“We tell stories because our Redeemer is a Master Storyteller—and the story is the net by which we catch souls for the Kingdom.”—Mark Hart, of Life Teen International (from the foreword of Secrets)
One of the best-kept secrets in the Catholic publishing world (though a group of authors are working hard to change that) is the association of young adult and teen writers who have pooled their talents in the website www.catholicteenbooks.com . One of the many efforts of this talented group is the 2018 release; Secrets: Visible & Invisible, a short story anthology by seven award-winning authors geared for the reluctant reader and the short story enthusiast. With a foreword by Mark Hart of Life Teen International, and dedicated to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, this book is sure to please teen readers and their parents—a rare combination in today’s publishing world!
Five of the stories in this 200-page anthology are contemporary, one is dystopian and one historical. In each of the stories, the protagonist’s secret forces a choice in a moral dilemma or mystery, which tests their faith, endurance and resolve. While some of the stories are more active, and others introspective, the overreaching theme is one of faith and reliance on God and prayer to persevere. The general tone of the stories is never preachy or off-putting, with more than a few surprise endings.
“The Under-Appreciated Virtues of Rusty Bicycles” by Corinna Turner
This dystopian story puts two friends, Bane and Margo, in a race for their lives as their quest for an adventurous summer picnic turns into a case of mistaken identity. Though dystopian fiction does not rank as one of my favored genres, the story has well-developed characters (also seen in Turner’s full-length books) and shows the true value of friendship. The narrative is filled with edge-of your seat action and the pace and the length of the story will have even the most reluctant reader hanging on until the end.
“Recreation” by Cynthia T. Toney
Toney is a favorite of mine, as her signature style of multigenerational friendships, especially with teens and senior citizens, always brings together an unlikely and extremely likeable group. Toney also designs her stories with people of diverse ethnicities and abilities often set in the intense humidity of the deep South. In “Recreation”, a town swimming pool, a run-down house, a mysterious Vietnamese woman and two boys with too much time on their hands provide a lesson in getting to know your neighbors. Teens also learn from this contemporary story, that choices made, and talents shared may reap rewards and lessons far into the future.
“The Portrait of the Fire Starters” by Theresa Linden
This contemporary teen mystery brings together a large array of Catholic teens during an evening meeting set in their high school. Arriving at their regular meeting room, they are surprised to find a painting, resembling the members of the group, covering one wall. There is a cryptic message and the painting changes and evolves mysteriously with each successive meeting, leaving clues for the group to discover the identity of the mystery artist. The characters in this story are from Linden’s West Brothers series, and there is quite a bit of teen angst and accusation as the story progresses. Characters of varying talents and abilities teach lessons of tolerance and appreciation for each other’s gifts.
“On the Brink of Hell” by Susan Peek
This piece of historical fiction takes place in 16th century Italy and gives a bit of background into St. Camillus de Lellis, with characters from Peek’s novel on the soldier-turned-saint. Never having previously read any of Peek’s works, I must admit this one was my favorite as it immerses the reader in the sights and sounds of a war-torn hospital of the period. The tortured inner musings of a delirious soul as he awaits what he fears is his certain demise, keep the action moving at a frenetic pace despite the fact he lays prone throughout the narrative. Physical pain aside, the main character is tortured with the knowledge of a mortal stain upon his soul and his inability to obtain a priest for absolution. A fascinating story of forgiveness sure to please teens delighting in stories of battle.
Sister Francesca by T.M. Gaouette
This contemporary story, with a surprise ending, will delight those with an affinity to Saint Therese of Lisieux. The story follows a young man who gradually learns the meaning of true love as he falls head-over-heels for a young teenage girl, he sees at Mass one Sunday. From seeking any opportunity to spend time with the object of his desire to learning how to give fully for the good of the other, this story follows two teens as they progress into adulthood and a full understanding of the love of God.
Behind the Wheel by Carolyn Astfalk
Another one of my favorite Catholic authors, Astfalk provides a back-story to her teen novel, Rightfully Ours in this short story. With a believable plot line, the reader is quickly immersed in this contemporary scenario that could happen to any teen. Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl. Girl is in his class but one year older. Boy wants to be “cool” and “older”. He takes his dad’s truck to “accidentally” meet girl at a place where he knows she will be that night. His dad will not be home, so he won’t miss the truck except for two problems. First, the lack of a valid driver’s license and secondly, he is supposed to be watching his tattle-tale younger brother. What could possibly go wrong?! A great story about what to do when you are faced with fessing up or taking the easy way out and keeping your actions a secret.
More Precious than Gold by Leslea Wahl
Wahl melds the main characters from her two award-winning novels into this contemporary story about four teens who spend a week serving as counselors at a Christian camp for disadvantaged children. While helping a rebellious camper deal with his emotions, the teens find themselves smack in the middle of a camp legend-mystery. Lessons about forgiveness and using your talents to help others along with the activities of a summer camp atmosphere provide for an engaging story.
Secrets: Visible and Invisible is available on amazon or at Catholicteenbooks.com