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Book Review: Summer Sanctuary by Laurie Gray

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It’s finally summer! I’m delighted to finally have the time to get my hands on some of the books I have been meaning to read for so long.

Because of my work with junior youth (aged 12 to 15), I’m always on the lookout for books that balance realism with high standards, as well as being approachable while not being patronizing. It has been rather difficult; there seems to be a growing market for books that do not have the high standards a junior youth adhering to religious convictions strives for. And unfortunately, many of the books that do adhere to high standards tend to preach.

So when I get my hands on as delightful a book as Summer Sanctuary, you can understand why I would be so excited.

Matthew has just entered that exciting period of time that I refer to above; at 12, he is a delightful young man, incredibly smart and eager, filled with the altruism that defines that age group and as well as many of the same questions. The summer looms before him empty and boring, as his best friend Kyle is spending it with his grandparents; home schooled Matthew doesn’t have many other friends, and certainly none of the ones he has compare to Kyle.

But things take a turn for the best when he meets Dinah. She might only be two years older than him, but life circumstances (as well as gender) have developed her maturity well beyond her years. Although from completely different backgrounds, Matthew and Dinah develop a strong friendship, and their differences become the source of growth for them both.

There is a small difficulty that Matthew and Dinah need to deal with. Dinah is homeless, and Matthew sets out to help her find a safer place to stay than the parks she has been using at night, as well as dodging Child Services until her mother comes back. Their friendship, born out of curiosity and strengthened through adversity, demonstrates how even the most different people can have the most meaningful and fulfilling relationships.

There are many interesting questions and dilemmas peppered throughout Summer Sanctuary. Many of them remain unanswered by the last page; however, it’s clear that the author’s purpose isn’t to answer these questions, but rather to make her readers think. I most certainly did!

The book’s realism is mainly related to the fact that the author Laurie Gray deals with some important issues without beating around the bush, but also without presenting it in a way that would be a little too much for a 12 to 15 year old to handle. For example, Dinah tells Matthew how, when she first was on her own, a creepy man followed her around making obscene gestures and saying obscene things. It’s an unfortunate reality we have to deal with which the author presents to the reader, but without specifying the actual things that were said and done. Thus, Gray balances out being realistic and not patronizing her readers while at the same time shielding them from reading things they just might not be ready for yet.

The questions that are sprinkled throughout Summer Sanctuary include Matthew questioning the nature of faith: does it have to be blind, in that there is no place for individual investigation of the truth, or can it be individual (p. 38). Matthew also questions the fact that his brother’s life is centered only around superficial things such as sports (p. 90).

Another great moment in the book is when Matthew is sharing some of his questions with his mother, who tells him that if he listens, God will talk to him: “God speaks to each of us differently. And I think you’re already learning to listen” (p.108).

Summer Sanctuary is a delightful, heart-warming and thought-provoking book; the language used by Gray takes into account both the intelligence of the target audience by neither demeaning nor patronizing them, but also takes into account the fact that their young age has given them only a couple of years of life experience.

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