Saturday, March 28, 2015

Circle C Milestones: Thick as Thieves (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)


A while back, Matthew and I read and reviewed another book by Susan K. Marlow, Badge of Honor.  We thoroughly enjoyed it, and were excited to review another of Susan's books, Thick as Thieves, from from the newest Circle C Series, Circle C Milestones. This addition to Kregel Publication's Circle C stable is for young adult readers (approx. ages 12 and up) and follows Andi as she comes of age on her family's ranch in 1880s California.

Note: Andi's story starts with Circle C Beginnings, for readers aged 6-9 years old.  As the readers grow into the 9-12 category, they can continue with Circle C Adventures. We've never read any of the prior books in the Circle C Series, but didn't feel at all like we were missing any back story. There are some references to past events that likely tie the Milestones series to the prior series, but they're nothing that affects the plot of Thick as Thieves.

At the start of the novel, fourteen-year-old Andrea Carter anxiously awaits the birth of a foal from her beloved horse, Taffy.  When Taffy struggles to give birth, Andi wakes one of her older brothers to come help, and to their astonishment, Taffy is in trouble because she's trying to give birth to not one, but two foals!  She would so much rather stay home and train them, but her mother insists she go back to school after the fall harvest break.  As if leaving her beloved babies, Sunny and Shasta, at the ranch wasn't bad enough, she was assigned a new seatmate -- one who wants to be there even less than Andi does.

Macy is a girl who is clearly hurting.  Abused by her fugitive brothers, she's created a hard shell that belies the hurt underneath. It takes a lot of convincing for Andi to give Macy a second - and third, and fourth - chance and truly befriend her.  By the end of the story, the girls are "thick as thieves," having bonded over caring for the foals, and after experiencing the love of Andi and the Carter family, Macy puts her best friend ahead of her brothers when the Circle C is attacked.  Through Andi's perseverance and example, Macy realizes that the boys' wrongdoings can't be overlooked just because they're kin.

Something I absolutely love about Susan's books is they are filled with Christian principles and Bible references without becoming "preachy."  The book is peppered with Scripture teachings, but they are absolutely in context, and not trotted out to show the author's mastery of memorization.   When things are hard, Andi automatically turns to God in prayer.  When things go well, Andi prays.  Her prayers are never forced - it's a natural response for her to a situation.  When Andi struggles with accepting Macy, however, the author shows it's not about merely knowing your prayers or Bible verses; she writes:
"No matter how many Bible verses she memorized about loving your enemy or not returning evil for evil, Andi knew her own heart.  She always struggled to keep her temper reined in..."
 I think this is important to acknowledge in a book for young adults.  They're at an age where they have been taught Bible lessons and what to do, but life is getting less "black and white" during the teen years. It can be a struggle not to let their tempers overtake them and do what they know is right, and it's important to have strong yet human role models that struggle along with them. Life is never as easy as it seems it should be, and I think that reading about characters that are too perfect discourages rather than inspires.

In addition to the book itself, we had a chance to read through an accompanying 40 page study guide.  We didn't delve too much into it because Celia was reading this book "for fun," but with the guide, it could easily be turned into a literature unit for a homeschooler, or even expanded into a full unit study exploring the horsemanship, geography and history.  There is a fleeting reference to the US Civil War, where Macy refers to Andi's family as "You Yankees."  While not a Civil War story at all, it provides a little insight into the post-war tensions that remained long after the war ended; if you're studying California history, or willing to take a detour from the "traditional" standard Civil War history, there are some fascinating stories about California's role in the war and would help explain Macy's family's attitudes toward others.

Celia and I both enjoyed this book, and are looking forward to the next book in the series, Heartbreak Trail.  While we wait for its Summer 2015 release, we are going to go back and read the stories from the Circle C Adventures series.  (Having read two different series from Susan K. Marlow and loving every page, I'm seriously considering going to the beginning of Andi's story and using the Circle C Beginnings series for Jude!  I want to know more of Andi's story!) At 170 or so pages, it's fairly short for a YA novel - I started and finished pre-reading it on a 2 1/2 hour plane ride. (Celia read it over the course of a few days.)  However, don't think that because it's short, it's fluff. I was a little hesitant because it's geared for readers 12 and up, while Celia is still only 10.  While there is a hint of a romance that may be brewing between buddies Andi and Cory, and a passing reference to Andi's friend Rosa leaving the schoolroom behind and declaring herself "old enough to date" after her recently celebrated quincea├▒era, this teen-level topic is presented so fleeting as to be easily overlooked; the main story is the change of hearts and enduring friendship between Andi and Macy that grows from it. (We hope that updates to Macy's story appears in future volumes.)   Andi's struggles set in the late 1800s are little different than those of a young girl today. The themes found in Thick as Thieves - "the new girl," not-so-great family situations, and the struggle to welcome the stranger even when it's hard - are timeless.

Read other Crew reviews by clicking the banner below, or follow Susan K. Marlow on social media:

https://www.facebook.com/CircleCAdventures
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1 comment:

  1. Greetings, mother of Jude (and all the rest of your tribe), Thanks for the lovely, well-written review. It's no wonder you are a TOS reviewer. So far, all of the reviews on TOS are insightful and thorough. As a homeschooling veteran myself, I have committed to writing any budding, serious relationships in the "courtship-only" mode, i.e. Little House Laura Ingalls style (perish the word "dating" LOL) and not until Andi is 17 or 18 (the last book). And spoiler alert: Cory and Andi are good friends from the first time they meet in book 4 of the Beginnings books . .. but Andi needs somebody like her older brother Justin to marry her, actually, and not the lighthearted, joke-playing, racing buddy, Cory Blake. But I won't spoil who it will be.

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