Review of With the Fire on High, by Elizabeth Acevedo

August 20th, 2019

With the Fire on High

by Elizabeth Acevedo
read by the author

HarperAudio, 2019. 7.5 hours on 6 discs.
Starred Review

Elizabeth Acevedo is the author of The Poet X, which won the 2019 Printz Award, Pura Belpré Award, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and National Book Award. This new book (also a stand-alone) is every bit as fiery and wonderful.

Emoni Santiago is a senior in high school with a two-year-old daughter to look after. Ever since she got pregnant her freshman year, her life has revolved around her Baby Girl. Emoni herself is looked after by her Abuela, since Emoni’s mother died giving birth to her and her father went back to his island, Puerto Rico. He visits every summer, but he has never stayed.

Now Emoni is a senior, and her high school is beginning a Culinary Arts elective with a real chef. Since she was very small, Emoni has loved to cook. She doesn’t necessarily follow recipes, but makes them her own. And when people eat her food, they are reminded of powerful memories. She has a magic touch.

But can Emoni handle the work of such an elective while she’s trying to work on the weekends and juggle her other classwork while taking care of Baby Girl? And the class is going to take a trip to learn about the food of southern Spain – but how can Emoni possibly pay for that? And why is the new boy in their grade paying attention to her? She doesn’t have time for boys.

Those are a few of the things Emoni has to deal with in this book that takes us through the start of her senior year through graduation. It’s refreshing to hear the story of a single teen mother who kept her baby and is trying to take good care of her and also follow her own dreams.

When I heard Elizabeth Acevedo give her acceptance speech for the Printz Award, I loved listening to the soft accent of her musical voice. Listening to her narrate this book, I got to hear more. Emoni, given a voice by Elizabeth Acevedo, is a heroine you will enjoy spending time with and whom you won’t forget any time soon.

acevedowrites.com
harperaudio.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Magic Ramen, by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz

August 19th, 2019

Magic Ramen

The Story of Momofuku Ando

by Andrea Wang
illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz

Little Bee Books, 2019. 36 pages.
Starred Review

Okay, the existence of inexpensive ramen noodles that cook in hot water in a couple of minutes is something I’ve always taken for granted. Cup of soup! No big deal, right?

This picture book tells the story of an invention that is so widely used, people don’t realize it had to be invented – instant ramen.

We learn that the motivation for the inventor was seeing people lined up for ramen soup in postwar Japan.

Ando went home, but he couldn’t forget the hungry people. The world is peaceful only when everyone has enough to eat, he realized. Ando decided that food would be his life’s work.

But it wasn’t easy to come up with noodles that could cook quickly in hot water. This book does a great job of showing the trial and error process of inventing. Even when he makes noodles that work, then he needs to work on the flavor. And production. And publicity.

At the end, it says:

Soon, everyone was eating Ando’s ramen. Poor people. Children. Busy workers. Even royalty!

My coworker and I agree that the author forgot to mention college students!

This is a well-presented story about something readers will not take for granted ever again. The note at the back tells about Ando’s continued inventions, even at the age of 91.

andreaywang.com

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Review of Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai

August 18th, 2019

Pie in the Sky

by Remy Lai

Henry Holt, 2019. 380 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 5, 2019, from a library book

I only read this book because someone nominated it to Capitol Choices (a group of DC-area librarians who select what we think are the 100 best children’s book of the year), but I thought the cartoony cover and comic panels woven through the text meant it would be too much like the Wimpy Kid books for me. I ended up wholeheartedly loving it.

Now, there are lots of comic panels included, which I think makes the book all the more accessible. But the story goes a lot deeper than you might think.

Jingwen and his annoying younger brother Yanghao are moving with their mother to Australia. The book never tells which country they’re moving from, though the author was born in Indonesia, grew up in Singapore, and now lives in Australia. (So alas! It’s not eligible to win the Newbery.)

