Saturday, March 26, 2016


This was true for Joseph:  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:20

And us:
 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Movie Review: To Save a Life

This is a Christian movie that deals with teen issues including suicide.

At one time Jake was best friends with Roger, who was hit by a car saving Jake. Roger is different from then on, walking with limp and unable to play sports. By high school, Roger is an outcast and Jake becomes a basketball star. By his senior year, Jake has everything going for him—he’s a basketball star with a college scholarship, a beer pong champion, and has a gorgeous girlfriend. But his life is turned upside down when Roger ends his life.

Jake starts to take a look at his life and gets involved with a church youth group. While he’s starting to get his life straightened out, everything seems to be falling apart around him. His dad is cheating on his mom, his girlfriend is pregnant and the cool kids are turning on him.
Jake has to chose which way he will go. Will he do the right thing or follow his original plans.

Although a movie with a message, this movie shows drinking, some sexual activity (nothing shows, it’s left to your imagination), and a four letter word or two.

The movie addresses important issues—suicide, teen pregnancy, indifference, drinking, bullying etc. The problem is that some of the movie is a bit preachy and that might be a turn off to some teens. Others may be able to identify with one or more of the characters. This movie could be shown in a youth group setting or a club such as FCA, FCS, Life Line, Campus Life or by families. It would be best shown in  a situation that allows for discussion.

You can find the movie website HERE
You can read a full review of the movie on Plugged In online

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Book Review: The Boy in Striped Pajamas

This book has been in print for several years and has sold over  5 million copies. I read it as part of my goal of reading top YA novels this year.

The Boy in Striped Pajamas
The book

 This book, while being listed as a young adult novel about the holocaust, it is emotionally disturbing and probably not suitable for anyone under 13.

Bruno is a nine year old boy living in Berlin during WWII. When his father his father is promoted to commandant, the family moves to a prison camp. It’s not only a promotion, but the father’s duty. But Bruno doesn’t understand where it is he lives or why the people who live there wear striped pajamas all day. Naïve by today’s standards, it’s not unthinkable for a sheltered child in 1943 to not know what is going on.

When Bruno decides to go exploring, he wanders to the fence surrounding the camp where he meets a boy named Shmuel, who was born the exact same day he was. Bruno visits Shmuel each day, although he remains ignorant of why Shmuel is on the other side of the fence and exactly what goes on there.

Bruno’s 12 year old sister Gretel tries to appear wordly wise and is crushing on a young soldier during this time, failing to see how cruel he really is.

One day Bruno discovers Shmuel at his house cleaning glasses for a party because they needed someone with small hands for the job. Bruno gives Shmuel some food, but when the young soldier discovers that Shmuel has food, Bruno denies it letting Shmuel get beaten for stealing. Despite that they remain friends.

When lice are discovered in Bruno’s hair, the hair is shaved. Shmuel and Bruno agree they look more alike now. That works in their favor when they make a plan for Bruno to dress in prison garb and sneak under the fence to help Bruno search for his father.

I’m not going to write more because I don’t want to spoil an emotionally gripping--and disturbing--ending.

There is a lot of criticism of this book because there would not have been a young child at the prison camp. Those too young to work would have been killed instead. It is also said that the book trivializes the holocaust, but being a young adult book offering a different point of view it works for me.  Yes, there are problems with it. It’s highly unlikely that 9 year old child of a high ranking official would not know what a Jew is and that he would remain so ignorant of what was going on practically in his own backyard. And it’s not likely that the boys could sit by the fence for hours without being discovered and even less likely that Bruno could sneak under the fence. If it were that easy, the prisoners would have escaped. But it is fiction after all.

The book stands out because it’s written from the perspective of the 9 year old son of the commandant of Auschwitz, and we see the camp through the eyes of a naïve young boy. That makes it easy to get caught up in the story and allows it to leave a lasting impression.

 The Movie

I watched the movie after reading the book. For some reason they made the boys 8 instead of 9. And in the movie when Bruno displays his ignorance of what the prison really is by calling it a farm, his sister tells him it’s a prison camp for Jews. When Bruno wonders why, she tells him the Jews are the enemy and that there are no good Jews.

