (seen also in Miracle Man, if it is okay to reference another title) is that the words themselves are often illustrations. I don’t have a copy of the book here with me so I can’t cite a particular page, but his style of illustrating the information through both words and pictures is so distinctive. I like how you called it “verbal brushstrokes.”

    The wonderful choice of Bonhoeffer and Hendrix’s distinctive style both distinguished this book for me this year.

    • For HM readers/spectators on the bleachers: Newbery committee members usually do not not reference an author’s previous work. For example, we could just state that we appreciate the typographical/textual interplay in this book. That does not diminish the excellence of the element in this particular book. Also — if an author has done the same old thing for 12 books in a roll, one also has to refrain from saying, “But they have been rehashing their own thing forever…” — instead, the book needs to be examined on its own and also only in comparison to the other books from the same year.

      • Leonard Kim says:

        Roxanne, with regards to an author’s previous books, I read the Terms and Criteria as definitely saying a committee can’t make an award on the basis of the author’s past body of work.

        But I think the Terms and Criteria do leave room for asking whether the author’s current book has been “done before.” I think that’s consistent with considering whether a book is a “significant achievement”, “individually distinct”, ” and “a contribution to American literature.” One of my very first comments ever on Heavy Medal was about Kate DiCamillo, a peerless author who writes like no one else but very much writes like herself. I don’t think that section of the Terms and Criteria should give any extra advantage to someone like her. (Though given how often she’s won, perhaps it does. Be interesting to see how the discussion on LOUISIANA plays out…)

        The interpretation of that section of the Terms and Criteria is tricky to me. In the discussion of BRANGWAIN, mutliple people called it “unique.” I agree there isn’t a perfectly similar book to it (I’d suggested REBOUND and BABY MONKEY), but I wonder, if you looked at SPY and BRANGWAIN together in a complete vacuum (in particular, suppressing knowledge of Hendrix’s style), could SPY’s way of combining visuals and words then seem just as distinctive as BRANGWAIN’s?

  3. Courtney Hague says:

    I definitely think Hendrix really excels in the way in which he develops Bonhoeffer as a character in THE FAITHFUL SPY. I think thematically the book really works to give urgency to a historical topic making it seem like it is currently happening rather than like the recounting of past events.

    For the way in which the typographical and textual elements interplay with one another, I would site p. 76-77 where “The Night of Broken Glass” is written in broken glass or p. 85 where what would be a footnote in any other book is written as a highlighted word with a line leading away to the margins where the text of the referenced letter is then written out.

    I think the text of this work is strong enough to stand without the illustrations but that the illustrations give the work more depth.

    • sam leopold says:

      Courtney and Karl……..

      I agree with your comments and think you both more fully explained my points in my introduction. I should consult you both on any further intros.
      Leonard, I would say yes to the last question.

  4. sarahbtlibrarian says:

    I was riveted by this book! As others have stated, the characterization is so well done and I felt as though I really got to know Bonhoeffer and understand him. I loved how the author seamlessly weaved in quotes and his speculative text flowed well and didn’t feel out of character for what could have been said. Example-when Bonhoeffer is in America discussing church, war, and segregation with his friends.

    What I especially appreciated was Hendrix’s full examination and deep dive into not only Bonhoeffer himself but what was happening around him. He really gives a full picture and as he explains in the author’s note, he didn’t want to just create a picture of Hitler as the evil villain, but really explore and explain how he had come into power. It’s easy for us to wonder how people could be led by someone we see as a monster, but at the time, there was so much else happening and Hendrix does an excellent job of painting that picture and showing us Germany’s feelings about government and war and how Hitler played into that. He presents it in a way for young readers to understand history and think he excels in this aspect.

    The whole package is stunning. As Kari said, the use of words in the illustrations add an extra layer and it almost feels like you’re uncovering a secret message throughout.

    I found this book to be an excellent and distinct nonfiction offering and I loved it!

