This is a review of Countryside: The Book of the Wise by J. T. Cope IV.
Overall Rating: ★★★★★
I was sent books one and two of the Countryside series by J. T. Cope IV in exchange for an honest review.
I have to say, this book pretty much blew me away. I loved the first book, but I adored this one! Easily the best middle grade book I’ve read in years. 🙂 Actually, it ranks up high in my favorite books, period. ❤
I have SO much to say about this book (no, really…I have notes sitting next to me as I write), but I’d like to get a few things out there before I go into my “crazy analyzing” mode.
The Bottom Line
This post is very, very long and in-depth, so I want to get to the bottom line, first! (Does that make it the top line?)
This sequel is fast-paced, engaging, and highly enjoyable! Readers of any age will enjoy hearing about the adventures of Luke and his friends. This adventure series is especially appropriate for younger readers, due to the lack of gore and other age-inappropriate elements. The Tears of Adina will keep you interested until the very last page.
I highly recommend this book!
Note: Grading scale is based on other Middle Grade Fiction. It is not in comparison to YA literature.
Content (10= extremely high focus; 0=non existent)
Adventure content: 7
Creepiness content: 3
Grief content: 2
Language content: 0
Religion content: 4
Romance content: 2
Sexual content: 0
Violence content: 4
Now for my highly in-depth review:
First off, we get a lot of character growth from Luke in this second book. As he grows physically and emotionally, he faces more temptations and frustrations in his everyday life. For example, he is bullied in school. His natural tendency is to fight fire with fire (almost literally) and be mean in return. In pretty much any other middle grade book, this would be seen as an acceptable (even encouraged) response. However, when caught being mean back to John David, he is rebuked and shown that there are other ways to deal with people who are mean to you.
Also, Luke is teetering on the edge of “teenager-hood” in this book and it shows in his attitude. However, his “attitude” is neither approved of nor tolerated. My favorite example of this when he and his friends have just survived some peril or another and the adults get together to discuss what needs to be done about the particular threat; Luke goes full “pre-teen protagonist” with the “I’m involved and did such-and-such and I deserve to be included” speech. At this point in a regular middle grade book, the parent would be like “oh, you’re right and we underestimated you and yeah you should be included.” In this story, Luke’s dad kindly, but firmly, tells him that the parents need to talk first and that Luke had better “get that attitude in line” before they are finished. When I read this, I was like, “GO, DAD!” Which brings me to my next point.
Parents and superiors are seen as people you can turn to for help and support. What annoys me most about middle grade fiction (and even young adult fiction, to a certain extent) is that kids NEVER go to their parents for help. It isn’t even encouraged. In Countrywise, the children don’t always go to their parents for help or advice, but it is highly encouraged. And when the kids don’t go to them for help, it isn’t because the adults are “stupid” or “oblivious,” but because they don’t want to be told they can’t go (naturally, haha!). But toward the end of this book, the children have learned that it really is good to keep your parents in the loop, especially when you plan to sneak off on near-death experiences.
I also appreciate how believable the scenarios in this series are. Despite the magical elements, it doesn’t test your “willing suspension of disbelief.” For instance, the kids are still KIDS and can’t do everything. There isn’t any of that ridiculous “one kid takes on ten Darkmen and wins” business. Now, the protagonists are very talented and are therefore better at taking care of themselves than perhaps other children in the storywould be, but it isn’t unrealistic. And in the one part where Matt takes out two Darkmen by himself, it’s considered to be a “wow, that was impressive–I bet those Darkmen were surprised” moment. And because these children aren’t “super kids” or something, there really is a lot of parental involvement (well, parental “pulling kids out of scrapes”).
Anyone can put adventure in a series. Almost anyone can create relatable, intriguing characters. What not everyone can do is fill their book with life lessons in such a way that the reader will be changed for the better. ❤ And that is exactly what J. T. Cope IV does in his Countryside series.
The elementary and middle school years are when a child is most impressionable. That being so, it is extremely important that a child’s head be filled with GOOD things during this time. The books a child reads during this point in his/her development could very literally change his/her entire outlook on life.