 Unlike the book, Bruno takes a checkers game with him to visit Shmue,l and the boys play by Shmuel telling Bruno which checker to move for him.

These are only a couple of the many differences, yet the movie remains true to the spirit of the book. And I like the movie ending better because of the immediacy with which the family realizes the tragedy that has occurred. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Teen Interview: Isaac Livesay

Most people hadn't heard of Haiti before the earthquake in January 2010. If they'd heard of Haiti, they had no clue where it was. 

For many of us, Haiti is a place we visited in the process of adopting children. A place where we found that electricity isn't guaranteed, air conditioning is saved for a few hours late in the day, sodas are warm and laundry is often done by hand and hung out to dry. Traffic rules are subjective. We also found that Haiti is a country rich in tradition and culture.

For some, like the Livesay family, Haiti is a way of life.Today you'll meet Isaac Livesay, age 14.

Isaac is on the right in the green shirt.

Q: What name would you like the readers to know you by?
A: I would like to go by Ike. My real name is Isaac but my friends and family call me Ike for short. So over the years I’ve gotten used to it.

Q: How old are you?
A:  I am 14 years old. I was born September 7th of 2001.

Q: Tell me about your family. Parents? Siblings? Pets?

A: My parents are Troy, Tara. Troy, my dad manages the ministry, which ranges from projects to finances and fundraising. Tara, my mom is a midwife and helps deliver babies at the Heartline maternity center. 

I have six siblings, two of which now live in the states. The siblings I live with
are Hope, Noah, Phoebe, and Lydia.

 I do different things with each sibling. Whenever I want to play a video game, I play with Phoebe {age 9} and Lydia {age 8} but since I don’t like video games that much I usually build Legos with them. With Hope and Noah I usually watch movies. 

I have 3 dogs, two mastiffs, Hazelnut and Peanut, and one Shihtzu, Chestnut. Hazelnut and Peanut are both girls, and Chestnut is a boy. Chestnut is always full of energy, unlike Hazelnut and Peanut who are calmer, but fun to hang with.

Q: What is the most unusual thing about living in Haiti?
A: The most unusual thing about living in Haiti in my opinion is seeing how a huge majority of the people here hate dogs. Many of the people hate big dogs, and will run away from them as if a bear is chasing them.

Another unusual thing about living here is that we see lots of friends come and go. After so much time together, it’s hard seeing friend leave. Most teenagers our age have friends they have known for years and have gone to school with. Living in Haiti we have had the opportunity to meet a wide range of different friends. To me this a special thing about living in a different country.

Q: How does living in Haiti make your life different than the average teen’s life?
A: Unlike a lot of teenagers who have a lot of friends and places to go, we don’t have all that. I have friends but a lot of good ones have moved away. So the things that I can do here are limited. Once in a while I’ll go out to eat with my family and sometimes with friends. We don’t have bowling alleys, amusement parks, movie theatres, parks, skating rinks etc. We entertain ourselves at home a lot. At home I love to draw. I am very much into drawing dragons. I also like to dance and play Minecraft with my siblings.

Q:What do you like most about living in Haiti?
A: Living in Haiti has its benefits, like the fact that I get to visit the beach with my family, and on school field trips. The beach that we go to the most is beautiful. At the beach we get to lay in the sun and read, go on boat rides, snorkel, eat delicious foods, and jump on water trampolines. 

Another awesome thing we thing we get to do is hiking. Haiti is a very mountainous place. The hikes are sometimes difficult, but they are worth it. It’s peaceful and cold and beautiful on the mountains.

Q: What do you do for fun?
A: For fun I like to make Lego Brickfilms, build all kinds of things with my Legos, sometimes play video games a sibling, take pictures on my phone, listening to music, and take Hazelnut on walks. I don’t really enjoy playing videogames by myself unless its free roam in Lego Marvel, or Jurassic world. Whenever I play Halo, StarWars battlefront, Mario kart, or Smash Bros I prefer to play with a sibling. When it comes to music I like fast songs with a good rhythm. On car rides or even flights I always have a playlist I can jam to. I like to jam to imagine dragons, Avicii, Fallout boy’s newest album, One republic, Iggy azalea {fancy}, and the sound track from Home.