I like the way the comic panels show people talking with words Jingwen doesn’t understand as speech bubbles with strange squiggles. At first, he feels like he’s on an alien planet, and draws them as space aliens. But after awhile, he feels like he is the alien, and draws himself with six eyes and tentacles.

But this isn’t only about Jingwen and Yanghao adjusting to a new country with a new language while their mother works hard and leaves Jingwen to tend Yanghao much of the time. The book is also about Jingwen working through how much he misses his Papa, who died two years earlier.

Papa had talked about moving to Australia. He was going to open a fancy cake shop there and call it Pie in the Sky.

Papa’s English was only slightly less terrible than mine, but he knew a pie is not a cake. It’s just that he had a friend who spoke fluent English who told him the meaning of the idiom pie in the sky — an impossible dream.

Back home, Jingwen’s parents worked in his grandparents’ bake shop. But on Sundays, Jingwen’s Papa used to bake fancy cakes with Jingwen, cakes they planned to sell in their future Pie in the Sky cake shop.

Jingwen decides that what he needs to do to make life go better in Australia and to properly honor his Papa is bake all twelve of the Pie in the Sky cakes. Never mind that their mother doesn’t want them to touch the oven while she is not home.

They buy ingredients and he makes a list of rules for Yanghao to follow so he doesn’t cause trouble and give everything away.

But the plan isn’t simple to carry out. And meantime, he’s trying to adjust to a new country and a new language, which his annoying little brother picks up much more quickly.

This book with comic panel illustrations has an amazing amount of depth and poignancy.

“When someone is feeling sad, they can’t help but smile at the sight of a cake.”

remylai.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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Review of Histories of the Transgender Child, by Julian Gill-Peterson

August 17th, 2019

Histories of the Transgender Child

by Julian Gill-Peterson

University of Minnesota Press, 2018. 262 pages.
Review written August 9, 2019, from a library book

This book is dense and written for academics, and it took me a long time to read. However, what I could understand was fascinating.

The big point of this book is that there’s a false narrative circulating that transgender children are some kind of new phenomenon. The author looks at medical histories of transgender children throughout the twentieth century, which was when medical science began getting involved in sex organs and hormones. We learn about attitudes toward transgender children and attempts to “cure” them or force them into preconceived ideas of what they should be.

Here’s a section from the Introduction:

Yet an even more fundamental assumption about trans children that floats this contrast has yet to be challenged: that they are, in fact, new and future-bound. The narrative that we are in the midst of the first generation of trans children is so omnipresent as to be ambient. It is repeated ad nauseam in the media, online, by doctors, and by parents. Trans children, these various gatekeepers say in unison, have no history at all. Trans children are unprecedented and must be treated as such, with caution or awe. What happens if this consensus turns out to be baseless? The bleached and medicalized image of the trans child circulating as unprecedented in the twenty-first century is actually prefaced by an entire century of trans children, including black trans children and trans children of color. And trans children played a decisive role in the medicalization of sex and gender, rather than being its newest objects. These are two of the key ruptures that Histories of the Transgender Child uncovers. If the contrasting effect of contemporary figurations of black trans and trans of color life, placed next to trans childhood, is so damaging in its staging of an antinomy between negativity and futurity, this book argues that the twentieth century provides a surprising archive of trans childhood that undoes them from the inside.

Histories of the Transgender Child rewrites the historical and political basis for the supposed newness of today’s generation of trans kids by uncovering more than a century of what came before them. From the 1910s, children with “ambiguous” sex were medicalized and experimented upon by doctors who sought in their unfinished, developing bodies a material foothold for altering and, eventually, changing human sex as it grew. In the 1930s, some of the first trans people to seek out American doctors connected their requests for medical support to reports that “sex changes” on children were being regularly performed at certain hospitals. In the 1940s and 1950s, five decades of experimental alteration of children’s sex directly led to the invention of the category gender, setting the stage for the emergence of a new field of transsexual medicine and the postwar model of binary transition. And in the 1960s and 1970s, as that field of medicine became institutionalized, many children took hormones, changed their names, attended school recognized in their gender identities, and even underwent gender confirmation surgeries. Trans children not only were present but also were an integral part of the transgender twentieth century and the broader twentieth-century history of sex, gender, and race in medicine.