    • The historical context in this book was incredible. The way Hendrix showed the birth and increasing power of the Nazi party was chilling up against some of the rhetoric in the air today. He was great with his use of primary sources, but didn’t’ shy away from allowing his authorial voice to layer on opinion. There is a point where the Nazis rise to power and he refers to them as rats, a choice loaded with bias, but with well documented cause.

  5. Mary Zdrojewski says:

    I put off reading this one for a while because I dreaded reading yet another World War II book.

    What this book does well that I generally find missing in WW2 books is the really deep historical context. The book doesn’t start when war is declared; it gives insight into to factors that contributed to the war and shaped the players. It was a lot of information to fit into one book, but Hendrix does it well without it becoming overwhelming. There were also many players involved, but Hendrix gave enough quick reminders that it was possible to remember who was who. (Can I compare this to “Snow Lane,” whose characters and names I kept mixing up all the way through?)

  6. steven engelfried says:

    At this point, readers are invited to share questions or concerns about THE FAITHFUL SPY. Further exploration of the book’s positive qualities can still continue as well…

  7. Cherylynn5691 says:

    I loved the art of the book, I liked the way the biographical elements were added to the text. The time period was very vivid. I enjoyed the illustrations especially how they helped understand the story. My problem has to do with the design of the book and the readability of that design. The text was very small and hard to read. In the Newbery criteria we can talk about the overall design if it makes the book less effective.

    • My eyes were challenged as well.

      • Total eyeball torture–luckily the story was so gripping that it was worthwhile to persevere. But really, tiny white print on a pebbly turquoise background? Aaaaaaaaaaa!

    • I too, was challenged by the design of the book, but for a different reason. I couldn’t decide whether it was cool or not. On one hand, it felt really cool. On the other hand, I don’t know if the design fits the story.

      I think a child would pick this up expecting a thrilling graphic novel and in one sense, they will get that, but the text is so much deeper than your average graphic novel. I loved the way Hendrix laid out the story, from start to finish, and it is a great story. But in the end, the design of this, was a little distracting.

  8. steven engelfried says:

    I agree with Leonard that in order to identify a work as “individually distinct” we can mention books from past years to some degree. If we say: “there hasn’t been a book about Hitler that explores history and themes in this way,” there’s an assumption that among the fifteen members there will be several who have read lots of nonfiction and will have a sense of the truth of that statement. I think you could also add: “for example, Giblin’s ‘The Life and Death of Adolph Hitler’ was excellent, but it didn’t do this or that, which this book does.” At that point, you’re giving an example of a notable book and making a broad comparison as an example. What you couldn’t do, though, is to get into the details of the Giblin book with specific comparisons. Committee members won’t have read the book recently, and we must compare FAITHFUL SPY only to this year’s titles. But touching on a real example does provide some level of context to the “individually distinct” discussion. If I was Chair, I would likely allow the comparison, but also remind members how the Terms and Criteria apply and of the limits to which that book from the past can impact the discussion (and hopefully do it more articulately than I have here…)

    • Steven and Leonard, I do not read “individually distinct” as being unique, unlike others, or unusual. It only means to me that it has distinguishing qualities and all those qualities work in concert to create an entity that stands out from others — a historical fiction set in the same time period as three other historical fiction could still be “individually distinct.”

      Steven also explained well why Newbery Committee members would need to avoid comparison with other books — no matter how well known they are — because not all members would have had the same level of intimacy with said titles and thus the comparison would create an uneven understanding amongst the members.

      Even on Heavy Medal — although Rebound and other titles were suggested and/or nominated, our HMAC members are only required to read the final 18 (unlike the real committee members) and discuss based on these titles. Thus, using other titles as comparison would be asking them to go beyond what each of them is required to do. (Some would have read the understood the references while others won’t.)

      Finally — I imagine that Newbery members (myself definitely did this) would avoid making sweeping statements like, “The only title that ever did this,” or “The best at…. ” or “No one’s ever covered this…. ” since we are all aware of our own limitations. So the focus would just have stayed on finding examples of various distinguishing literary qualities (even though freshness of topic or approach could be one of such qualities) to discuss.

