Wednesday, November 13, 2013

When You Just Ain't Got a 'Knack for Holiness,' What's the Use Anyhow?

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

It's tough being a preacher's kid, especially in a tiny town where sharp eyes detect your every coming and going.  And even sharper tongues report suspicious movements to your father.  Anyway, it's not like 10-year-old Robbie Hewitt goes looking for trouble—it just seems to find him.  He's tried to turn from his wild, mischievous ways, yes he has, but it's not working.  A boy like him just isn't meant to be cooped up in church all day, not when there are trees to climb, fish to catch and bloomers to run up the flagpole.  Still, Robbie knows he has to be careful since his Pa's overly-forgiving nature is already making his position as preacher of the Congregational Church precarious; a few too many misdeeds from the youngest Hewitt could lead to Pa's unemployment.  Then, where would Robbie's family be?   

As the 19th Century winds down, bringing the end of the world with it (at least according to Reverend Pelham), Robbie begins to wonder—what's the point of trying to be a good Christian, anyway?  It's way too much of a burden for someone like him, someone who, "let's face it, ain't got the knack for holiness" (19).  He decides, instead, to become a "heathen, a Unitarian, or a Democrat, whichever was most fun" (19) and to pack as much riotous living as possible into the last months of 1899.  

Even Robbie's surprised by the scale of adventure that comes his way.  But when the young rapscallion finds himself in way, way over his head, he has no idea what to do or who to trust.  Can the avowed "apeist"What' find his faith once more?  Can he fix the messes he's made without getting his Pa fired?  And, most importantly, what exactly will happen to Robbie Hewitt come January 1, 1900?

There's a lot to love about Preacher's Boy, the newest middle grade novel by renowned author Katherine Paterson.  Robbie's a funny narrator, whose rebellious-but-repenting nature makes him both sympathetic and genuine.  His antics made me laugh out loud.  Literally.  The story itself, though, feels a little clumsy to me.  There's not a lot of originality to it, nor is there a strong plot to give meaning to all of Robbie's various exploits.  The characters are vivid, though, as is the disapproving small-town setting.  All in all, the book's entertaining.  Not shout-it-from-the-rooftops amazing, but not a bad yarn either.  

 (Readalikes:  Reminded me of Mark Twain's classics Adventures of Tom Sawyer; Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; etc.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language and intense situations

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Preacher's Boy from the generous folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Thank you!

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