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Bible stories are such a deeply ingrained element of the fabric of contemporary culture that many readers likely take them for granted. These six novels examine familiar biblical stories and reinvigorate them with vivid characters and evocative historical atmospheres, all while simultaneously inviting readers to consider more carefully some of their deeply held ideas about faith.
Alphabet of Dreams. By Susan Fletcher. 2006. Atheneum/Ginee Seo, $16.95 (9780689850424). Gr. 6–9.
In a richly imagined novel, Fletcher dovetails her own characters and plot with an utterly familiar New Testament story. Mitra comes from Persian royalty, but now that her family is dead, she disguises herself as a boy, stealing food and sheltering in burial caves with her younger brother, Babak. The complications facing a pubescent girl living as a boy and the rhythms of desert life form an intriguing dimension to the novel.
In the Shadow of the Ark. By Anne Provoost. 2004. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, e-book, $9.99 (9780545414821). Gr. 10–12.
This account of the biblical Flood is narrated by Re Jana, whose family leaves the marshes to find the ark. The passion Re Jana finds with Ham, son of the Builder, leads to a place on the ark, but this “safe haven,” with the stink and sounds of the animals, starvation, and repeated (if not lustful) rapes by Ham’s brothers, tests her in every way, even as she carries new life into the New World.
Pharaoh’s Daughter. By Julius Lester. 2000. HMH, paper, $6.99 (9780152066628). Gr. 6–9.
In this retelling of the story of young Moses and the sister who saved him, the sister is not Miriam but an older sister, Almah, who has an affinity for things Egyptian. When the pharaoh’s daughter, Batya, takes Moses as Hebrew boys are being killed, Almah is pleased to find she is going along to the palace. The tension between the Hebrew god, Ya, and the deities of Egypt is personalized by the spiritual struggles of Almah and Moses.
Poisoned Honey: A Story of Mary Magdalene. By Beatrice Gormley. 2010. Knopf, paper, $9.99 (9780375844041). Gr. 8–12.
Mariamne is the pampered daughter of a Magdala sardine merchant, and she has always experienced visions—or perhaps they are just flights of fancy. But after several tragedies, including the deaths of her father and the young man to whom she’s betrothed, Mari’s hold on reality becomes shakier. The story of Mary Magdalene has been told and retold but usually not for this age group.
Salome. By Beatrice Gormley. 2007. Random/Laurel Leaf, e-book, $6.99 (9780375892127). Gr. 9–12.
Gormley fleshes out the story of Salome (who danced with seven veils and then demanded the head of John the Baptist), showing the teenager as the daughter of a willful woman, a girl caught up in palace intrigue and religious zeal, as she tries to define herself and her beliefs. Interspersed chapters tell some of the story from the viewpoint of John the Baptist, who calls for repentance, even from the ruling class.
Storm. By Donna Jo Napoli. 2014. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (9781481403023). Gr. 9–12.
Young, newly pregnant Sebah manages to survive the Flood on a small raft before she bumps into Noah’s humongous ark. Crawling into a porthole for safety, she rides out the Flood in a cage with a pair of bonobos. While trapped aboard, Sebah feels the despair of a ruined world and the stir-craziness of confinement right along with all the animals.
Temple Boys. By Jamie Buxton. 2015. Roaring Brook. $17.99 (9781626720367). Gr. 8-11.
Flea is a street kid in first-century Jerusalem, and when he hears rumors of a renowned magician coming to the city, he thinks it’s the perfect pickpocketing opportunity. That magician is Jesus, called Yeshua, in the novel, and when Flea tries to pilfer a coin purse from one of his followers, he finds himself caught up in a terrifying conspiracy.
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