- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2007

By Marieke Van der Vaart,

age 16

Home-schooled, Annandale

Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. Those who do know it, however, can keep it from repeating.

Today in Annandale, subtle signs of prejudice and resentment against a highly visible immigrant community are mounting. Grumbling about usurped roles and jobs and some incidents of violence are the only external signals of this tension. In fact, one might regard these signs as insignificant.

My town isn’t the first to display these signs of unrest. “Torchlight” throws light (pardon the pun) on another village faced with remarkably similar signals of tension and serves as a warning against them.

Set in Westfield, Mass., in the 1850s, “Torchlight” is a historical novel based on an incident in which Yankee Protestants tried to burn down a partially built Catholic church but were dissuaded by an eloquent Yankee.

“Torchlight” views the tension and climax through the eyes of two schoolgirls, the Irish Maggie and the Yankee Charlotte. Our hope lies in their relationship — because if we know history, we aren’t doomed to repeat it. The confrontation of prejudice and insecurities in Westfield can teach a pertinent lesson to us today.

However, beyond this ponderous moral lies a different kind of hope — the charming story of friendship in unlikely places. Following Maggie and Charlotte through their discovery of the implications of their relationship, “Torchlight” paints a refreshing picture of trust and friendship despite differences.

With an honest portrait of characters and stories of Northern culture that have grace and humor, “Torchlight” is a captivating and charming read for children and adults alike.

There are two reasons for this appeal: For children 9 and older, reading the stories of Maggie and Charlotte and their interactions with their families is entertaining and offers a glimpse into the past. For older audiences, the playful plot and stories mask an especially pertinent, but not condescending, message of caution against prejudice and bitterness.

Humorous and winsome, Carol Otis Hurst’s book is a quick read that “illuminates” history and describes a sweet, ever-true approach to friendship and trust. “Torchlight” is a timely read for children and adults alike.

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