  9. Deborah Ford says:

    I think another thing FAITHFUL SPY do is to slow down. It’s not a book you can skim. I’ve read it several times and each time, it seems that it takes me longer to do so. I’m not necessarily studying the illustrations. The text (and layout) causes me to slow down and consider what I’ve read. Though a couple of other titles caused me to pause (two for interrupting illustrations and one for interrupting articles), this is the only book that caused me to slow my reading of the text on purpose.

  10. Since I’m only just now weighing in, I’ll share both my commendations and concerns.

    The commendations:

    1. Sam has indicated much of what I admire about the book. One of the biggest strengths of the book is how Bonhoeffer is characterized. The reader starts pretty much knowing how it will end (not well), and it’s tough not to root for Bonhoeffer even though you know his fate is sealed. I like, too, how Hendrix wove in elements of religious thought and belief without being preachy. I am generally turned off by anything that whiffs of religion – any religion – but I found the faith aspect of this book comforting, largely in part because we follow Bonhoeffer through his own religious edification. It didn’t feel sugarcoated or shoehorned in.

    2. Hendrix provides so much context to the events that it’s quite a marvel that the book isn’t 1,000 pages long. I think this is commendable: Hendrix’s broad strokes of events feel intricately detailed (even though they aren’t). The writing is tight and focused without feeling overly academic.

    3. This book feels very timely and timeless. There may always be oppression by dictators, and FAITHFUL feels like both a survivor’s guide and a bright ray of hope. To that end, it would be a marvelous companion piece in a world studies class.

    The concerns:

    1. As others have pointed out, the design of this book is flat out awful. I don’t know what art director thought red and teal and white would make for a pleasing experience, but it was fairly nauseating for this reader. The teensy-tiny print and the teal writing on white background was horrific. My reading glasses have never gotten so much use because usually the print is big enough in middle grade books for me not to need them. Man, was it painful.

    I have a genuine question, too, about the design. Would a reader with red/green color blindness be able to read this book? I’m not entirely familiar with how color blindness works.

    • Joe, I agree with all the points you make here. I was moved by Boenhoeffer’s spiritual queries– and I don’t identify as a religious person at all. Really fantastic writing and choices of what to include by the author!

    • I agree with all of what has been said – both the complaints about the difficulty of reading the book (the black type on the dark teal background was the one that I had the hardest time with) and the praise for the succinctness with which the book was able to create deep historical context. I agree with Joe that I am extremely wary of books that center religion, but I think the author did an excellent job explaining the ways in which Bonhoeffer’s faith was central to his life. I think the fact that he also mentioned that Hitler was convinced his mission was supported by God helped to showcase that the book wasn’t about why Bonhoeffer was totally correct in everything he had to say because Christianity is the best, but rather that his faith was important because it shaped who his choices and actions.

      Also, it might be a bit nitpicking but there were too many exclamation marks! On the average of one every other page (at least for the twenty minutes of reading in which I made a point of sampling!) That’s a lot! It undermines their impact! And it sometimes created a strange tonal affect!

    • Mary Zdrojewski says:

      I assumed the red and teal were chosen to make it feel like old-fashion 3-D, emphasizing the “action movie” tone of the text.
      I know we aren’t discussing the illustrations/design except if they detract from the text, but I did think this was a neat concept that did add to “edge of your seat” feeling of the text, but it would have been less of a detraction if it were used more sparingly, like on first pages of chapters. The way it is, I found the text very difficult to read.

      • This made me curious – I found a pair of my son’s 3D glasses and looked at the book with them. I thought it made some of the maps “pop.” It was really effective on the Christmas tree on page 45 and the buildings on pages 50/51.

