Thursday, December 4, 2008

Review of House of Dark Shadows

Robert Liparulo’s House of Dark Shadows is the story of a family that moves from L.A. to a small town. They move into a house that just isn’t right. Sounds don’t always come from the right places. People enter one room and come out another. The linen closet connects to locker 119 at school. Doorways in a hidden hallway lead to exciting adventures in far-off places in different time periods. The target reading level for this book appears to be fifth or sixth grade.

Let’s start with the good stuff. The premise is great, obviously, and provides an example of what Christian Fantasy should be aiming for. What kid wouldn’t want to live in a house where the linen closest transports him to school, and then to have the ability to travel through time? Excellent!

The theme for the book is something along the lines of tell the truth or face the consequences. We see this in that the father lies to his family to get them to move to the strange house and the boys are secretive about exploring the house. The end result is that at the end of the book some odd creature kidnaps their mother and carries her off into one of the worlds to which the house is a gateway, setting up the rest of the series. It doesn’t hurt to have another book to encourage children to tell the truth.

The book has some of the crude humor that children and young teens enjoy. The sentences are short and the writer repeats statements with different wording when he feels his readers may not understand the term he uses. This should make it easier for his target audience to understand the book.

On to the not as great parts of the book. High on my list is the cliffhanger at the end. When I was in the target audience, I hated books that didn’t end properly. Being the age I was, I was never sure that I would get the next book in the series. I you are considering this book as a gift for a child, I highly recommend waiting until all of the books are available and giving the books as a set rather than giving this book alone.

The book needs pictures. That isn’t to say that the story isn’t understandable without them, but they’ve become so much a part of books of this type that the blank pages at the end of each chapter seem all that much more empty.

I would have liked to have seen the boys talk less and do more. I assume they will be spending more time in far off places during the rest of the series, since they have to find their mother and grand-mother. But you have to wonder, if a kid has the ability to visit exotic places, what is he doing sitting around the house? And why doesn’t he spend more than fifteen minutes away?
I’ll let you decide if this is good or bad. It isn’t nearly as dark as most Christian Fantasy, but the book is a little dark. From the very beginning, the house instills fear. At no point do the boys truly enjoy the house. Instead, they are fearful of it and it only grows worse as they learn more. It is not a place to escape to, but one to escape from.

Overall, the book is entertaining and is probably the best Christian Fantasy I have read recently. Though it is somewhat disappointing in places, I wouldn’t feel bad about purchasing this book for a young reader.

Less Preachy Writing

One of the common complaints about Christian novels is that they tend to be didactic or preachy. The critics are somewhat justified in making this statement, since there are plenty of examples, even among the more popular Christian authors. Someone is bound to say, “they haven’t read Christian fiction recently.” That may be true, but it is a problem that we should try to avoid.

I would say that the solution is to “show, don’t tell”, but that phrase is overused. Didactic writing happens when we try to convince people of a theme without providing the required supporting evidence. Usually, this happens with themes other than the main theme. If we feel obligated to put the plan of salvation in every book, it is likely to come across as preachy unless it is the main theme. No matter how important a theme is, if we don’t have room to handle it properly, it should be left out.

The author of one of my favorite books included some chapters that I wish she had left out and I often skip over them when I read the book. The chapters exist for one purpose and that is to tell about this little unsaved boy. The rest of the characters in the book are already saved, but the main character meets this boy and over about three chapters the main character shares the gospel with the boy and of course he accepts Christ. The problem is that these chapters get away from the main theme, which deals with obedience to God with a humble attitude. If the three chapters had supported the theme, they probably wouldn’t have seemed preachy at all, but they were more along the lines of “here’s how to be saved”, “wow that’s great, sign me up.” This causes them to come across as orphaned chapters from the rest of the book.