Thursday, January 8, 2009

Fireflies in December by Jennifer Erin Valent

Jennifer won the Christian Writer's Guild's 2007 Operation First Novel contest with this book, her first published novel. That tells you something right there. (Check out the Christian Writer's Guild contest website for more information.)

Here's the back cover copy:

Jessilyn Lassiter never knew that hatred could lurk in the human heart until the summer of 1932 when she turned 13. When her best friend, Gemma, loses her parents in a tragic fire, Jessilyn's father vows to care for her as one of his own, despite the fact that Gemma is black and prejudice is prevalent in their southern Virginia town. Violence springs up as a ragtag band of Ku Klux Klan members unite and decide to take matters into their own hands. As tensions mount in the small community, loyalties are tested and Jessilyn is forced to say good-bye to the carefree days of her youth. Fireflies in December is the 2007 winner of the Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest.
Some of my comments:

First of all the Christian Writer's Guild is a well-respected organization for Christian writers. From my understanding, seasoned writers mentor up-and-coming writers through the program. Every year, they offer a contest to never-before-published writers. The best manuscript is chosen as the winner, followed by a cash award and a book contract with Tyndale House. So, first of all, congratulations are offered to Jennifer Erin Valent!! What a fantastic accomplishment and a great kick-off to your career as a published author.

And now, my review:

Every now and then you run into a novel that offers you a journey you join a bit reluctantly. Then, the challenge for the author is to keep you reading while some tough issues are addressed. Fireflies in December offered such a journey. And Jennifer Erin Valent takes readers through with finesse and skillful writing. The author’s depiction of a 1930’s prejudiced southern community and the activities of the Ku Klux Klan were so realistic and heart-wrenching I won’t soon forget this novel. I found myself angered and appalled a few times as I read Valent’s believable tale.

Valent’s heroine is one plucky 13 year old, always getting herself into nail-biting predicaments. Her best friend, Gemma, tries to keep her out of trouble, but usually to no avail. This makes for a fast-moving pace and a somewhat over-the-top heroine. Valent even throws in an element of romance with a character readers hope will eventually marry the lead. (Luke)

On the downside, some of the heroine’s antics seemed a bit forced, and there were times when as a reader, I fell into unbelief around some of the story’s elements (mainly in terms of the heroine’s life—like why her parents would leave her alone, ever, given the threats facing their family).

Overall, this is a story of depth. Fireflies in December will get you thinking about your own heart and whether senseless prejudices lurk there. This new voice in fiction is one to watch.

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