Thursday, October 15, 2009

Product Review: Sarah's Wish

As I read aloud the copy of Sarah's Wish I received for free, the boys and I were captivated from start to finish. We were left wanting more. In fact, it is Orville's wish to find the next books in the series, Sarah's Promise and Sarah's Escape, under the tree on Christmas morning.

The story is set in Ohio during the turbulent years that preceded the Civil War. Sarah, the lovable protagonist, is orphaned, and upon her mother's death, Sarah is left with huge secrets and responsibilities. While praying for her wish to come true and carrying on her mother's legacy, she learns many lessons about trust, honor, and respect. In the end, she learns that wish fulfillment is no reason for compromising one's convictions.

The author, Jim Baumgardner, writes vividly. Orville commented that he felt as though he was part of the action. In his mind, he became the characters in the book and could see his surroundings like a "movie playing in my head". The characters are so well developed that I felt as though they had become my friends, or enemies, depending on the circumstance.

Sarah is a role-model. She acts wisely for her age and trusts the Lord in difficult circumstances. The faith she demonstrates is encouraging and lives up to Mr. Baumgardner's description of the Sarah series when he says, "The books have been referred to as Christian fiction. I prefer to describe them as Young Adult fiction written by a Christian author. Sarah’s faith is important to her and she lives by it, but the books do not try to convert the reader to anything. The stories do teach Christian principals of living a good life and treating others as you would have them treat you."

Sarah has a number of good role models guiding her, too. Doc Baum is a kind-hearted man who has Sarah's best interests at heart. Granny, her caretaker, has a heart of gold and is a riot. She had us laughing so hard we thought our sides would split. There is a whole community of other interesting characters. Some are filled with compassion and good deeds, others with hatred and bigotry, yet none of their actions or words are excessive or inappropriate for young readers. Mr. Baumgardner keeps his audience in mind, and though he paints a vivid picture, he never paints it with words that young readers would be better off not reading or by infusing the story with questionable morality.

Mr. Baumgardner, who has been a delight to work with, wrote the Sarah books for his homeschooled grandchildren. His love and care shine through in his careful handling of difficult subjects. However, given the premise, an orphan who assists run-away slaves, some of the subject matter might be too mature for our youngest readers. For example, Sarah's mother dies in the first chapter. The scene is beautifully written and as a result is heart-wrenching. Though not graphic, the death scene evokes many emotions, and young children may not be mature enough to sort through the resulting feelings.

There is a slight nod to feminism as well. Sarah hopes to become a school teacher one day. When discussing her future, Granny advises her that "Ya can be what yer a mind to be, and the men cain't keep ya from it." Sarah's aspirations are not central to the story, and this is the only statement that hints at women asserting their independence from men. I thought it necessary to mention, however, for those who would find it contrary to their goals for their daughters.

Also, as with any book set during the years leading to the Civil War, there are tough issues to consider. Slavery, The Fugitive Slave Law, The Underground Railroad, and all associated moral dilemmas are front and center. Like Uncle Tom's Cabin, Sarah's Wish zeroes in on the atrocities of American slavery, and I do agree that America slavery was atrocious. However, all characters who are on the wrong side of the issues are portrayed as self-absorbed with an air of superiority while those on the right side are noble and heroic. The strong and contrasting protagonists and antagonists make for an interesting read; however, in my opinion, they also make for a one-dimensional representation of the time period.

With that said, if you think your children are mature enough to delve into these topics, Sarah's Wish could serve as a prompt for great discussion and further research on the time period, and it is an enjoyable read that promotes Christian character. I give Sarah's Wish two thumbs up and look forward to making Orville's wish come true. He isn't the only one who wants to read the next Sarah book. I want to see how her adventures continue and could use another dose of Granny's humor!

You can purchase Sarah's Wish for $9.99 at Sarah's Web. A code is included in the back of the book for a free audio download. There are no shipping and handling charges, and Mr. Baumgardner will autograph your copy. You can also purchase the other Sarah books or the Sarah's Wish audio book from the website.

Wondering if your opinion might differ from mine? It might, you know. Read a section of Sarah's Wish for yourself here or click here to read my crewmates' reviews.

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