Q: Do you have a life philosophy, Scripture verse or value you live by? What is it and why?
 A: One of my favorite verses from the bible is “ You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” Psalms 16:11. I like this scripture because it makes me feel happy and full of joy.

Isaac with his  siblings ready for school. Several children are taught by two teachers from the United States in a Haitian/mission version of home school.

Do you have questions or comment for Isaac about his life in Haiti? Leave them in the comment section and we might be able to get him to answer them. :)

You can read about the Livesay’s ministry HERE. There is a place to donate on that page also.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Book Review: This is How I Find Her

Actually, this isn't a true review because I'm posting the summary from Goodreads and merely commenting on it.

This is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky 
From Goodreads:Sophie has always lived her life in the shadow of her mother's bipolar disorder: monitoring medication, making sure the rent is paid, rushing home after school instead of spending time with friends, and keeping secrets from everyone.

But when a suicide attempt lands Sophie's mother in the hospital, Sophie no longer has to watch over her. She moves in with her aunt, uncle, and cousin--a family she's been estranged from for the past five years. Rolling her suitcase across town to her family's house is easy. What's harder is figuring out how to rebuild her life.
And as her mother's release approaches and the old obligations loom, Sophie finds herself torn between her responsibilities toward her mother and her desire to live her own life, Sophie must decide what to do next.

My thoughts

Mental illness is something people avoid talking about.  It makes them uncomfortable. But talking about it takes away some of the power it holds over its victims, not just those with the diagnosis but those who love them or have biological ties to them. This story shows how a mother’s mental  illness affected not only her daughter, but her sister’s family as well. There was a rift that had gone on for years that was only healed after the family members faced what had happened and dealt with hit. But it cost them several years’ time where they weren’t in contact and Sophie didn’t have their support.

At one point in the book, Sophie’s mother says she want to be thought of as more than a disease.  I’m betting a lot of people have that same feeling. And that’s not true just about bipolar disorder but ADHD, autism, depression and any number of other conditions. Sometimes the problems associated with these disorders/illnesses are so overwhelming and the problems so great that it’s hard to see the person behind the symptoms.

Sophie realizes her life has been on hold because she has taken on the responsibility of keeping her mother safe and on her medication.  The story follows her emotional growth as she struggles to rebuild relationships and is finally able to say that she can no longer be responsible for her mother. Prior to the mother’s attempted suicide, Sophie had to arrange her whole life around her mother’s needs. She had no social life or friends. When two students did reach out to her, she misunderstood their intents and isolated herself. 

Without a support system, families dealing with mental health issues can easily be overwhelmed. In Sophie’s case, there was only herself and a social worker. Hopefully this book will encourage teens facing the same isolation and care taking responsibilities to reach out for help.

To learn more about bipolar disorder, check these links.

If you know someone who is bipolar or if you have additional resources, please share them in the comments section.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Movie Review: Zootopia: An Animal Version of an LA Detective Story

Maybe you think a kid's movie is too boring to be worth your time, but that's not true of Zootopia.

If you’re expecting a sweet bunny story, you might be surprised by the true grit detective story you get instead. Sure, the bunny decided early in life that she wants to be a “cop” even though there are no officer bunnies to date. And she pushes through with her ambitions, excelling in police academy.

Her dream assignment comes through, and she leaves her parents and her two hundred or so brothers and sisters to their carrot farming and heads to the big city—Zootopia. There Judy Hopps’ dreams hit a glitch. She’s assigned to be a meter maid. That doesn’t diminish her go get ‘em spirit though. You want 100 parking tickets a day? I’ll give you 200 by noon! And she does.

Still, she believes she could be of help with the missing mammal cases that other officers are investigating. Soon she’s pulled in when she is given 48 hours to find a missing otter or resign from the force.  With the help of a sly fox named Nick, Judy faces the underworld of mob polar bears and other animals. She and Nick discover that something is turning predators into mad beasts, and the duo must figure out what is causing the change before they can put a stop to it.

This movie is delightfully entertaining, somewhat predictable and delivers a true detective story that in true fashion includes the mob and the requisite nude scene—if you count the animals at Mystic Springs Oasis—a place where animals don’t wear clothes! The cutting edge animation, well paced plot and detailed world building make it a must see.