The material is dense, academic, and full of detail from medical records. This isn’t for everyone curious about the history of transgender children. I did wade through it and understood some of it. After that process, here are some thoughts that stuck with me:

Transgender children are not new. When medical science began to have a way to get their bodies to match their gender identity, that’s when they made themselves known, in hopes of getting treatment. But that wasn’t when they began to exist.

There are a hugely wide range of intersex conditions. Some of them are life threatening, which is why medical science began to get involved in sex and gender. Medical procedures used on intersex children then were requested by transgender people, and children were seen as the perfect object of study.

These stories made utterly clear that gender isn’t nearly as binary as we’d like it to be. If intersex children exist for a wide variety of medical reasons (and they do), it’s not logical to doubt the legitimacy of transgender children, who may be transgender for a physical reason in their brains that we can’t see.

I also have a better realization that for decades, doctors tried to “cure” transgender children. The truth is, it did not work. If being transgender could be changed, the folks in the twentieth century surely would have figured out how to do it. They gave it prodigious effort.

And this brings us to one of the main conclusions of this book:

Histories of the Transgender Child asks us to turn against and away from figurative thinking about trans children in general. Trans children must no longer bring us to some new knowledge of trans life or sex and gender, making them a means to some other abstract end. Rather, through the twentieth-century history of the chapters that follow I propose an ethical relation that calls upon adults to stop questioning the being of trans children and affirm instead that there are trans children, that trans childhood is a happy and desired form – not a new form of life and experience but one richly, beautifully historical and multiple.

Transgender children exist. Transgender adults exist. Medical doctors have been studying gender for more than a century. Gender as it occurs in humans is nowhere near as binary as some would like to think it is. Transgender people do not need to be “cured.” Those who believe medical treatment will improve their lives should be allowed to get it without stigma.

This book isn’t for everyone and is definitely not light reading. But if you’re curious about the history of how transgender children interacted with the medical profession and how attitudes toward them changed, this book is an valuable resource.

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Review of Truman, by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

August 16th, 2019

Truman

written by Jean Reidy
illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. 48 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 9, 2019, from a library book

Here’s a sweet story of a tortoise and his Sarah.

Truman loves his Sarah. They are well-suited; both are peaceful and pensive. Truman’s tank is by the window where he can look down on the street with honking taxis, growling trash trucks, shrieking cars, and the number 11 bus, which traveled south.

But one day, Sarah does some new things. She has an extra big breakfast, wears new clothes, and straps on a big backpack.

Sarah placed seven green beans in Truman’s dish –
two more than usual!

She kissed her finger and touched it to his shell and whispered,
“Be brave.”
Then she left.

Not to worry.
She’d left before.
And she’d always returned.

But this time
that backpack was particularly big.
And Sarah looked particularly pensive.
And that banana,
and that bow, and –
let’s not forget about those extra beans!

That’s when Truman saw something
he’d never seen before:

Sarah boarding the number 11 bus going south.

The bus roared away.

Truman tries to be patient. But eventually, Truman knows he must go after his Sarah!

What follows is brave and bold and adventurous and extraordinary – for a tortoise.

Don’t worry – the book has a happy ending. Meanwhile, children get the position of knowing what’s going on while someone smaller waits and wonders and learns to trust.

The pictures turn this story into something utterly charming. I don’t think anyone could read this book without falling in love with small, pensive Truman the tortoise.

jeanreidy.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Review of A Curse So Dark and Lonely, by Brigid Kemmerer

August 15th, 2019

A Curse So Dark and Lonely

by Brigid Kemmerer

Bloomsbury, 2019. 484 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 29, 2019, from a library book

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” but it’s an expansive retelling, only borrowing the barest outline of the fairy tale.

