3 out of 4 stars
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I think it's normal for man to wonder about other beings on other planets - IS there really life out there in the universe? In the middle of the night, when I think deep thoughts like Jack Handey, I also wonder, IF there is life on other planets, do they believe in the Christian God? (Being a Christian myself, that is who I will be referencing from here on out.) Does God oversee them like He sees us? Will we believers go to the same Heaven, or will there be different Heavens for different planets and universes and etc? In his book, The Chest of Visions, Secrets of Caperston, author Tim Ferguson introduces us to Mattpaul, who hails from the planet Caperston, a world on which they have no knowledge of God or Jesus. Having read some electronic news from our planet, he sends out a communication that is intercepted by Tim of planet Earth. Tim does believe in God, and he confirms that the Bible is a holy book. Mattpaul and Tim continue communicating, forging a friendship that literally spans the universe.
The Chest of Visions is written as a series of emails between the two teenagers (hence the reason for the form in which you find this review), and other teens eventually join in the conversation. On Mattpaul's side is his best friend, Huchfee, and on Tim's side is Alex. Also on Mattpaul's side is a gentleman named Chihaysu, who has started addressing youngsters, spreading the word of God's love and goodness. Chihaysu's words call to Mattpaul, who then has to choose whether to follow his heart and continue learning from Chihaysu or whether to do as his father wants and maintain the status-quo. Meanwhile, on Earth, Alex is having a crisis of faith due to a friend's premature death. As I'm sure many of us do at times, Alex wonders why God would allow his friend to die so young. These problems result in the four friends leaning on each other and learning from each other. Even though Mattpaul is new to Christianity, because of his dealings with Chihaysu, he is able to attempt to answer Alex's questions. I won't explain the title lest I give anything away, but suffice it to say that the chest played a wonderful role and led to a heartwarming ending that explained some things that I'd been wondering about.
Writing books as a series of messages can be a risk because when it's done badly, it can completely complicate and ruin the story. I'm glad to report that that was not the case with this tome. In fact, I actually liked the way this was written. Because of the pen pal style, it was all penned from the first person point of view, albeit at least four of them. It also allowed the principal characters to explain things to each other that may have brought the story down had it been written in any other manner. I was very impressed with how the author was able to fit in a lot of information in this way. I also really liked that this book was so much more than one character teaching the other; the symbiotic relationships really worked for me and kept me invested in the tale. Due to the brevity of the tome (126 pages), I didn't get to learn a lot about the teens' backgrounds, but that didn't stop me from caring about them and their plights. There also wasn't much description of Caperston, but since it's a parallel universe to Earth, there really wasn't much world-building to be done.
For me, the best part of this book was the multiple parallels to reality. I noted at least two major parallels, though other readers may find more. First, there was the parallel between Caperston and a young America. While I was reading about the separation between the Valley People, where Mattpaul hails from, and the Mountain People, I was reminded of when the USA's settlers "found" America and made it "civilized", usurping the Native Americans from their land. I will use Mattpaul's words to illustrate.
The other major parallel that I noted was between Chihaysu and Jesus. Chihaysu's travels and speeches were near-replicas of Jesus' journeys and talks. Chihaysu even asked for people from Caperston to "follow" him and learn his ways, putting Mattpaul and others in the roles of the apostles. This is even evident in some of the characters' names, such as Mattpaul, Jonton, Michaeling, and Rachaeling.Our ancestors were the first to move here and lived in the valley near Lake Gael. There were others already in the area. They were the ancestors of the Mountain People who live north of the lake. From the beginning the Valley People felt superior to the Mountain People. Their houses were better furnished even having electricity, which the Mountain People still do not have. Within four generations the Valley People became rulers over the Mountain People. It happened because the Mountain People wanted things that our ancestors had and willingly submitted themselves to the Valley Ruler.
This book is aimed at teens or young adults, and I loved the way the lessons were put forth without being "preachy". There are lessons about loving everybody (even those from other cities, countries, planets, and so on), praying, and having faith. However, I was greatly saddened that the greatest lesson of all was missing. The basis for Christianity is that Jesus came to Earth as a man and died for our sins so that those who believe in Him will not perish. This bedrock of belief is only briefly touched upon, and I think that without that foundation, the praying and baptism and other actions are for nought. With that being said, I was thrilled to find that the last section of the book was comprised of three suggestions of approaches on how to study this story as well as ten lessons to mull over. I love it when spritual books don't just tell the reader things, but also allows them to be interactive and think things over for themselves.
Also after the story is an explanation of the way that Mattpaul and Tim are able to communicate from separate universes. It was very wordy and almost too complex for me, and I truly think the book could have done without that section.
Since this was a book for the younger set, it was filled with many illustrations by José Carlos Gutiérrez, though I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "picture book". I thought the drawings were very well done and greatly enhanced the novella. I also enjoyed the way the author wrote the story. It was simple without being overly so, and I think it will appeal to the age group that it is meant for.
Unfortunately, there were many grammatical errors, and I had my list of ten mistakes by the tenth page. Most of the missteps were in punctuation, but there were also a few instances of capitalization goofs and misspellings. Additionally, I would have preferred if each chapter had started on a new page rather than on the same page as the end of the preceding chapter. At first, the errors distracted me quite a bit, but as I got more into the story, the less they seemed to matter. Still, the book could benefit from another round of editing so that it can become the gem that it should be.
After considering everything, I've decided to give The Chest of Visions a rating of 3 out of 4 stars due to the lack of proper editing. Even though Jesus' death and resurrection were left out, distressing me quite a bit, I also refuse to remove another star due to the author's beliefs or lack thereof; I don't feel that that is for me to judge.
Due to its important lessons, I will overlook the myriad of errors and recommend this book to teenagers and young adults who have questions about Christianity. I also recommend it to parents and Sunday School or Bible Study teachers, as it would be a wonderful tool for discussion. Additionally, I think that those of other faiths who are curious about Christianity or Christians who are struggling with their faith may also gain something positive from reading it. Lastly, I also think that adult Christians may get something out of reading it. For my part, it reminded me of the excitement and overwhelming joy that I felt as a new Christian, and I was glad for the reminder.
The Chest of Visions
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