Besides being highly entertaining, there are a lot of lessons you can take away from Zootopia.
  1. Don’t judge. People shouldn’t be judged by their size or um, species. There had never been a bunny cop before, and everyone laughed at the idea, but Judy turned out to be a pretty slick bunny. You can pretty easily figure out how this applies to your school and the cliques there.
  2. Hard work and perseverance pay off. Judy Hopps pushed herself to her own limits and achieved her goal. The question is—Is your dream worth sacrificing other things to pursue it with all you’ve got? What's more important--texting and hanging out or make progress toward your goal?
  3. Stereotypes are flawed. At the beginning of the story, Judy Hopps appears nothing more than an uptight overachiever and Nick a laid back smooth talker. But as the story unfolds and the characters are developed, we find that they are both much more than that. A person’s past and experiences need taken into account. So, how does that work in your world? Are people judged by stereotype or by who they really are?
  4. Individuality is important.  One reviewer calls the movie a “pro diversity” pep rally. Zootopia is made up of a large number of different animals, and while many are the same species, they are individuals. The idea of individuality didn’t start with Disney though, it began with God, who made each person in a unique way and gave him/her the talents and abilities needed to fulfill his/her calling. (Psalm 139:14, Ephesians 2:10) Like Zootopia, God’s family is made up of many different people making up one family.  (1 Corinthians 12). You are a one of a kind creation of God. Claim it and live it.

So if you're looking for something to do this weekend, check out Zootopia and leave a comment below to let me know what you think of the movie.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Book Review: I Was Here

This year I am trying to read many best selling YA novels. For the most part, these are not Christian books, but they are what captivates today’s teen reader. 

My goal as an author is to write equally captivating books that give hope and real answers. Not pat answers. Not cardboard answers. Book that have real characters with real struggles. Not one dimensional characters.

I’ve noticed that many of the books I am reading have to do with death. I Was Here is no exception. Like All the Bright Places and  13 Reasons Why, it was about suicide.
Here’s Amazon’s summary of it:
When her best friend, Meg, commits suicide by drinking a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how did she miss the signs of Meg's depression? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, and some secrets of his own. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

Since they covered the highlights, I’m going to jump in with what I think are the good and bad points of the book.
The good points:
  • The book tackles the tough topics of depression and suicide
  • The characters are well developed
  • Cody and Ben go to church and the book includes the sermon

My problems with the book:
  • A megagob of swearing including the f-word
  • Sex between two teens and references to other times
  • No hope of an afterlife is given other than someone saying that if there was an afterlife and you didn’t like it, you could just kill yourself again

I think the Christian market is sadly lacking in good books that deal with real issues. Ones that captivate the readers the way this one and others in the secular market do. This blog is for teens, but I have authors of YA fiction who read it, so my challenge to you is to fill in the gaps in Christian fiction.

Teen suicide is a major problem, the third leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24. And it’s estimated that for every successful suicide attempt, there are 15 failed attempts.

Kid’s Health has a good article on teen suicide HERE
I guess my question is, why are so many teens attempting to end their lives? The article lists these factors:
Young people with mental health problems — such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or insomnia — are at higher risk for suicidal thoughts. Teens going through major life changes (parents' divorce, moving, a parent leaving home due to military service or parental separation, financial changes) and those who are victims of bullying are at greater risk of suicidal thoughts.
Factors that increase the risk of suicide among teens include:
· a psychological disorder, especially depression, bipolar disorder, and alcohol and drug use (in fact, about 95% of people who die by suicide have a psychological disorder at the time of death)
·  feelings of distress, irritability, or agitation
· feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that often accompany depression
· a previous suicide attempt
· a family history of depression or suicide
· emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
· lack of a support network, poor relationships with parents or peers, and feelings of social isolation
· dealing with bisexuality or homosexuality in an unsupportive family or community or hostile school environment

That being the case, it sounds like we need to get some programs in place for teens and make counseling more easily accessible.
I think we also need more books about teens who look at the odds and the things stacked against them, struggle with it , and then find positive—and realistic—solutions.

Can anyone suggest books like that?

Teens--what do you look for in a book? What new book would you like to see written? What subjects should Christian authors write about?