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Book Reviews

Milt Gross Book Review, 'Always Upbeat' and 'All That' by Stephanie Perry Moore and Derrick Moore
By Milton M. Gross
Aug 19, 2012 - 12:07:32 AM

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This is one cover of the two juvenile novels in one paperback, Always Upbeat and All That. Photo by Milt Gross.
Dang it all! Dang it all! Or any of it!

Why didn't these evangelical writers use "Damn?" We all know, including the juveniles for whom this book of two stories is written, that they meant "Damn."

Having escaped by the skin of my perhaps not too spiritual condition from evangelicalism, the popular religious-political movement, I know how much tradition steers the evangelical's thinking.

Before doing what I sat down to do, reviewing this book, I have to dwell for a bit on these two "d" words. We know that "damn" means to wish curses or really bad stuff on someone. We also know that "dang" means the same thing, only it doesn't sound like a cuss word.

A cuss word? The Bible stresses that we ought not use God's name "in vain," which as far as I know is about all it states on the topic of "swearing." I'm not quite sure that the word "damn" is in any way using God's name in vain.

I'm pretty sure the biblical writer didn't have "damn" in mind, when he directed us to not use God's name in a wrong way.

Or "dang."

So why do evangelicals, including Stephanie Perry Moore and her husband, Derrick Moore, use "dang?"

From the old movie, Fiddler on the Roof, comes the answer: tradition!

These two stories, published and copyrighted in 2012 by Saddleback Educational Publishers, being the only "address" and printed in China, are aimed at teenagers. Either I read in the book or assumed from what I read in the book that the goal of this book is to encourage kids to not give up but do their best. I believe it may also be intended to strengthen them in their Christian (my interpretation, evangelical) lives or even bring them to becoming evangelicals.

Stephanie Perry Moore " the author or many YA inspirational fiction titles..." (I'm not sure to what "YA" refers.) The other author, Derrick Moore, " a former NFL running back and currently the developmental coach for the Georgia Institute of Technology," states the book. He, like his wife, has written a number of books, and he is a motivational speaker while she "...speaks with young people across the country, encouraging them to achieve every attainable dream."

Achieving that dream and persisting until one does is the theme of both stories, actually two views of the same fictional story. Always Upbeat tells it through the eyes of Charli Black, a cheerleader, while All That relates it through the viewpoint of football player Blake Strong.

The other theme, or perhaps subtheme, is to not be an arrogant jerk.

At my ongoing 29.5, I admit I'm no longer a teenager. I used to teach those critters and raised four of our own. I also listen to them whenever I meet them in various places and circumstances.

Because I'm not a teen these days, I passed a copy of this book to two teenagers to read and write their views of it.

As a Christian, though no longer an evangelical, I feel that telling the truth has some merit, although after once preaching a sermon pointing out some of my own weaknesses, a parishioner informed me I shouldn't have told the truth because it might have damaged the image of Christianity.

"That's funny," I replied, "I thought a major part of Christianity was telling the truth."

Oh well, that being that, I'll here share my truthful views of these two stories in this paperback.

I wouldn't recommend them for anyone's reading list.

In my opinion, they were corny, unrealistic, and showing the fictional lives of two too-perfect Christian kids. They obviously were in the moneyed class of the South -- takes place in Georgia -- and come from nearly perfect homes.

Hey, if I were an average kid, imperfect parents and never enough money and probably somewhat discouraged with life and maybe not having my own set of wheels, I'd probably close the book on this book about two nearly perfect teens in nearly perfect situations pretty quickly.

The idea of both tales is that they are both leaders of fellow teens, become cocky and arrogant, are in love with each other, and learn the error of their ways that nearly ends their leadership roles with their fellow teens.

But, happily, both remain the hero and heroine of their peers, when the peers accept their apologies for being arrogant.

One part of her tale may illustrate the author's using "teen talk" probably to impress teen readers is when another boy, not boyfriend Blake Strong, vies romantically for Charli when he feels Blake has mistreated her.

In the cafeteria, the scene begins, "When I reached to pull the chair out, strong hands pulled it out for me. 'Can I sit with you?'

"I looked up and smiled for the first time that day. Kind Brenton Strong (cousin of Blake Strong -- my comment) was standing with a tray, and he was sporting his brand-new first-day-of-school digs rather well. I motioned for him to sit down.

"'You know, word's out I got the plague. You don't wanna catch the 'unpopular' disease. You might wanna sit somewhere else,' I warned him.

"iI think you know me well enough to know that I don't care what people think or say. You shouldn't either. Not looking as good as you do, anyway,' Brenton said, stepping up his game.

"I knew he liked me. I was not dumb. He had been flirting for the last couple of months. But to pull out my chair, give me a compliment any girl would blush over, and stare me down...what was up? What was his angle? With all I was dealing with, I did not even have time to figure it out, so I just started eating. Brenton kept staring.

"'What?' I said.

"'Is something wrong?' he asked, taking a bite of his sandwich."

A fair conversation between two teens, but I thought his final question seemed a bit silly after she had just explained that she was no longer popular. I thought that was what was wrong. Seemed pretty obvious, since she had just told him the problem.

A very few grammatical errors made me question the writing skill of the writer or the lack of editorial skill in the publishing house, which I find more common in these days of budget and staff reductions due to the recession. On page 36 of Stephanie Perry Moore's story is the following, "She went over to the sink and leaned in as if she was trying to collect herself." To be a critical language-arts teacher, which I was for awhile too many years ago, in this conditional sentence, "if" making it conditional, the correct past tense is "were," not "was." This error was not in a sentence spoken by the youth but in the writing itself about something that was occurring.

Both Charli and Blake, near the beginnings of their stories, let the reader know just how nice, intelligent, attractive, popular, and lots of other adjectives to describe their greatness, they were. A bit boastful for evangelical kids, who might have learned by high-school age that a major tenet of Christianity is humility. I found too much self praise in both stories.

The happy endings are similar in both stories. In hers, she says of herself, "...Even when going through the drama, I had to stay savvy and remember that the down times would end. When times get tough, don't stress. You can make it if you stay forever cool."

Kind of a strange set of values -- not too spiritual, in my view -- to leave with your readers. A do-it-yourself kind of spiritual life, the kind the Bible says doesn't work. The kind too many evangelical churches practice.

My view as an oldster? Thumbs down. Sorry.

After several weeks, my teenage accomplices in reviewing haven't e-mailed their views of the book. Their mother told me they were "having fun" with it.

If they e-mail me their reviews, I'll send them in for publication.

Meanwhile, my view as an oldster stands.

Thumbs down. Sorry.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

Milt Gross Down the Road A Piece Column

Milt Gross Book Reviews

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