The book begins with a scene in the fantasy world of Emberfall, then a scene on the streets of Washington, DC. In Emberfall, we meet Rhen, a cursed prince. The only member of his guard left is the captain, Grey. His family, servants, and all the rest of his guard are dead, killed by the beast he becomes at the end of each season. The girl who was this season’s prospect for breaking the curse has fled, as all the rest before her. A new season is beginning, in a perpetual time loop.

In DC, Harper is a lookout for her brother Jake. He’s been coerced into doing bill collection work, to make up for what their father had owed and to try to afford medicine for their mother, who is dying of cancer. Jake is taking too long, but while Harper waits, she sees a man abducting a young woman. Even though she doesn’t want to attract attention, and even though she has a limp from her cerebral palsy, she can’t just let him do this right in front of her, so she attacks him with a rusty tire iron.

But he’s surprisingly good at defending himself. When Harper thinks he’s about to attack her in return, she ends up suddenly transported into a fantasy world. She’s not kindly disposed to the prince she meets, either. And she’s worried about her mother and brother. But when she tries to escape, it doesn’t take long to figure out that something magical is happening, since the world outside the castle grounds is covered in snow.

I wasn’t too impressed with the story as it began, but became more and more so as it continued. All the characters have lots of depth. Rhen isn’t just a shallow prince who’s won over by this girl. He’s actually learned much from his initial mistake and from the horror of knowing he’s killed his family. He’s taken steps to protect his people. Too bad the enchantress continues to return to torment him. In fact, she’s decided that Harper is his last chance.

Harper, too, is a character with depth. She has cerebral palsy, but doesn’t let that stop her. She does some learning during the course of the book. For one thing, she learns that impulsive promises she makes to the people of Emberfall will have consequences. I do like the way the author has thought of repercussions of the curse that aren’t in the original fairy tale. For example, a neighboring monarch is going to want to get a piece of the kingdom whose rulers seem to have disappeared.

There are some twists thrown into the ending – twists that are not resolved at all. I wish there’d been some evidence somewhere on the book jacket that this is only Book One. But the basic story of the fairy tale is indeed resolved in a satisfying way. I do want to know what happens next, though, so I’ll be watching for the sequel.

brigidkemmerer.com
bloomsbury.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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Review of O Captain, My Captain! by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Sterling Hundley

August 14th, 2019

O Captain, My Captain

Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War

by Robert Burleigh
illustrations by Sterling Hundley

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019. 64 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 20, 2019, from a library book

I was going to pass over this book. I thought it was a simple picture book biography. As much as I loved the first ones I saw, I’ve gotten somewhat jaded about their simple approach to a person’s life.

This goes into much more depth, and I was quickly pulled in. Although the format is the same size as a picture book, the book has twice as many pages, and there’s much more text on each spread. This would be appropriate for upper elementary school, though even as an adult, I learned much about Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, and the beautiful paintings enhanced the text.

Walt Whitman lived and worked the same time as Abraham Lincoln, and he ended up writing two tribute poems to Lincoln (included in the book). Most interesting was that even though he was already a famous poet, he lived in Washington during the Civil War and visited soldiers in the hospital there every day, helping and encouraging them. So he regularly saw President Lincoln passing by.

Each section of this book (usually one or two spreads) has a heading that is a quotation from Walt Whitman. There are twelve pages of back matter – you can see the author has done his research.

Simply to see this president, to catch a glimpse of his face, increasingly etched with suffering – “so awful ugly it becomes beautiful” – yet with a wry smile on occasion, was uplifting. Just to watch as the stiff figure, sitting motionless in the shadow of the carriage, passed by, gave Walt new energy. He felt Lincoln was giving his all, and beyond. How could Walt do less?

This book pulled me into the emotions of living out the Civil War in Washington in a way I hadn’t experienced before.

robertburleigh.com
sterlinghundley.com
abramsyoungreaders.com

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Review of The Golden Road, by L. M. Montgomery

August 13th, 2019

The Golden Road

by L. M. Montgomery

Bantam Books, 1989. First published in 1913. 213 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 17, 2019, from my own copy

The Golden Road is a continuation of The Story Girl, so they should be read in order. It’s more antics and adventures of several children living in a village on Prince Edward Island more than one hundred years ago. Put that way, it’s maybe surprising how enjoyable the stories still are today.