  11. I loved this book so much! I would say that my reservations about the text were that it, at times, had to work so much information in that the text was doing more work and was sometimes less beautiful than other titles. Since the Newbery focuses on the text and not the “total package” I almost feel like this book is at a disadvantage because it had so much story to tell. Overall the total package is beautiful even if some passages of text are less so.

  12. samuel leopold says:

    Great comments. As I said in my introduction, I saw a couple flaws with this wonderful title. One being that of trying to fit in so much information into the text which distracted me at times from the flow of the story.

  13. First, a work of historical fiction about Bonhoeffer is commendable and this book should offer many opportunities to learn more about the Holocaust. I do feel it necessary to point out that, in relating the heroic and noble tale of this man, the author has chosen to focus on a non-Jew, rather than on Jewish resistance to Hitler. That is a perfectly legitimate choice, but I would hope that teachers who use this book provide the historical context. Bonhoeffer’s courage was the rare exception. Almost no one stood up for the Jewish victims of Nazism. All the more reason to explore his life and choices, but the Jewish people had many heroes, under impossible odds, who struggled against fascism.
    I am put off by some of the comments on this thread. Specifically, to sarahbtlibrarian, Hitler was not “someone we see as a monster,” as if it were necessary to couch condemnation of Hitler with some kind of qualifier. Next, Da Nae, referring to Nazis as “rats” is not an example of language “loaded with bias,” for two reasons. First, this book is a novel, so the term “bias” is misleading. Second, they are Nazis! It is difficult to even find words to express the evil of their regime. Would you consider it “loaded with bias” to use similar terms to characterize American slave owners or perpetrators of atrocities against Native peoples? How has it become acceptable to consider condemnation of Nazis to be an example of “bias?”
    Finally, I’m sorry if Mary Zdrojewski “dreaded reading yet another World War II book.” Well, it must be tedious to keep reading about the near-annihilation of the Jewish people, as well as the suffering and death of millions of others throughout the Axis- occupied countries. Again, try to imagine the responses of someone writing that she was tired of reading about slavery, child abuse, or other atrocities.
    Is the Holocaust so far in the past that its magnitude is no longer recognized as historical reality?

    • Hi, Emily – this book is not “historical fiction”. It is a biography. There’s a difference.

      Also, I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that “almost no one stood up for the Jewish victims”. Schindler, the Geschwister Scholl, those in the Valkyrie… all of these people were non-Jews, standing up for the Jewish and fighting against Hitler’s atrocities.

      I can’t speak for what Mary meant, but I do believe that sometimes there can be a saturation point with the themes explored in books. I myself have said things like, “I just can’t read another book about child abuse (or any other difficult topic) right now.” I do find I need to take a breather and read something more lighthearted.

    • Emily — thank you for your comments. I’ll let the HMAC members respond directly where you raised concerns. Just want to point out that there existed many Germans worked at defying the Nazi regime. Even from reading a couple of children’s books such as Brothers in Valor : Story of Resistance by Michael O. Tunnell (historical fiction) and We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freeman (nonfiction) we know that such persons existed, and sacrificed themselves for the greater good. Discussing and publishing a book on a conscientious Christian does not negate all the other publications that made it clear the struggle and resilience of the Jews and other prosecuted. It only adds to the whole picture.

      I also believe, strongly, that in this time of history, we need stories with role models from all sides — those heroes from the marginalized groups AND those heroic friends and allies.

    • Emily, I’m not sure if you were misled by the use of the term “graphic novel” but this is a work of non-fiction. We might have been more accurate to call it a “graphic biography” but it is not a novel.

    • Mary Zdrojewski says:

      I’m sorry if my comment seemed insensitive.
      What I meant is that I feel like the pain of those who suffered in WW2 has been overly exploited for entertainment. While I’m grateful for the many wonderful fiction and nonfiction books that help educate generations about these atrocities, I’m also wary of publishers continuously pushing out books to profit from tragedies.
      I apologize for not explaining that thoroughly in my original comment.