In the Countryside books, boys aren’t simply brought up to be gentlemen–they are taught to become men. When Luke is having fighting lessons, his teacher makes it very clear that he is only to use these skills to defend “people who are unable to protect themselves” or, lastly, as self-defense. (Definitely an underrepresented topic in most middle grade literature!) In other words, he isn’t being taught fighting skills so he can go beat up his bullies. As Luke struggles in his fighting lessons, he is pushed further and further through taunts of “is this how you are going to react when your friends are threatened?” Through these lessons, he learns not just to fight, but that his friends are worth protecting, regardless the cost.
In this book, a lot of emphasis is put on the fact that different people have different gifts. As Luke and Matt train together and grow as individuals, they realize that they have different strengths. It would be so easy for them to envy each other or become rivals. Instead, they are taught that they should value each other’s gifts, rather than coveting them.
Another important lesson in this book is that “there is a very fine line between humility and self-pity.” This may be one of the most important lessons of all, because of how it relates to other middle grade (and young adult) literature. How many times have we read something like, “oh, I didn’t do that well… such-and-such happened, etc.”? And how many times have we said something along those lines, ourselves? This one hit me kind of hard because there really is a fine line between taking commendation humbly and deprecating yourself for selfish reasons. I have never heard this issue addressed in a book (of any fictional genre) before.
Check out my review of Countryside: The Book of the Wise for a more complete review of the morals in Cope’s books. (The bottom line is that children are taught to be polite and respectful to everyone, but especially to people in authority over them. And I highly approve of that!)
I especially love the “dark vs. light” allegorical aspect in this series. Light fights darkness every day in OUR world, whether you see it or not. There is always some fight going on where goodness is trying to defeat evil. This series puts it into terms a small child can understand.
In Luke’s world, the “Flame” is entirely good and pure. “Darkness” is an element that is extremely evil and hurts everything it touches. You can use the “darkness” with good intentions, but that doesn’t make it any less dark. AND THAT IS SO PROFOUND. I just love how Cope turned “good vs. evil” into a visual plot that even the youngest reader can understand.
Luke constantly feels the pull of the “darkness” and the power that it offers. He uses it occasionally; both to protect his friends and also from his own bad intentions. Every single time, regardless of the results, it is frowned upon and discouraged. When you realize what the darkness represents, you can see that there is a deeper meaning behind the mentions of darkness. When Luke is resisting the pull of the darkness, he is, in effect, resisting the evil within himself.
SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD
Most of my favorite parts occur at the end of the book when Luke is talking to Mr. Roberts. (SERIOUSLY, WHO IS MR. ROBERTS?? I NEED TO KNOW.) One such part is when Luke and Mr. Roberts have cleansed the river together and Luke asks why nobody else was able to do it before. I’m going to type the section here:
“I don’t understand. Why couldn’t anyone else do it–the council or the women’s circle?”
“They were trying to fix the river by cleaning it from within using what was already in the water, but in this case, darkness could only be cleaned from a power outside the river and the holding–only with the Flame.”
“But what about south of the falls? Some of the water was clean there.”
Mr. Robert’s smile faded. “Yes, but only temporarily. Pain and discipline can clean darkness away, but if there is nothing to fill the void once it has been there, it will find its way back in and be even the worse for it. In the case of the falls, the pain caused by the water’s colliding with itself separated the darkness from the water, but as you saw farther downstream, it came back.”
Luke rubbed the sides of his forehead.
Mr. Roberts chuckled. “It will get easier to understand over time, son.”
Is that section deep, or what? ❤ I love the double-meanings…
Another part that particularly hit me was the part at the end with Peter and Anora. It was sad and happy and really did an excellent job giving children a gentler way to view death. It’s the sort of part that will go over a younger child’s head enough that it won’t hurt them, but an older child will understand the significance and be left to think about it.
Mr. Cope, I really want to thank you for writing such a wonderful children’s series. The world needs more authors like you–authors who will promote goodness and kindness and light and beauty in children’s books (but at the same time, not sacrifice plot and adventure!).
Your books brought to mind the C.S. Lewis quote: “Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter, but darker.”
Again, thank you for asking me to review the first two books of your series. It has been such a pleasure! 🙂