The Messengers: Discovered by Lisa M. Clark
THE MESSENGERS: Discovered. By Lisa M. Clark. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016. 346pages. $12.99
The Messengers: Discovered by Lisa M. Clark is a Young Adult dystopian novel set in the fictional country of New Morgan. It is the first of a planned trilogy of books. The story follows teenager Simon Clay, the perpetually-curious main character in the book, as he tries to make sense of an oppressively censored and unimaginative world while growing and developing in his “illegal” faith in Jesus Christ.
The tinder of Simon’s curiosity and dormant faith is lit when unexpected visitors arrive at his home after the hours of a government-mandated curfew. The visitors are there specifically to enlist the aid of his (at least in his own mind) otherwise ho-hum father. Simon’s world is immediately turned upside down as loyalties are tested, knowledge is questioned and expanded, and previously suppressed past events begin to emerge with new meaning.
At the heart of the story, of course, is a message; specifically, the message of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for sinners. This message is exactly what the government suppresses and forbids. Knowing, whispering, preserving, and transmitting this message is dangerous. Of course, the alternative (i.e. not knowing Jesus Christ) is far more dangerous—eternally speaking.
In this novel Simon participates in some clandestine operations of the Messengers, who are seeking—among many other things—to reconstruct the Holy Scriptures, by gathering left-over pieces that were hidden during the rise of the New Morgan government: which seized and destroyed all copies of the Bible. The zeal accompanying Simon’s rediscovered faith makes him prone to recklessness that puts the entire underground Christian community at risk, thus increasing the suspense of the book.
In my estimation, dystopian novels are a bit of a trend in the world of YA literature. Young Adult literature seems to go through these cycles. With Harry Potter, YA literature abounded with wizards and witches and magic. This soon gave way to the trend of vampires and werewolves, led primarily by the Twilight novels. This then gave way to the recently popular dystopias such as The Hunger Games and Divergent and The Maze Runner. I worry this book might be on the tail-end of the dystopia trend, and that the final book of The Messengers series might be published long after the trend has passed. But I need not worry too much, for this book has far more to offer than those others.
First, though this book is set in a fictional dystopian society, it is grounded in the reality of Jesus Christ, whose value is never subject to trends and is applicable ‘in season and out of season’ (2 Timothy 4:2). Lisa Clark does a yeoman’s job of getting the reader to appreciate the inherent value of the Word of God. As Simon Clay and the other characters put their lives at risk for the sake of finding and delivering and preserving a few passages of Scripture, you can’t help but be convicted of your own neglect of God’s Word which is readily accessible to you the reader but may remain unopened or unused on a shelf.
Second, this book is masterful at highlighting primary biblical texts, such as the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23. These popular texts aren’t just the words of rote memory, but they shape and inform the actions of the characters in times of crisis and rejoicing, just as they should do for any Christian. Of course, these texts are able to guide Simon Clay in his life precisely because he has memorized them. Lisa Clark makes the reader rethink the value of the memorization of biblical texts, and this is good.
I have read all of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games novels. I have also read Divergent, Insurgent, and The Maze Runner. If you’re going to compare the story of Simon Clay to these novels I think you’ll be disappointed. Lisa Clark is writing with different objectives and sensibilities. The violence that bleeds through the pages of those other dystopian novels is not found in Clark’s writing. This doesn’t make The Messengers: Discovered any less enjoyable to read, but it does make her book discernibly different.
The Messengers: Discovered comes with book club questions in the back, along with chapter one of the next book in the series The Messengers: Concealed.
All in all, the book is a quick and enjoyable read. Its emphasis on Jesus Christ and the Word isn’t a liability to the readability of the novel, but rather its life-blood. I would be curious to know what teenagers think of this book (I am not one and don’t have one living in my home). It’s a fine debut novel for Lisa Clark and another feather in the cap of Concordia Publishing House. Give The Messengers: Discovered a read, and then go to Twitter and let @LisaMClark1 know what you think.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Concordia and Immanuel Lutheran Church in Cresbard and Wecota, South Dakota.