Tuesday, November 4, 2014

‘Made in the USA: The Sex Trafficking of America’s Children’ (Book Review)

A social justice issue that for many years has been close to my heart is human trafficking. So I was grateful for the opportunity to review one of the most recent books on the subject, Made in the USA: The Sex Trafficking of America’s Children by Alisa Jordheim (HigherLife, 2014). The author is Founder and Executive Director of the Justice Society. No, not DC Comics’ team of superheroes, but a nonprofit that has taken up the cause against modern day sexual slavery.

While most media tend to focus on these crimes committed outside our country, Made in the USA brings the topic uncomfortably close to home, featuring the dramatized stories of five trafficking survivors. Each serves as an example of how American minors get forced into the pornography and prostitution: the emotionally-controlling boyfriend, the abusive family member, homelessness, recruitment, and kidnapping. Some of the content was expected, such as the common themes of broken homes, drug abuse, physical abuse, and emotional manipulation. Other parts opened my eyes, such as the rape culture of rodeos that apparently doesn’t get publicized often. It’s hard to come away from this book still thinking of prostitution as solely an urban problem.

Because of my concern for this social problem, it’s tempting to just offer praise for Made in the USA, but I need to be honest: I was really disappointed by it’s disorganization. The pages were cluttered with stock photos and the text padded with lengthy quotes, distracting me from the book’s central message. While tear-inducing at times, the testimonials didn’t always read smoothly; often it seemed as though important parts of the stories had gone missing. In addition, it would’ve been nice to begin each chapter with more background information about the featured victim, and to save the commentary about the key themes for afterward. By discussing the themes first, I felt like the stories – the main attraction of the book – were relegated to supporting evidence. I closed the book wondering if it had been a rushed job. Yes, it’s difficult to critique a book like this, when you know the contributors must have relived a lot of pain to share their experiences, experiences that haunt their dreams and continue to cause them to feel shame. I’m extremely grateful that they went for it anyway, taking the chance to help others entrapped and spread the word about these terrible crimes. But because I believe their stories are important, I wish more effort had been put into their presentation.




Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

#SpeakeasyUSATrafficking

Saturday, November 1, 2014

‘Heaven Bound’ (Book Review)

It’s probably the wish of every Christian parent and grandparent to leave their descendants a spiritual legacy as well as any material one. I’ve heard of transcribed diaries, handwritten copies of the New Testament, and numerous letters composed in effort to pass on one generation’s wisdom to the next, and I admire the efforts made to do so. However, while these works might be a meaningful blessing for the original intended audience, they don’t necessarily have the same effect on the rest of us. This is what crossed my mind as I was reading Heaven Bound: An Incredible Journey to the Perfect Destination (WestBow Press, 2012) by S. Tucker Yates.

As its name implies, Yates’s book is about our eternal reward. In twelve uneven chapters, he maps out this “journey” Christians make from trusting in the Bible as God’s Word to having faith in Christ to spreading the Good News to others. He emphasizes the need for repentance and the forgiveness of others, while downplaying “water baptism.” Towards the end, he discusses some of the questions that can often haunt Christians, such as whether or not we’re supposed to “feel” something different and what can we do about doubt in our lives.

Despite the best of intentions, the theological content of Heaven Bound is decidedly shallow. Rather than making concise arguments that might actually impact an unbeliever and strengthen the faith of a Christian, the author resorts to statements like “brilliant people in history [have] believed the Bible” (p.12), thinking that should convince us to do so too. And when it comes to controversial topics, such as dead children going to heaven (p.71), it’s as if it never occurs to him to substantiate his claims in any way. Yates is essentially writing for an audience that already agrees with him, even if he’s suggested otherwise by inserting mid-chapter appeals to unbelieving readers.

This goes in hand with his tendency to place a lot of confidence in the testimony and teachings of people he admires or has personally known over the years. He shares what he remembers from this-or-that devotional book or sermon illustration, and pads his work with pithy sayings and random quotes without taking the time to thoughtfully incorporate them into his message. And readers are supposed to blindly accept the wisdom of people like his mother and small group buddies without knowing who these people are. Proof that he made a mistake himself in trusting too readily is his decision to repeat some inane idea that Jesus invented the Greek word “agape” for love. (When I asked my husband how Yates could’ve missed all of the earlier occurrences of the word in Greek and Hellenic Jewish literature, he quipped that the author must have been trying to make a new argument for the pre-existence of Christ!)

The author began writing to his grandchildren, to whom the book is dedicated, expounding on the people whose messages and stories that have inspired him over the years. The end result was a subpar manual about “how to get to heaven.” Sure, Yates might have studied the Bible for sixty-plus years and led a few people to Christ, but that doesn’t mean he’s qualified to write a comprehensive plan of salvation. He needs to get his thoughts better organized and tap into his own reservoir of experiences and unique insights that he can share with others. I still give him points for composing for his kiddies, but if he was honest with himself, I hope he’d agree that they deserved better.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

#SpeakeasyHeavenBound

Monday, October 20, 2014

‘Class Dismissed – The Movie’ (Film Review)

Last Wednesday I drove out to Laemmle's NoHo 7 Cinema for the premiere screening of the long-awaited Class Dismissed - The Movie (2014). Aided in part by donations through an Indiegogo campaign, filmmakers Jeremy Stuart and Dustin Woodard joined forces to create this independent documentary exploring some of the whys and hows of contemporary homeschooling. They found a family that was on the cusp of giving up the public school system, and started filming.

If you decide to attend one of the upcoming screenings, be forewarned. This is the type of film where the audience’s pre-approval and enthusiasm can make up for whatever is lacking in content and quality. As an indie film, it’s a bit rough around the edges, but I thought that they did a great job overall, including a variety of voices and mentioning some of the problems – as well as the benefits – of independent schooling.

Given the time constraint, the film covers a lot, but someone will always be asking why such-and-such was left out. However, I think it was appropriate to focus primarily on the methods the featured family were trying. What do I wish they’d covered more? Well, while court battles and police visits are largely a thing of the past, it would’ve been nice for them to address the legalities of unschooling in California. I had a more “structure” curriculum, so I’m curious as to how families fare when they don’t.

Also, I would’ve liked some discussion about potential problems with the children’s futures. It might be nice to spend your day crafting and volunteering at the local aquarium, but there’s a lot of things employers expect you to get that generally comes from a classroom. Perhaps unintentionally, the film gives the impression that you can learn everything on the (unpaid) job. This is a major pitfall in the homeschooling mentality, and it’s resulted in too many adults who realized too late that they’d wasted their developmental years on what their parents mistakenly thought would prepare them for good careers. I had to learn the painful lesson that volunteer and “real world” experience are complements – not substitutes – for credentials and degrees. I hope these girls don’t have too.