I was in elementary school when my sister and I were dropped at my pastor and his wife’s house for an impromptu slumber party. Conveniently, they had girls the same age as my parents girls. Not so conveniently, someone my dad had become friends with through his day job as a street lawyer (think John Grisham but the million dollar case never walks through the door) had been attacked and needed a place to crash for the night. I don’t remember if the attack was ever fully explained to me. Rape? Domestic Abuse? I remember seeing her face on my way out the door, and that was enough for me to know I was glad my parents were taking care of her.
My parent’s decision to structure our family around the calling of my dad to the streets of Toledo Ohio, meant that I was exposed to a lot of things far before my friend’s parents were talking about those things to them. Drug addiction, sexual abuse, homelessness, poverty. All of these things came up at the dinner table, as my mom asked my dad how his day was and he told her the things he helped people with that day. I asked a lot of questions and my parents never shied away from the truth. “Well, Abby our friend Carey doesn’t have a job because he has some mental problems, so that mean he can’t have a house and has to sleep in daddy’s office.”
Their decision to face things more or less head on, gave me and my sisters age appropriate language to talk about some pretty serious things. I am grateful for that language. I am grateful they didn’t sweep things under the rug. When my friends were struggling with the darkness in the world, asking where God was in all of it, I simply shrugged my shoulders. I knew where God was in all of that, I had watched my parents as they became the hands and feet of Jesus to the least of these.
The terrible things of this world need talked about. How else are we going to know how to stop them?
Lately, I have heard grumblings that young adult novels are simply too dark. I hear that, I do. So many young adult novels are about cutting, drug use, sexual abuse, death. Do we really want our teens reading such dark material?
I have the privilege of teaching teens what are considered some of the greatest books of all time. These books may not be about teens, but they are just as dark. The tenth grade curriculum alone leads to conversations about power by way of simulated rape (thanks a lot Lord of the Flies) to mercy killing (courtesy of Of Mice and Men). Then there are the few weeks when we talk of nothing but death (Tuesdays with Morrie you’re such a laugh). This is what I know for sure, not only are these books not too mature for 15 year olds, but they are talking about this stuff anyway. At least this way, it isn’t whispers in the dark. At least in my room, there is an adult that can serve as a guide through these complicated issues.
I read Elora Ramirez’s Every Shattered Thing in two nights. It is nothing short of gripping. It is a tale of a girl, Stephanie, caught in sex trafficking through no fault of her own. Starting somewhere in the second chapter I started rooting for Stephanie, and had trouble putting the book down. It mattered to me, whether or not she would be okay. Every Shattered Thing is one of those, “don’t read unless you have time” kind of books. You have been warned.
I worry about the other warning this book is likely to come with, the one that says “this may not be suitable for your teen” or “it is simply too dark.” This is the warning that is likely to make me mad. Because, while Every Shattered Thing starts in a dark place, the story has a constant backlighting of hope. Hope. That is the truly remarkable thing about this book, the hope is the heaviest part.
It reminds me of the hope of my parents house. The way that darkness was not hidden from us, the way my parents trusted my sisters and I to be able to see the light in the darkness as they guided us carefully through this world. Elora does that with her audience, she does not shy away from the terrible. She instead believes they will be able to see the light, even in the darkest of places.
Sex trafficking is becoming an everyday conversation topic. It has come up in my classroom multiple times, and not because I brought it up. My students have heard whispers in the dark, read an article on the internet. They want to understand, to shed light on the subject. This book, Every Shattered Thing, it helps people understand. I know there will be parents who insist that the material is too mature for their teens. I hope they think again. Hope is heavy, and teens are so very strong in the holding.
*Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book to review.
Wow. The home you were blessed to grow up in tells me a whole lot about you, Abby. And I’ve got this book on my Kindle and hope to get into it soon. Wonderful review.
Oh I’m so glad to read your words about growing up around the things that surround the kind of work we are doing. Adam and I always say, we’d rather her talk about it with us right? And we do. Because she is for sure exposed to more than most of her counter-part 4-yr-olds, but I think (hope) and feel encouraged to read that you can find hope in the midst of that darkness, and that facing the dark things head-on can be ok . . .
Your mother and I never realized until you were grown that doing what God put in front of us would have such a profound impact on you and your sisters. I was just trying to be obedient and your Mom supported me and often had the toughest part. It was Mother Theresa who called it doing what God puts in front of you. Heidi Baker who serves the poorest of the poor in Mozambique (check out Iris Ministries) calls it, “stopping for the one.” This observation of her’s is profound, ” Love looks like something.” My best advise to parents is Stop for the one. Do it with your kids. Show them or tell them what love looks like cause it looks like something.. Bring it home. Do this and your kids will make you proud..
You did make one statemnt that need slight correcting. “(think John Grisham but the million dollar case never walks through the door). Everyone knows from this blog what you do. I don’t know if they know that your oldest sister is a music therapist working with autistic kids or that the sister who is practically your next door neighbor is an amazing therapist treating the severely mentally ill. You each know that love looks like something and know what that something looks like in your professions. You each stop for the one. You, your sisters and the people I had the great privilege to stop for They were my million dollar case.
Love this. This is such a powerful apologetic for talking honestly with teens.
Sometimes it was tough to find the right language to make sense of our world with you. Some authors of books for teens seem to be good at finding the right language, but others do not.
Agreed! I absolutely think parents need to be concerned about HOW the things are presented. But it did us a lot of good that you guys did not withold the fact that dark things were happening. It absolutely saved us from confusion our friends faced.
1. I did not know you grew up in Toledo! That’s where I live now. Small world!
2. Your dad’s comment made me all teary eyed. Mercy.
3. Could not agree with your point and what your mom said below, more. I think sometimes it’s important for kids to be uncomfortable and to be shocked, but not in a way that sensationalizes whatever the issue is. That’s where good writing and sensitive handling come in. A good, well written book can change the way you think about… everything. I also think you make a great point about being able to read those books with an adult to kind of guide the conversation and maybe give some perspective that it’s hard for teenage brains to grasp.
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