Gifts Visible and Invisible

by | Nov 30, 2020 | Historical Fiction, Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult

 

By Susan Peek, Katy Huth Jones, Carolyn Astfalk, Theresa Linden, Leslea Wahl, Cynthia T. Toney, T.M. Gaouette, and Corinna Turner

Reviewed by A.R.K. Watson

  • Author’s worldview: Catholic
  • Genre: YA, fantasy, Middle-grade, historical, science fiction, Short stories
  • Year published: 2019
  • Audience: 7th grade and up
  • Themes: Keeping Christ in Christmas, Christmas, Family, Motherhood, Fatherhood, Growing Up, Parents and Children, Responsibility, Charity, Generosity, Compassion, Saints

I had never participated in Christmas in July before reading this book, and I was surprised how effectively this collection of short stories left me feeling cozy and cheerful in the midst of the hot and humid monsoon season of my region.

Though the settings and genres of these stories vary wildly, they are appropriate for teens and young adults, but honestly, I think readers of any age will find something to love in this collection. The settings vary from the contemporary and slice-of-life to a dark 1984ish dystopian Christmas, a 1920s American Christmas, and even an alternate history involving Christmas on a dinosaur farm, all written by some of the Catholic Writers Guild’s most talented members. If you’ve been living under a rock, or are just discovering some of the Church’s hidden talent, this collection will make for a good introduction. Each story ends with a footnote about each author and their greater body of work.

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Full disclosure—this is a collection of Christmas stories, so there is a healthy amount of cheese and camp present, but then some of that is welcome if you are in the mood for yuletide fun.  The amount of said cheese varies from story to story, so it’s unlikely that a reader will enjoy ALL of these, but that isn’t the point of a collection like this. The point is to provide a wide selection of stories so that you can find something that fits your particular tastes and discover a new favorite author. If you find yourself reading one of the stories and not liking it, just skip to the next one and don’t sweat it.

My personal favorite was Corinna Turner’s story, set on Christmas Eve on a dinosaur-infested land. It’s actually two parallel stories. One of them follows a girl name Darryl on a mission to rescue the visiting priest from a raptor attack. The other follows a boy named Joshua, whose Christmas Eve traditions get interrupted by a Mama Allosaur. Fans of Jurassic Park will definitely love this fun story. The action-packed dino hunt surprised me with some very real emotional depth, as Joshua’s encounter with the mother Allosaur fills him with as much hope as it does terror. Abandoned by his own mother, seeing how hard this scary mama dinosaur fights for her babies. The experience fills him- and the reader- with a surprising amount of Christmas spirit.

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Another of my top favorites was T. M. Gaouette’s “Just Jesus.” It had a pithy “Keep Christ in Christmas” message but delivered in a way that left me feeling genuinely contrite and humbled. Carolyn Astfalk’s story of a family struggling to celebrate Christmas while dealing with loud toddlers, a messy home, and a father’s stressful job was also quite beautiful. If you are looking for a cozy quick read, this collection is a solid answer.