Book Review: Summerhill by Kevin Frane

About two months ago I went to a convention in Atlanta and saw a vendor selling Summerhill. It has a dog wearing a suit on the front, which is interesting in itself, but I recognized it as having been written by the guy who led a writers’ workshop a few months back. I’d not read any of his work before, so since it was there I thought it was worth a try.

As a general rule, I avoid furry literature for a number of reasons. I like more “human” characters, dislike the amateurish feel so many have, and especially don’t want to read erotica, which I get the impression there is far too much of in furry.

So I was not sure what to expect.

As it turns out, not only is Summerhill the best furry work I have read so far, it is the first book in years that I have read and thoroughly enjoyed reading. Frane includes no shortage of creative chaos in this book, which he handles quite well although it took some getting used to in the first couple chapters. (This reminds me, the chapters are not always numbered sequentially. It took a little while to be convinced this was not an error, but there is a reason for it which I won’t say.) You don’t know anything the protagonist doesn’t know, and trust me, there isn’t much. You discover his world and his life along with him.

Not only is the plot complex, but so is the protagonist. Summerhill doesn’t really know who he is or what he’s looking for, and only has a fragment of information to go on. He’s also more than a little clueless and selfish at the beginning. It is pleasing to watch him develop a greater understanding of the world he is in and his place in it, as well as discovering that there are consequences for all his actions.

There’s also some romance and rivalry to move the plot along. There’s Tek, a likable male otter he has a strong fondness for and a very brief intimate encounter with – which causes a crisis for him early on. There’s also Katherine, a rival, partner, and primary obsession for Summerhill throughout. Stay with her and it’ll work out, but staying with her is not an easy task.

Summerhill is an engaging book with a complex plot, interesting characters, and very little objectionable content (mild profanity and a tastefully-portrayed intimate encounter). It’s definitely worth the read if you have the time and inclination.

Preparing a reading list

I’ve got my paws on a few books, one of which I’ve had sitting around for a few months and has been sitting at the end of the “to-read” list, but now that I have reached the end of that list, it is time to expand it. Recently I finished Paradise Lost by John Milton. It took a few pages to get used to the style, but once I did the reading became natural.

To start, I want to do a little bit of light reading and pick up a Redwall book I purchased back in October, Loamhedge by name. I am not particularly a fan of the books; there are some I like but too many of them follow the same tired plot for my taste, and it teaches a form of awkward absolutes: some animals are always good and others are always bad, with exceedingly rare exceptions. The world does not work that way.

Also on the list is John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. I have read portions of it in the past but have yet to suffer my way through the entire work. Of all the books on my list, this is probably the one I look forward to the least.

Third is The Natural Ability of Man, by Jesse Morrell. He is an open-air preacher I’ve been watching for the past couple years or so, and he has a number of sound things to say.

Edit: I would also consider various furry novels. Does anyone know of any decent ones? (Please do not recommend Kyell Gold. I have yet to see anything of his that I would deem appropriate.)

Review–Do Hard Things

Do Hard Things is a component of Brett and Alex Harris’ “Rebelution,” challenges its teen audience to rebel against the low expectations our society at large has for this age group and to “reach higher, dream bigger, grow stronger, love and honor God, live with more joy—and quit wasting their lives.”

This is excellent. The book discusses the “Myth of Adolescence” and comes out on top. Our society’s invention of the teenage years has discouraged teenagers from pursuing excellence and offered a different route: settle for less. Just do the best you can. Don’t push yourself. So a distressing number of teenagers swallow the lie and accomplish little of value in what the Harris brothers term the most crucial years.

The Harris brothers, on the other hand, promote a better way. They encourage the readers to engage in five different types of “hard things”: acting outside one’s comfort zone, going beyond what is required, organizing and accomplishing projects that are too big to do alone, things that don’t have immediate payoff, and making choices at odds with the current culture. Scattered throughout the book are literally dozens of examples of teenagers doing big things. These testimonies are exciting examples of what teenagers can do to glorify God, and they are all great to read.

But there are two brief but major errors which make me unable to recommend the book.