The tone is nostalgic. Beverley King is an old man telling about a beautiful season of his childhood, when they were on “the Golden Road.” Like the first book, it’s an episodic tale, though this one doesn’t have quite as many stories told by the Story Girl. But we get more encounters with the local “witch,” Peg Bowen, and Felicity finally makes a mistake in cooking, and we find out about the mystery of the Awkward Man.

Summarized, there’s not a lot that stands out, but this is one of those books with characters who are delightful to spend time with. And the setting of Prince Edward Island pervades the book, making me all the more eager to see it for myself later this year.

This is a book that had me reading with a smile on my face.

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Reading L. M. Montgomery

August 13th, 2019

I’m going to Prince Edward Island this Autumn!

My friends and I had the idea to visit Prince Edward Island together five years ago, when we were all fifty. One of them is older than me and one is younger – there are twenty days in September and October when we are all the same age, between their birthdays.

When we were fifty, one friend decided it would be too expensive to go, so we decided to plan for it when we were fifty-five. That year is here! We’re going to make a road trip of it! A cottage on Prince Edward Island is booked for six days at the end of September, and we have hotel rooms around the halfway point on the way there and on the way back.

And what better preparation can I make than to reread my L. M. Montgomery books?

Since I do have other books to read, I’m currently alternating my novel reading between an L. M. Montgomery book and something else. I’ve decided to read them in the order of publication this time, which takes away some decisions and is fun in the context of looking at Maud Montgomery’s life.

I’m writing reviews of her books as I go, and for many of them, I already had reviews posted. So I’m going to link to the reviews in my list as they get posted. At the time of this writing, I’ve reread the first seven books. I hope I can make good progress before my trip!

The most amusing thing about rereading the books this time around? Many of the “old ladies” in her books are now younger than me! My goodness!

I’m also working on finishing The Annotated Anne of Green Gables and plan to then take up Landscapes of Green Gables. I’m so excited about this trip!

Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Books in Publication Order:
1908 Anne of Green Gables
1909 Anne of Avonlea
1910 Kilmeny of the Orchard
1911 The Story Girl
1912 Chronicles of Avonlea
1913 The Golden Road
1915 Anne of the Island
1916 The Watchman and Other Poems
1917 Anne’s House of Dreams
1917 The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career
1919 Rainbow Valley
1920 The Further Chronicles of Avonlea
1921 Rilla of Ingleside
1923 Emily of New Moon
1925 Emily Climbs
1925 Magic for Marigold
1926 The Blue Castle
1927 Emily’s Quest
1931 A Tangled Web
1933 Pat of Silver Bush
1935 Mistress Pat
1936 Jane of Lantern Hill
1936 Anne of Windy Poplars
1939 Anne of Ingleside
1974 The Road to Yesterday
1979 The Doctor’s Sweetheart and Other Stories
1988 Akin to Anne: Tales of Other Orphans
1989 Along the Shore
1992 After Many Days
1993 Against the Odds: Tales of Achievement
1994 At the Altar: Matrimonial Tales
1995 Across the Miles: Tales of Correspondence
1995 Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories
2009 The Blythes Are Quoted

Lucy Maud Montgomery’s selected journals have been published in five volumes. I’ve read them all except the end of the last one, when I lost steam as her life got more and more depressing. But her amazing skill as a writer is revealed in these as well. I’m rereading them at the pace of approximately a page a day, so I won’t finish before my trip. Though the first one is the only one where she still lives full-time on Prince Edward Island, so it is the most pertinent.

The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery, Volume I: 1889-1910
The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery, Volume II: 1910-1921
The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery, Volume III: 1921-1929
The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery, Volume IV: 1929-1935
The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery, Volume V: 1935-1942

Alert! Looking up the journals for this post, I have just learned that the Complete Journals are now in print! So I am immediately ordering them, of course! (Okay, that’s expensive. I will put all but the first two on reserve.) I think this time around I’ll read the Complete Journals. I’ll list what’s available as of this writing.

