Not many people know this, but I’ve been struggling with my faith the past few years. (I consider myself a Christian, but I haven’t regularly attended church in a while. I have many reasons for this, none of which I’ll get into here.) I tell you this to introduce you to a book that may have done just a little to restore my faith. The book is With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo, and it’s a nominee for the 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. I was kind of leery about reading this book because I thought it might be too preachy…seeing as how it’s about a preacher’s daughter and all. I was surprised, though, by how sweet the book was. It was quietly beautiful, and it presented faith–and Christian love–as I think it was truly meant to be: selfless and without judgement.
Ollie is the eldest daughter of the traveling preacher Everlasting Love. (Yes, that’s his real name.) In the summer of 1957, the family–which consists of Everlasting Love and his wife Susanna, Ollie, and four other daughters–travels to the small town of Binder, Arkansas, to set up their revival tent for three days. On her first day in Binder, Ollie meets a boy who will change her life. Jimmy Koppel has seemingly lost everything. His mother is in jail for killing his father, and, if something doesn’t happen soon, he’ll be shipped off to live with an aunt he’s never met. Everyone in the town appears to hate Jimmy just because of who his daddy was, and no one will believe him when he says his mom is innocent. No one except Ollie, that is.
Ollie is determined to prove that Jimmy’s mom didn’t commit this horrible crime, but can she convince her father to stay in town longer than three days? She needs time to get information from Jimmy and prove his mom’s innocence, and time is something that’s quickly running out. And even if she does have time to do a little investigating, will folks’ attitudes about Jimmy’s family prevent them from coming forward with information…even if it could set an innocent woman free?
As Ollie and Jimmy become friends, they are confronted with both the best and worst in humanity. Some people just can’t let go of their own anger and hatred, but some show these two young people–and everyone else in this troubled community–that there are good people in the world, and those people will do whatever they can to help those they love or people in need. Will the good outweigh the bad in this small town? Will the truth about the death of Jimmy’s father come to light? And what will Ollie learn about herself, her family, and friendship through all of this? Learn what love really means when you read With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo.
With a Name Like Love would be a great addition to any elementary or middle school library. Regardless of a reader’s faith–or lack thereof–the message in this book is one that all could stand to receive. It will also find a place in many church libraries. (As a matter of fact, I can think of several adults who really need to read this book. It might make them take a closer look about their own attitudes and what Christian love is all about. “Love thy neighbor” is something that a lot of people just don’t take seriously.)
This book is a work of historical fiction, but young readers, especially those who’ve grown up in the South (or have older relatives who have) will have very little problem relating to some of the things in this book. Some, though, may find it odd or even fascinating that people used to live without things like refrigerators or flushing toilets. If readers have grown up in a church (as have most of my students), they’ll even recognize some of the hymns sung by the church-goers in this book.
With a Name Like Love is author Tess Hilmo’s first book. I honestly hope it won’t be the last! To learn more about this author and this lovely book, visit http://tesshilmo.com/.