Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Twelfth Window

[lhs_star_rg2.50.gif]Norwood, J.M. 2007. The Twelfth Window.

What can I say about The Twelfth Window? It's an almost-but-not-quite book. The characters were almost. The plot was almost. The setting was almost. It's supposed to be a parable-of-sorts of the Christ story. His life, his death, his resurrection. This kind of thing has been done before--in a way--for example C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are known for their great fantasy fiction. And while not everything each of those has written is allegorical in nature, a good bit of it is. It is easier, in a way, to have a parable or allegory set in an other-world. Narnia. Middle Earth. Set someplace long ago or far away. A place that is so unlike present-day life that it is easier to suspend your disbelief. The setting of The Twelfth Window, on the other hand, is a locale that is Different-Yet-Not-Different-Enough. It's set in the 1980s. It's set in a high school. It features a typical girl, Lisa, who worries about many typical things: her friends, her popularity, having or not having a boyfriend, parental issues, her studies and school work. There are just one or two big differences keeping this from being your normal high school melodramatic realistic fiction. One, Lisa and her family--and a few of her friends--are religiously devout. They attend Temple. Their worship, their spirituality or religion is different. Made to be a stand-in perhaps for the God of the Old Testament, the story is fairly familiar but the names have all been changed. This isn't a bad thing. I'm not saying it is. If Christians can see Christ in Aslan. They might very well learn to see Christ in Atael. The second big difference is what I hinted at earlier. In this particular allegory, this particular story, Christ--Atael--has not come yet. Nor are the people expecting him to come. They don't know quite what the prophecy is that will fill the 12th Stain-glassed window, but they know it hasn't happened yet. Again, this has been down a handful of times before. What would the world be like if Christ came in the Twentieth Century. Yet in most of the other versions, the world is so dramatically different that it would hardly be recognizable to modern readers. It certainly wouldn't feel like the real deal--the 1980s. I can't honestly speak to the authenticity. I wasn't in high school in the 80s. I was in elementary school. i certainly wasn't keeping up with fashion or slang or music. But it feels close or close enough. To say that I had a hard time wrapping my head around the premise that this Christ-figure was a somewhat typical albeit smarter but poorer high school student is an understatement. Michael Joseph, the boy we're supposed to identify with Christ, is poor. He doesn't have a family. He works at a local diner and lives in a relatively dingy place above the diner. He is a kind, compassionate, good. He is forgiving of others' faults. He tries his best to get along with everyone. But he's just as well.He won't let others be bullied or pushed around. He speaks up for those in need. He tutors those who need it. He counsels those who need it. He's your all-around good guy, your saint. Lisa is his girl friend. Yet Lisa is not a saint. As representing the Church, or representing Christ's Beloved, she has to be faithless and doubtful in order to fill the role. The presence of angels and their counterparts might remind readers of some of Frank Peretti's work.

Yet I feel, in a way, this is too ambitious of an undertaking. It might almost work. But it has a long way to go. The writing is jumpy. Jumpy to the point where it loses clarity, loses focus. More often than not, I was left with the feeling, "How did I get here? What happened?" The narrative is a collection of loosely related vignettes or scenes. Often conversations will occur and you're at a loss of how you got there, where you are, where you're going, and why you're there with this person, this character in the first place. While some of this may be intentional, I couldn't help but get the feeling that the author was assuming that just because she understood it that her readers would as well. She might could jump and leap and twist and turn all over the place without getting lost, but I was lost and confused and puzzled. The plot lacked clarity for most of the novel. I wasn't confused on everything, on every little detail. But there were plenty of gaps and holes that kept me from seeing the big picture, the cohesive whole. I'll tell you exactly what it reminded me of. Of listening to one half of a phone conversation. The writing. I'll let you judge for yourself. Most of the time it was good enough--satisfactory enough. Nothing special. Nothing outstanding. Just average. But not awful. Not terrible. But it told more than it showed. And it somewhat-liberally used underlining especially in the second half of the book. There is a reason most authors don't use underlining to get their tone across.

"Reconciling with the one you love is its own spring. The heavy snows of guilt, the ice of blame and the biting winds of vanity all melted away by virtue of the care, the new understanding and the deeper love that Lisa and Michael had and felt for each other. A month and a day after they made up, he gave her a new photo of him to replace the one she had ripped up. The gang was together again even though winter plodded on..." (157)

It does have five--yes, five--five stars on Amazon. (To clarify of the five reviews it does have, all of them are five-star reviews.) And according to the AuthorHouse website, it is a finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year Award. So it appears I'm in the minority on this one.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

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