Thoughtful Readers: “August”

August by Bernard Beckett   august

I’ve been looking for books for our deeper thinkers. August is one.

Unfortunately, the cover description says it’s a “philosophical thriller” and also gives the reader the impression that it will be a love story. And this makes lots of readers jump to the conclusion that it is a romance. And then they hate the book, get online and say that August is neither a romance nor a thriller.

And, of course, they are right, technically. Because the love story here is not like a formula romance at all. And the thriller aspect of the book is not like a murder mystery. This is the story of a couple of teens–Tristan and Grace–who, after veering off the road and landing upside down over a cliffside, contemplate their very serious injuries, the possibility of death, and the circumstances that brought them together in this tragedy.

They seem to be an unlikely pair. Raised in a dystopian world where people are either within the walls of the City of God or struggling for survival outside of them, the two shouldn’t have met. Tristan has been raised in a ‘grand and cold’ monastery, schooled by severe monks on thinking about theological questions of free will and predetermination. Grace is a prostitute from outside the city walls. They don’t even appear to know one another. And yet a chance meeting, in which they didn’t speak a word, has delivered them to this precipice of pain and questioning.

After their car crashes, in order to survive through the night and be seen in the morning by a passerby, the pair discusses the events that led them to their fractured ribs, dislocated shoulders broken teeth and glass-pocked faces. Tristan has been raised to absorb the tenets of St. Augustine, to believe that submission is salvation. He’s the smartest boy in his class. So while this means he can recall best what the monks teach the classes, it also means that he is the likeliest to question what he is taught. Grace,too, has had a strict upbringing by convent nuns who teach her not to question their mode of salvation. But question she must. and it costs her dearly.

The big questions in life–whether humans have free will, whether they are directed by God’s hand, or whether they are damned from the beginning, seem only to be intellectual exercises. But once Grace and Tristan are trapped upside down over the side of a cliff, the answer becomes a matter of life and death.

High school housekeeping: This really is a book for the teen who wonders about the existence of God–and more specifically, the existence of a loving God, whether all human actions are predestined, and other philosophical conundrums. While it takes place in a dystopia, it’s not a future one. There’s no science fiction element to August. The setting is modern. Yet the upbringings of both Grace and Tristan are almost medieval in their exquisite mental torture and physical torment. There is the question not just of whether a supernatural power is out there pulling strings, but whether Grace and Tristan can be manipulated by those that insist on a specific worldview. As they tell one another what they’ve been through in seeking answers and fighting back against those who would control them, you realize that love does mean a great deal in the struggle. As the reader feels the couple’s desperation and flies through the pages, seeking the answers to questions about free will, chances of the couple’s survival are becoming mighty slim. So, yes, this is a philosophical thriller. The prospective reader just has to realize what that means. There’s no formula plotline here. But in a very short space (200 pages), the author gives the thoughtful teen a crazy ride that plummets off the edge of the typical-teen-novel landscape.

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About Victoria Waddle

I'm a high school librarian, formerly an English teacher. I love to read and my mission is to connect people with the right books. To that end, I read widely--from the hi-lo for reluctant high school readers to the literary adult novel for the bibliophile.
This entry was posted in Controversial Issue/Debate, Faith-Based/Religious Element, Family Problems, Fiction, Human Rights Issues, Philosophy, Young Adult Literature and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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