      • Oh boy, my comment, (as clumsy, as it was), came from a discussion I was having with my students about author perspective at the time I read the passage. I was awed by the way Hendrix layered his own word choices in with primary sources, creating a more dynamic text. The fact that his perspective aligned with majority opinion and was backed up by facts and history was not meant as an endorsement of one of history’s most cruel political organizations.

  14. The art was so nice, I wonder if Caldecott will at least bite if Newbery doesn’t.

  15. Yes, it seems the term “graphic novel” has been misused in this review. I understand that it has become an overused term; for some reason, people seem reluctant to call books “graphic biography” or “graphic history.” At any rate, I stand by my point that calling Nazis rats should be without controversy and I would have thought that was obvious.
    I certainly agree that writing about Bonhoeffer’s exemplary, if not saintly, life, is crucially important. As for Joe’s contention that it is inaccurate to state that almost no one stood up for the Jewish victims, that, sadly, is an example of wishful thinking and is irrefutably untrue.. All historical sources bear out the fact that only a very small minority of non-Jews filled the heroic roles of the people you mention. All the more reason for bringing Bonhoeffer’s life to light, but also to understand the context in which his principled deeds took place. In fact, in Eastern Europe, most partisan groups which fought the Nazis were explicitly anti-Semitic and refused to arm or cooperate with Jews. (the main exception were the Communists.) It may seem romantic and uplifting to think otherwise, but it simply isn’t true. As for the plot to kill Hitler by German officers and civilians,in most cases their objections to his dictatorship were not based on support of Jews, but on other political and economic factors:
    https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/the-july-20-1944-plot-to-assassinate-adolf-hitler
    I hope that this new graphic biography opens a door to further reading and discussion about the Holocaust; for some of us, the idea that the topic is exhausted or burdensome is unthinkable. I appreciate Ms.Hsu Feldman’s thoughtful comments. I wholly agree that anyone who resisted should be studied and honored, but it is essential to provide students with accurate information.

  16. sarahbtlibrarian says:

    Emily, I’m it exactly sure what bothered you in my original comment but I’m sorry I’d you were offended.

    I wa trying to explain how the author does a good job showing readers how someone like Hitler can rise to power. Maybe that didn’t come across clearly in my comment. Often people say “how could something like that happen” especially looking back on history. Hendrix does a good job showing the how and giving readers a full picture of what was happening. Hopefully that explains more what I was trying to say.

  17. I think Emily is making a reasonable point. Of course there we non-Jewish allies who helped and we can all immediately name Schindler, the White Rose Society, Bonhoeffer, and many others, but can any of us name the Jewish resisters? Do the titles of books about them come immediately to mind? The disproportional attention given to non-Jewish rescuers must be galling. Here’s hoping that editors who are listening in take note and look for or commission these under represented stories.

    To me what made Faithful Spy distinct was the theme/central question: how do I resist evil without doing evil? It’s an important idea and one that resonates particularly clearly at the moment but is applicable in any era.

    The conversation above did give me pause though because more than one person mentioned great reluctance to read a book about people of faith. I don’t think it needs to be a point for discussion and I’m certainly not asking for an apology, but let’s consider whether you would ever say in a public forum “I’m wary of any book with a whiff of race in it” or “Or I avoid any book that has a mention of disability” Religion of all kinds tends to meet with derision in intellectual circles and if you are a person who holds such a bias, perhaps consider why that bias appeals to you. And perhaps bear in mind that children as a group are more religiously observant than adults, so it is worth thinking about whether scorning faith as expressed in religion serves our young readers well.

    • Rosanne, I appreciate your comments and agree with you to a degree, especially your indication of the book’s central theme. This is a question we should all ask ourselves time and again, and it’s why I think THE FAITHFUL SPY would be of particular use in a classroom.

