Monday, 17 January 2011

Tough Reads

In the last couple weeks, I've read some tough fiction. You know, the kind of books that are just plain, hard reality, exposing the terrible injustice in the world we live in.

I first read Scared by Tom Davis close to two years ago. I don't think I realized what I was getting myself into. Scared deals with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. The book starts off with a massacre in the Congo, leaving you a little nauseated. Main character Stuart Daniels captures the horrific scenes on camera, making him an award-winner photojournalist. The problem is, he is haunted by what he saw that. Now, in an effort to save his career, he accepts an assignment that takes him to Swaziland to cover the AIDS issue.

Swaziland is all about survival. People live in extreme poverty. Children are forced to care for themselves and younger orphaned siblings. They often don't have a meal to eat for many days. But in the midst of this, there's a ray of light. Her name is Adanna, a 12-year old orphan girl forced to care for two younger siblings as she personally suffers from hunger and abuse. She has been told by an illuminated man that her gift will save many of her people. That gift is an incredible talent for writing and her poetry is shared throughout the novel. Of course, Stuart and Adanna meet and Stuart's life is changed by the suffering he encounters and the life of this young girl.

Scared was Tom Davis' first novel and it does show. It's written in the first person, present-tense from two perspectives, which kind of threw me off, but it was downright real. You can't read it without being torn emotionally. The series continues with Priceless, and there was a definitive improvement in the writing.

Scared was a heart-wrenching read and Priceless certainly wasn't any easier. It deals with an equally difficult issue: the child sex-slave trade in Russia. The main character again is Stuart Daniels on another journalism trip to Russia. The second perspective is from Marina, a young woman who Stuart met as a little girl in a Russian orphanage on a previous trip who shares her story. In this novel, Stuart gets talked into helping an old friend by going undercover to rescue girls out of their misery.

This book, like the first one, leaves you nauseated at times. It displays the horror girls go through in forced prostitution. I'll spare you the details here. The practice isn't hidden in this area of Russia. Who is the leader of a large chain of places men go to? Sickeningly, it's none other than an Orthodox priest, who has an obsession with George and the Dragonslayer and believes he's actually doing these girls a favour. Priceless, is filled with evil. There's no room for light in this dark, disgusting practice. But it's nothing short of real.

Having given you a summary of these two books, I must say that if you're looking for a light, entertaining read that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside, these aren't for you. But if you want to be enraged at the social injustice of our world and ask "What can I do to stop this?", you don't have to look any further. The sad thing is, the author held a lot back in writing both of these books. They could have been a lot more gruesome and realistic than they are, but Tom wouldn't have been able to do so in writing these Christian books, as he mentions in an interview at the end of Priceless.

You may wonder what compelled the author to write books like these? It's simple. This is Tom's work. Tom is the president of Children's Hope Chest, an organization active in helping orphans in Africa and Russia, among other countries. Tom is no stranger to what life is like in these countries. He's been there and seen it. These books and their character are based on his own experiences and people he has met. He has also authored Fields of the Fatherless, Confessions of a Good Christian Guy, and Red Letters: Living a Faith That Bleeds, all of which I plan on reading. He's also writing a new book in this fiction series, where Stuart is in Haiti at the time of last year's earthquake. I'm looking forward to it.

Another thing I loved about these books is that they give you information on other organizations and sites on these issues. The publisher, David C. Cook, also created video trailers for these books, so if you want to see a preview, check them out. (Scared, Priceless) There are also sites for the book you can check out at and On the last site there, you can also see videos that Tom Davis made in Russia, showing you some of the actual places where scenes in the book are from. There's a great number of resources you can browse on those sites. I also listened to a great message by the author, which you can find on the Hope Chest site I mentioned earlier.

It's one thing when you hear about poverty, AIDS and slavery, but most people, hearing numbers and statistics won't affect them much. but when you are given characters and can see life through their eyes for awhile, it changes everything. Like I said, these aren't easy books to read, but I assure you they are well worth your time.

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