Genre

fiction, high school fiction

Audience

Middle Grade

Author’s Worldview

Catholic

Year Published

2020

Themes

illness, healing, saints, prayer, faith, struggle, Blessed Carlo Acutis, family drama

Reviewed by

Dr. Lisa Theus

What would you do if you were given a possible death sentence? It’s something that fifteen –year-old Daniel never considered until his doctor gave him the news: he has leukemia. In 9 days, he will get the results from more complete tests. Nine days to wrestle with this terrible news! Or, nine days to find hope in a hopeless situation? With the help of his parish priest, Daniel learns of the about-to-be-Blessed Carlo Acutis—the Italian teenager who died of leukemia and became a model of heroic suffering. And so, an unlikely friendship is formed between a British high schooler and an Italian boy who passed away more than ten years before.

In this first volume of a short-fiction series aimed at making saints approachable, Corinna Turner does an excellent job of imbuing the heartbreaking tale of possible terminal illness with hope. Daniel and his parents each react differently. His father becomes angry at God. His mother wants to believe that God will heal Daniel. Daniel himself is simply stunned. The differing reactions help the reader approach the issue with a lens of faith that accepts harsh realities. The hope comes from something deeper than this life, a belief in an eternal reality, as Daniel’s family learns. We are not given Daniel’s exact prognosis at the end of the book, reminding us that ultimately it matters more how we live, not when or how we die. I believe that’s a lesson that Blessed Acutis would support.

This short novella (about 66 pages in large font) is extremely readable in every sense: interesting, engaging, relatable, quick-paced. I doubt readers will struggle with any of the British slang in the text. Told from Daniel’s perspective, the story appeals to younger readers struggling with their own difficult questions. They may not have leukemia, but all teens have big questions about God, their futures, and the problem of evil (why do bad things happen to good, innocent people?).

Perhaps my favorite features, however, were the novena to Bl. Acutis, discussion questions, and a short essay about the nature of saints. These items show how the faith is living and effective. A relationship with a saint isn’t something impossible. We can read the same novena as Daniel and nurture our own relationship with Bl. Acutis. I hope more fiction like this can find its way into youth groups, schools, and faith formation classes.

Catholic adults are sure to find the book easy to read yet still engaging. It may prove more difficult for non-Catholic readers, given the purpose of the book to provide a biography of Bl. Acutis. It is a strong argument for the important role of the saints in our lives today. If you don’t have an open mind about that spiritual relationship, it will be hard to take the book seriously. But it is a compelling story for readers who want a better understanding of the saints or Bl. Acutis himself. I can’t recommend this book enough, and you’ll probably be hooked into reading the rest of the series.

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