The Complete Journals of L. M. Montgomery: The PEI Years, 1889-1900
The Complete Journals of L. M. Montgomery: The PEI Years, 1900-1911
L. M. Montgomery’s Complete Journals: The Ontario Years, 1911-1917
L. M. Montgomery’s Complete Journals: The Ontario Years, 1918-1921
L. M. Montgomery’s Complete Journals: The Ontario Years, 1922-1925
L. M. Montgomery’s Complete Journals: The Ontario Years, 1926-1929
L. M. Montgomery’s Complete Journals: The Ontario Years, 1930-1933

I’m going to refer back to this post as I progress in my reading and add links to reviews. Anyone who wants to take up the same challenge is welcome to use this list!

I will be sure to blog about my trip on my Sonderjourneys blog! Stay tuned! And Happy Reading!

Review of The Universal Christ, by Richard Rohr

August 12th, 2019

The Universal Christ

How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe

by Richard Rohr

Convergent Books (Penguin Random House), 2019. 260 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 9, 2019, from my own copy, ordered via Amazon.com

This book hit the spot for me, and came my way exactly when I needed to read it. I had recently switched churches because my former church had adopted a policy that declares transgender people are wrong to change their gender and that opposes same sex marriage. As a universalist, I already had some disagreements with their theology, so I’ve been thinking about theology and inclusiveness, and was very ready for this book.

I will freely admit that some of the ideas went over my head. There’s a lot of mysticism here, a lot of talk about insubstantial things. But I marked fifty passages to put in Sonderquotes, and I’ll be going over these ideas again. Maybe after a few times through, more will sink in. And I’m sure of this: These are uplifting and beautiful ideas. They’re based in Scripture and I believe they honor God. I’d like to put these concepts into my life.

This book is about trying to grasp – with experience and with our spirits, not necessarily our minds – the concept of Christ, who has been present much longer than the human Jesus.

Here are some questions from the beginning of the book:

Across the thirty thousand or so varieties of Christianity, believers love Jesus and (at least in theory) seem to have no trouble accepting his full humanity and his full divinity. Many express a personal relationship with Jesus – perhaps a flash of inspiration of his intimate presence in their lives, perhaps a fear of his judgment or wrath. Others trust in his compassion, and often see him as a justification for their worldviews and politics. But how might the notion of Christ change the whole equation? Is Christ simply Jesus’s last name? Or is it a revealing title that deserves our full attention? How is Christ’s function or role different from Jesus’s? What does Scripture mean when Peter says in his very first address to the crowds after Pentecost that “God has made this Jesus . . . both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36)? Weren’t they always one and the same, starting at Jesus’s birth?

Here’s another paragraph from that first chapter:

A merely personal God becomes tribal and sentimental, and a merely universal God never leaves the realm of abstract theory and philosophical principles. But when we learn to put them together, Jesus and Christ give us a God who is both personal and universal. The Christ Mystery anoints all physical matter with eternal purpose from the very beginning. (We should not be surprised that the word we translate from the Greek as Christ comes from the Hebrew word mesach, meaning “the anointed” one, or Messiah. He reveals that all is anointed!) Many are still praying and waiting for something that has already been given to us three times: first in creation; second in Jesus, “so that we could hear him, see him with our eyes, watch him, and touch him with our hands, the Word who is life” (1 John 1-2); and third, in the ongoing beloved community (what Christians call the Body of Christ), which is slowly evolving throughout all of human history (Romans 8:18ff). We are still in the Flow.

As I said, I read this book at exactly the right time. Many of the ideas resonated beautifully with other books I’ve been reading, indeed, some of those books were quoted. But they were all brought together in a new way, taking things I’d been thinking about and going further.