On page 101, in the midst of their talk about exceeding expectations and pursuing excellence, they correctly identify that God has called us to be holy as He is holy. “God’s standard is not for us to be our teacher’s best helper, but to be a ‘servant of all.’”

Wonderful.

Then they say this: “God set His standards this high so that we won’t make the mistake of aiming low. He made them unreachable so that we would never have an excuse to stop growing.”

Wait. Weren’t they just talking about exceeding expectations? Aiming for excellence and being holy? So why throw that in there?

Yes, I think I know what they mean. God’s standards are very high, and we can’t make the mistake of aiming low. But unreachable? Never!

Did God not say through Moses, “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.” (Deut. 30:11-14, NASB)

God told the nation of Israel that all the law He commanded was not unreachable. He said it was not too difficult for them. It was, in fact, so close that they could observe it.

So why do the Harris brothers contradict the Bible and say that it’s impossible? That in itself is enough to keep me from recommending the book.

Then, on page 126, they say, “Even good, solid, sincere Christians are sinful and imperfect.”

Troubling. 1 John says the opposite: “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (1 John 3:7-9, NASB)

In all their challenges to the reader, the most important one — living a holy life — is not just ignored. It is flatly denied. And it’s baffling, too. Did they not quote 1 Peter 1:16, where we are told to be holy as God is holy? They acknowledge His command but turn around and state that no one can obey Him. How many will be led astray by this?

So, while I would love to promote this book as a much-needed response to the problem of apathy in my generation, I can’t. As much as they encourage their readers to make a difference in the world, they fail in the most important areas. Readers could do amazing things but remain trapped in sin, not knowing they could be set free. They would remain condemned.

Remove the two offending sections, and I will readily promote it.

Harry Potter (sorry–kind of a rant)

I picked up the last book, not with the eagerness some had, but not with a sense of dread, either. It was merely a book to read, something to pass the time.

So I was quite upset with the quotes at the very beginning of the book. In fact, I probably would have thrown the book against the wall, had I not been afraid it would have hurt the sheetrock. I looked at the quotes again, and I did not have that same reaction, but I still cannot help but feel disgust. And yes, most of the disgust is directed toward the “We sing to you/ dark gods beneath the earth” in the excerpt by Aeschylus. Frankly, anything that can be taken as a prayer to demons (which that displays) should make a Christian shudder, in my opinion.

But enough of that.

In this book, Harry is as far from a role model as one could be. This is clear in his exchange with the Dursleys. Now, I know some will say, “The Dursleys were awful to him. They deserve what happens to them.” Perhaps they do, perhaps they do not. But it does not excuse Harry from saying things like “Are you actually as stupid as you look?” to his uncle. By doing that, he makes himself no better than the others.

I could also mention the situation with Griphook. He manages to procure the goblin’s help through carefully choiced words and deceit. Griphook could have the sword after he helped them break into Gringotts, but he would not be told exactly when he could have it. It was a half-truth. In other words, it was a lie. And yes, I know Harry said he didn’t care much for the idea, but the fact remains that he did go through with it. That says much about his character.

But at the end, Rowling has the nerve to make him something of a Christ-figure. It’s not a direct allegory, but it is definitely hinted at. He goes willingly to his death, without a struggle, sacrificing himself to rid the world of the evil that is Voldemort. The thought of an unregenerate man taking on these aspects of Christ’s character disgusted me. And here’s why:

Harry is himself evil. Throughout the series, he lies, deceives, and threatens family. These are not the attributes of one who is good. Yet we are expected to cheer for him, the one who has wallowed in filth from the first book. I have heard one person complain about using the term “evil” to describe Harry, asking instead we choose “dishonest” or some other softer word. But I cannot. Our world is one of black and white, where you must be either good or evil. There are those who walk in the darkness, and those who walk in the light [1 Thessalonians 5:5, implied; and 1 John 2:10-11]. One whose actions fly against the will of God cannot be in the light, and as such has no business being treated as a hero.

Now that I have written this, I am going to remove the Harry Potter books from my shelf. And while I’m at it, Salvatore’s books can go, too (more on that later). C.S. Lewis’ and Bryan Davis’ books are much more filling.