Title: The Heart Changer
Author: Jarm Del Boccio
Major Themes: Syria, Family Read-alouds, Biblical Fiction, Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction, Ancient Times, Israel, Jewish History, Books for Girls
Synopsis: When she is taken captive by Syrian raiders, the Israelite girl Miriam must decide whether to allow bitterness to take over her life, or to forgive and allow Jehovah to rule her life.
As anyone who regularly reads my blog knows, we do a lot of reading aloud. I read for half an hour or more in the morning while the dishes are being washed, and again after lunch while those dishes are being done. We really enjoy historical fiction, so when The Heart Changer by Jarm Del Boccio was offered for review, I requested it as fast as I could! It’s a short book; although there are 25 chapters, each one took me only 2-5 minutes to read aloud.
The Heart Changer tells the story of the Israelite girl who was captured by Syrian raiders and taken to Damascus to be a servant of Naaman’s wife. If you have ever read the books of Kings in the Bible, you’ll remember this story, how Naaman contracted leprosy and the girl told him about the prophet Elisha in Samaria who could heal him. This story is told from her point of view.
Miriam was terrified, naturally, when she was captured by the Syrian raiders. She was also angry and bitter that God would allow such a thing to happen to her. All the way to Syria, Miriam complained to her friend who had also been captured, and her friend tried to point her to God. By the time she reached her destination, Miriam had become willing to be a good servant—but could she ever forgive Captain Naaman for his part in destroying her home and possibly her family? When disaster struck him, how would she respond?
As far as the basic story, we really enjoyed it. This short book brought the time of the kings to life, and helped us to feel what it would have been like to live in Israel at that time. The theme of the story, which was how God can transform a hard, bitter heart, is also quite good. There were just a few things that struck us as not quite true-to-life. One of them was the way Miriam talked to God a few times. She called Him Abba or Abba Father. My understanding is that the ancient Jews would not have talked so familiarly to God; they held Him in such awe that they would not so much as pronounce His name Jehovah, let alone call Him Father. Today, of course, He is our Father—but I don’t believe they would have looked at Him that way at that time. Another aspect that didn’t quite sound realistic was the way Naaman’s wife treated Miriam; she acted as a loving mother, rather than a mistress talking to a slave. It worked well for the story, though; I’m not sure how the story would have worked the way it did, otherwise. The last thing that didn’t strike us as realistic was when both Miriam and her mistress traveled to Israel with Naaman when he went to request healing from the prophet.
The Heart Changer is a lovely story for, especially, middle-grade girls who like short books with a sweet ending. If you want absolute realism, this is not the book for you. There are some very good points to consider, such as when Miriam’s friend tells her, “We can’t know why this happened. Only Jehovah in His wisdom knows. But—we must be faithful.” Another quote that stood out was when Miriam’s mistress compared Miriam’s life to the weaving she was doing. It was beautiful on top—but if you only saw the underside, it would not appear pretty or even meaningful at all.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Ambassador International, and these are my honest thoughts about it.
WARNING: A few times it is mentioned that Miriam saw blood from someone hurt or killed in the raid.
Listening Level—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12, Family Friendly
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12