An especially lovely resonance happened on Monday this past week. I was looking up a George MacDonald quote to insert in my blog series A Universalist Looks at the New Testament, and when I found it, discovered that my favorite George MacDonald Unspoken Sermon, “Justice” is available online, and I had a lovely time rereading it. This sermon explains why George MacDonald does not believe God’s justice and God’s mercy are opposed to one another and why he finds the idea that Jesus had to save us from God’s wrath utterly abhorrent.

Well, I read that sermon in the afternoon. Later that same day, I picked up this book to read the next chapter – and the chapter was called “Why Did Jesus Die?” and also explains the problems with the penal substitution theory of the atonement.

At best, the theory of substitutionary atonement has inoculated us against the true effects of the Gospel, causing us to largely “thank” Jesus instead of honestly imitating him. At worst, it led us to see God as a cold, brutal figure, who demands acts of violence before God can love his own creation. Now, there is no doubt that both Testaments are filled with metaphors of atonement, sacrifice, expiation, ransom, paying the price, opening the gates, et cetera. But these are common temple metaphors that would’ve made sense to a Jewish audience. Anthropologically speaking, these words and assumptions reflect a magical or what I call “transactional” way of thinking. By that I mean that if you just believe the right thing, say the right prayer, or practice the right ritual, things will go right for you in the divine courtroom. In my experience, this way of thinking loses its power as people and cultures grow up and seek actual changes in their minds and hearts. Then, transformational thinking tends to supplant transactional thinking.

There are so many inspiring tidbits in this book. They are big ideas, and I’m going to need to go over it all again to try to grasp it better.

Overwhelmingly, this book is about the love of Christ, all around us and within us. And changing our lives and our vision.

Mostly, we must remember that Christianity in its maturity is supremely love-centered, not information- or knowledge-centered, which is called “Gnosticism.” The primacy of love allows our knowing to be much humbler and more patient, and helps us to recognize that other traditions – and other people – have much to teach us, and there is also much we can share with them. This stance of honest self-knowledge and deeper interiority, the head (Bible), heart (Experience), and body (Tradition) operating as one, is helping many to be more integrated and truthful about their own actual experience of God.

This book is not about doing or achieving, and I’m finding words like these freeing and inspiring:

Once the real inner journey begins – once you come to know that in Christ, God is forever overcoming the gap between human and divine – the Christian path becomes less about climbing and performance, and more about descending, letting go, and unlearning. Knowing and loving Jesus is largely about becoming fully human, wounds and all, instead of ascending spiritually or thinking we can remain unwounded. (The ego does not like this fundamental switch at all, so we keep returning to some kind of performance principle, trying to climb out of this messy incarnation instead of learning from it. This is most early-stage religion.)

His idea of the Universal Christ is fundamentally BIG:

To be loved by Jesus enlarges our heart capacity. To be loved by the Christ enlarges our mental capacity. We need both a Jesus and a Christ, in my opinion, to get the full picture. A truly transformative God – for both the individual and history – needs to be experienced as both personal and universal. Nothing less will fully work. If the overly personal (even sentimental) Jesus has shown itself to have severe limitations and problems, it is because this Jesus was not also universal. He became cozy and we lost the cosmic. History has clearly shown that worship of Jesus without worship of Christ invariably becomes a time-and culture-bound religion, often ethnic or even implicitly racist, which excludes much of humanity from God’s embrace….

For you who have loved Jesus – perhaps with great passion and protectiveness – do you recognize that any God worthy of the name must transcend creeds and denominations, time and place, nations and ethnicities, and all the vagaries of gender, extending to the limits of all we can see, suffer, and enjoy? You are not your gender, your nationality, your ethnicity, your skin color, or your social class. Why oh why, do Christians allow these temporary costumes, or what Thomas Merton called the “false self,” to pass for the substantial self, which is always “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3)? It seems that we really do not know our own Gospel.

It’s tempting to keep finding bits to quote, but stay tuned to Sonderquotes, and you’ll see many more inspiring words from this book.

Try it out – perhaps the timing will be as lovely for you to hear these inspiring words as it was for me.

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