Hey guys! A lot of you have told me that you would be interested in book reviews written by yours truly. So, as I read, I will be posting my reviews here. My hope is that you will be able to find new books to read, discuss books you’ve already read, and pass along these posts as recommendations to other people.
Each post will include a spoiler-free summary, breakdowns of the good and bad things about each book, a recommendation and rating based on my personal opinion, and then a list of discussion questions I’ve come up with. Feel free to use them in any way you would like; I just ask that you link to me when sharing! Thanks a ton.
Without further ado…
I cannot get over how much I loved this book. It was on the reading list for my Writing for Child Audiences class, so I merely purchased it and began reading without so much as a glance at the jacket copy, and I am so glad it was the one I chose that day. Being my first review, I thought I’d start with something that I loved so that, when I inevitably review something I don’t care for, you all don’t question my ability to actually love a book.
The (Spoiler-Free) Summary
Judith Finch is an eighteen year old girl in what is presumably a Puritan village, likely in the early days of what would later be the United States. She went missing four years earlier along with her best friend Lottie but came back alone two years later missing half her tongue.
The book is written in present tense, second-person to her childhood friend Lucas, whom she has loved her whole life but who has no idea of her feelings. She speaks to no one though, and her entire community has ostracized her, including her own mother, assuming the worst about her time away.
However, when the village is threatened by invaders and questions about the past begin to resurface, Judith has to allow herself to confront what happened to her and reconcile it with what everyone around her has assumed, then work to regain the strength she once had and learn to make herself heard.
The Good Stuff
Let’s start with the pacing of this novel. Like many it starts out slowly for character development purposes, but it doesn’t seem overwhelmingly labored like other works. It helps that, despite ambiguity regarding time and place of the story and acclimating to the period aspects of the narrative, the novel is quite a short read. Then things begin to happen in quite quick succession, with a battle one would presume to be at the end of the novel coming only a quarter of the way through.
The character of Judith is so, so beautifully crafted. If you know me at all, you know that I pretty much only enjoy stories with strong characters, so the complexity found in Judith Finch was welcomed. There are brief glimpses into who she was before her captivity: a girl very much concerned with obeying the rules of her time but who also has a self-assurance and wit not often found among her peers. It’s a beautiful thing to see this Judith re-emerge as she grows in confidence, and it gives incredible depth to her beyond just a character who is merely the product of what has happened to her — a fault of many lesser works.
I think it would be a shame not to mention the supporting characters, especially Judith’s brother Darrel. A lot of the characters in this novel have to grow up quickly due to both the time they live in and other specific circumstances, and watching Darrel’s relationship with Judith evolve yet not drastically change in nature is quite enjoyable. Maria is another notable example of a supporting character who was spared the fate of being caricatured and instead was fully formed into a dynamic and interesting part of the story.
Lastly, I’d like to tip my hat to Julie Berry for how she handled the time period and religious nature of the community. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially in young adult works, to over-explain everything as if it were an academic text. It certainly makes things easier for the author. However, Berry instead reveals only what needs to be known for the story to move forward. It creates some ambiguity, but it never detracts from the story, and that’s a difficult balance to achieve. It also makes sense regarding the point of view because, since the story is written from Judith’s perspective and involves her internal monologue, explanation of things with which she has grown up would seem unnatural and be untrue to the character.
I don’t really have anything bad to say about this book, which I know seems like a cop-out for my first review, but it’s actually true. I think the structure was great, the character development rich, and the plot engaging. Maybe her connection with the horse was exaggerated, but it did serve as a character development device. I’ll also admit that I skimmed most of the parts involving the Bible passages, and I don’t think I missed anything by doing so, but they weren’t ubiquitous enough to count as a genuine fault of the story. Snaps for Julie Berry.
I recommend this book for those who would like something to knock out quickly but are craving something more satisfying than typical chick-lit. It’s a period piece, but it’s young adult, so it moves quickly for those at a higher reading level. Also, I’m not a teacher, but I imagine that this book would be great for ninth or tenth grade students to read in the classroom.
5 out of 5 stars!
Knowing ahead of time that this was a young adult novel, I give it as many stars as possible.
- Have you ever known a nonverbal person? If so, explain your relationship to and experience with them. If not, what do you think it would be like?
- As Judith’s relationship to Lucas changed throughout the story, the number of times she referenced “you” (Lucas) actually dwindled when not dealing directly with the character. Why do you think that is? What do you think that says about Judith’s journey as a person?
- Most of the town assumed certain things about Judith’s time away, especially when they found out she was with Ezra. Do you think these were reasonable assumptions for the times? Why or why not? How do you think the other characters viewed her, and what prompted attitude changes from some (like Maria and Darrel) while not from others (the rest of the town)? If the same thing had happened in modern society (a teenage girl went missing then came back missing a tongue and not saying anything), how do you think things would have played out?
- How did the inclusion of the Bible passages affect your reading experience? What do you think they were supposed to accomplish?
- Discuss Judith’s confidence levels as they rose throughout the story. What do you think was the most important event in terms of helping her feel comfortable in her town and with her voice? Was it Maria? Lucas? Darrel? Something else?
If you’re going to comment with answers to any of these questions, be aware of spoilers and warn accordingly, please.