Preacher's Boy

Katherine Paterson, Author Clarion Books $15 (160p) ISBN 978-0-395-83897-6
Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia; Jacob Have I Loved) captures the essence of an adolescent's fundamental questions of God and existence in this finely honed novel. As the year 1899 draws to a close, the people in Robbie's rural Vermont community anticipate the coming of the 20th century with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Some fear that the end is near. Others, like Robbie's father, a minister with progressive ideas, thinks ""the world's at a sort of beginning."" Robbie does not know what to believe. Recently, he has begun to question God and the validity of the Ten Commandments. As the son of a preacher, he is expected to exhibit exemplary behavior, but he cannot seem to turn the other cheek to those who make fun of his ""simple-minded"" brother. In a fit of anger, Robbie comes dangerously close to drowning a boy and sets off a chain of irreversible events; he must rely on his conscience to lead him toward redemption. Once again placing universal conflict in a historical context, Paterson gives a compassionate, absorbing rendering of an adolescent boy trying to break free from social and religious constraints. Besides delving into the mind of the young rebel, she successfully evokes the climate of the times, showing how the townspeople respond to modern inventions, discoveries and ideas. The story contains a moral, but the author remains nearly invisible as she guides her characters through crises, then leaves them to fend for themselves at the dawn of a new era. Ages 10-14. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/23/1999
Release date: 08/01/1999
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