"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
July 23, 2013
Nation: Thought-Provoking Adventure
by Erin Cowles

If you haven't read anything by Terry Pratchett, you are in for a treat. Pratchett has a vivid imagination, delightful wit, and the ability to transition seamlessly between the silly and profound.

Most of his books are set in the fantasy world called “Discworld,” but if reading about witches and wizards that live on an enormous flat disc that balances on some elephants and a turtle sounds a little too bizarre for your taste, Nation is the book for you.

Nation is set loosely at the height of British colonialism, and it could be described as a shipwrecked adventure. There are cannons, mutineers, spirits, mysterious caves, and plenty of action. But at its core, it is really a story of loss and rebuilding.

When a tsunami hits, Mau is the only survivor from his island nation. But he is not alone on the island. The storm also shipwrecks Daphne, the daughter of the British governor of a nearby island chain. Their interactions, losses, and the things they must do to survive force them to reevaluate their beliefs and their prejudices. They find purpose and truth in the new identities they build for themselves, as well as the new society they build with other island-dwellers who have been affected by the storm.

As always, Pratchett assembles a fantastic cast of characters. Daphne is no damsel in distress. She is resourceful, observant, clever, and kind. She can outsmart her own kidnappers and even perform an amputation or two when the need arises.

Mau is brave, thoughtful, and fiercely loyal to those he leads. Pratchett's minor characters are also delightful — a toothless medicine woman, a domineering British grandmother, hapless mutineers, strong silent types, and many more.

In characteristic form, Pratchett asks the big questions about religion without giving tidy answers. Mau rages against his Gods, insisting he doesn't believe in them. He asks the kinds of questions most people of faith do when confronted with staggering loss. Yet, he receives supernatural aid as he goes through his journey, and the God of death even speaks to him multiple times.

The end of his faith journey is a bit ambiguous, so although it deals with an imaginary pagan faith, skip this one if you need the protagonist to come to a definitive “how could I have ever doubted?” kind of moment. Pratchett trusts his readers to form their own conclusions.

This stand-alone novel is full of empathy, courage, humor, mystery, and great characters. Take it on your next beach outing.

Read this book if...

  • You are facing devastation of your own. Pratchett gives full force to the pain and confusion that come through loss, but also the beauty of what can be built from the ashes.

  • You're looking for a fun adventure story to read on the beach, but would also like to pause periodically to stare at the waves and ponder the big questions of life.

  • You love Neil Gaiman's humor and imagination, but could do without his macabre streak.

Target Audience: Ages 12+.

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About Erin Cowles

Erin Cowles is a mother of two, living in the Washington D.C. suburbs. Before motherhood, she used her masters in library and information science in a law firm library. Now she uses it to find good books for her family at her local public library. She teaches part time for a SAT prep company, where she enjoys the challenge of making rather dull subject matter interesting and making college a reality for her students. During women's history month, she profiles Mormon women that inspire her at ldswomenshistory.blogspot.com.

Erin currently serves as a counselor in her ward's primary presidency.

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