      However, I do have to push back a little: race and disability are not choices people make. Religion is – even if that choice is initially made by a parent figure, it is still a choice. It is not part of a genetic code. If religion wasn’t a choice, then people wouldn’t leave the church, denounce their religion, etc. Religious institutions also hold power over people – power that can strip the individual of their own religion, like being excommunicated from a church. Religious institutions can also wield themselves as weapons against people. So I don’t think comparing religion to race and disabilities is a particularly fair comparison.

      As for “consider[ing] why that bias appeals to you” – I think “appeal” is the wrong word here. My in-laws are people of faith. They are lovely and loving individuals, open and supportive and caring. I love them dearly. They acknowledge that the church has done evil toward people like me and their son, my husband. The message many LGBTQ people get from religious institutions of the major faiths is that we’re immoral. The tide is indeed slowly changing, and many churches, like the Episcopal church, have opened their collective arms. But let’s be honest, here: the disgust with LGBTQ people still holds fast in many -and I might even go so far as to push the word “most” – religious communities.

      So. Does having a bias against religious institutions “appeal” to me? No. Do I feel the hatred of some religious groups? Yes. Does that make me angry at them? Absolutely. It’s not a bias: it’s a genuine anger at powerful injustice, who, by the way, can affect (and does affect) legislative change. So, no “appeal”, Rosanne, but definitely a will to survive.

      • Joe, I’m right there with you in my anger at the way folks with deep seated fears about the LGBTQA community use religion as a stick to beat people with. It’s wrong and we all should use that anger to change both secular laws and the religious institutions themselves. I’ve been shoulder-to-the-wheel on those issue for decades and plan to continue for many decades more.

        But I’d like you to reconsider the notion that religion is a matter of choice and particularly in the context of a larger discussion of WWII. The Nazis didn’t round up observant Jews. They killed everyone who they thought looked remotely Jewish, and everyone who sympathized too closely with them. It was an ethnic cleansing as much as a religious one. A person of that era could not go to the authorities and swear that they were not Jewish and escape. (A few bishops in Germany and Austria manufactured baptismal and marriage records for Jews in their community and tried to hide their neighbors in their local congregations and they succeeded in a few instances. But in most instances even “proof” that a person was not a Jew was not enough to save them. Not when they looked Jewish.)

        You might ask any person who looks middle eastern if they feel like being perceived as a Muslim is optional. Historically, people with red hair and freckles did not escape anti-Catholic bias even when they were Protestants. Many of the new Russian and eastern European immigrants to Portland are completely secular, but the moment their Russian or Slavic accents are heard, people assume they are conservative Orthodox believers. Religion is so tied up in ethnicity that it is difficult to untwine them. A general bias against religion ends up being a de facto ethnic bias. I think a public educator should be cautious about that.

        I have no problem at all with anger against religious institutions that discriminate but what I’m hoping is that you, and the many librarians who feel the same, would consider for a moment the impact that your publicly-stated scorn, not for discriminatory institutions, but for any story with a person of faith in it, does for the young people of faith you serve. Your words matter. How (and whether) you present a book to students has lasting impact. Do you believe mirror books are important? And are you willing to provide them without judgement to all the students you serve?

  18. I believe the term that should be used with a book like this is “graphic literature,” which does not limit it to fiction.
    I find interesting the discussion of “religion” in regards to history and whether that is off-putting for certain readers.
    Although understandable, I hope that we’re not in danger of forgetting that history is composed of people doing things in the name of religion to a much greater extent than today. And both good and bad things.
    If we start presuming that religious motivations taint the past and we reject discussion and knowledge of them, what the heck are we going to have left? Will the telling of thousands of years of history be changed?
    Also, keep in mind that Bonhoeffer’s story is the conflict of whether breaking one of the 10 commandments (killing) can be valid. That is one of the great ethical/religious/moral debates of human history.

  19. samuel leopold says:

    So….a few days since we began discussing this title. I must say that the discussions of the other finalists in the last week have confirmed two things to me.

    1. There are a lot of strong contenders this year.
    and

    2. The Faithful Spy is still holding tightly to a spot on my final ballot.

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