Ronald Earl, at the center of this multidimensional coming-of-age/ghost story, earned the moniker "Little Texas" at age 10, after performing a spontaneous healing while touring with his great-aunt's tent-revival ministry. But at 16, burgeoning sexual feelings and the apparition of a girl named Lucy, who died when he failed to heal her, cause Ronald to question his integrity as a spiritual leader. When Ronald loses his composure on stage, his great-aunt and his two evangelical companions take him to a former slave plantation to deliver what is hoped to be his greatest sermon and to drive out a malicious force there. However, Ronald's understanding of the spiritual realm becomes even murkier as his relationship with Lucy develops. A chilling yet tender presence, Lucy challenges Ronald's beliefs with provocative insights: people who do "evil things" are "Already in hell. Nothing can be worse... than to live the life they are already living," she explains. At a dramatic final crossroads, Ronald discovers a kind of personal solace, but Nelson (Breathe My Name) offers no easy revelations, instead suggesting that human nature may be as unknowable as the supernatural. Ages 12-up. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gr 9 Up—Ronald Earl, better known has "Little Texas," started preaching at the age of ten. Now he is 16 and, although he still feels the "power of the holy spirit," he has started to have a few doubts. His days are spent on the road with Church of the Hand family—Miss Wanda Jean, his great-aunt; Sugar Tom, an 87-year-old former evangelist; and his main confidant and friend, Certain Certain, a descendent from slaves. Ronald Earl's growing awareness of the opposite sex—and the physical manifestations it brings to his body—cause him to worry about his calling and his sinfulness. While he can still bring the congregation to tears with the impact of his message and his ability to heal, he wonders if he really wants to continue. When Lucy's parents bring her to him for healing, things start to change. The healing doesn't work and she begins to "haunt" him. Miss Wanda Jean arranges for a revival at a plantation where slaves were mistreated and where the "devil" appeared during a revival many years ago. Both Ronald Earl and the ghost of Lucy worry about what might happen and, in an uneasy alliance of boy and ghost, work to free the "blue people" who are trapped in death. R. A. Nelson's novel (Knopf, 2009), a marvelous blend of religion and romance, the supernatural and coming-of-age, works on many levels with its strong, colorful characters and the intricate plot's twists and turns. Narrator Luke Daniels nails Little Texas's Georgia accent as well as the voices of the other characters, making the book come alive.—Janet Hilbun, Texas Women's University, Denton
An intriguing premise collapses in Nelson's latest (Breathe My Name, 2006). Ronald Earl is Little Texas, a teen preacher with healing hands and growing doubts, whose ministry has only three other players-an old preacher, Ronald Earl's great-aunt, a revivalist by birth, inclination and trade, and Certain Certain, who exists primarily to make the plot work. Three competing elements-a crisis of faith, a ghostly love story (with Lucy, a girl Little Texas failed to save) and a haunted plantation-never quite jell. Poor pacing unbalances the whole, and many plot points never quite make sense or seem contrived, from how the ministry operates to Certain Certain's convenient flair for exposition. Some issues-Lucy's connection to the plantation-might be attributable to God's mysterious plan, but even Ronald Earl has trouble with that. The story's moral grounding in the evils of slavery is heavy-handed, and too much is telegraphed for the first-person narration to feel genuine, despite the skillful, colorful language. Ultimately, no amount of faith can fill the holes checkering this one. (Paranormal fiction. 12 & up)
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, July 6, 2009:
“Nelson offers no easy revelations, instead suggesting that human nature may be as unknowable as the supernatural."
Starred Review, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October 2009:
"The book's ethos, subtly evoked through its multidimensional characters, internal and external historical and contemporary conflicts, and intense supernatural climax, is one of a fully realized and respectful humanity, with all of its capacity for cruelty and kindness, spirituality and sinfulness, and ultimately, forgiveness and release."