Book Reviews

Title: The Boy Who Walked A Way
Author: Nancy Janes

The story of Jal is dedicated to all who seek the ideal country and labor with the Great High King to bring it into being.

For he looked for a city… — Hebrews 11:10 (KJV)

With that 3623inscription, The Boy Who Walked A Way opens upon the story of a young child lost in the midst of a devastating world war. Celebrating his tenth birthday on April 12, 2162, young Jal Valhyn learns that his parents are being called away to serve in the war effort.

Although Jal struggles valiantly with his sadness at their leaving, his parents’ absence is terribly difficult on the young boy. Thankfully, Jal is quickly met with good and faithful companions, who guide Jal as they encourage him to see the world in a new light.

Much like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, The Boy Who Walked A Way chronicles an eye-opening journey for one who is slowly beginning to see a reality greater than he had previously imagined. Unlike Bunyan’s work however, this book illustrates that we may not always understand our experiences in this world, although we are promised that one day our eyes will be opened. A mysterious creature named Syntee lingers in the background of this story, occasionally heard in a quiet whisper but more often referenced in a reverent hush by Jal’s guides. Syntee plays much the role of Aslan in Lewis’s Narnia, and Jal is promised that one day Syntee will answer all the questions he is asked.

Questions there are aplenty in The Boy Who Walked A Way. Young Jal is nothing if not inquisitive, and his journey is marked by dozens of questions about the world he experiences along his path. Although some of the questions are answered, more frequently Jal’s companions tell him to store that question away for the time at which it and all questions will be answered.

The Amazon page for this book indicates that it was written for the young adult genre, but it strikes me as an excellent book to read aloud to young children. The story is set in an imaginative fantasy world that would pique the interest of even young listeners, but the vocabulary is expansive and impressive. Sentences like,

“They increased their authority by giving generous service in a self-effacing manner” offer an excellent opportunity for an adult reader to teach young listeners new words within the context of a delightful bedtime story…

Lastly, I want to thank Ms. Janes for reaching out to me and offering me the privilege of reading and reviewing her book. I was not required to post a positive review, and this review is my honest opinion.

An Interview with Nancy Janes

Yesterday I reviewed The Boy Who Walked A Way by Nancy Janes.

Ms. Janes was kind enough to agree to a brief interview about the book and her own background as an author. Here are her answers while on the hot seat:

An Interview with Nancy Janes

Q: You have said that The Boy Who Walked A Way was ten years in the writing. What gave this story its beginning ten years ago? Do you remember a specific moment, thought, or event that sparked the idea in your mind?

How one’s life experience is filtered through the psyche and assimilated has been of interest throughout my adult years.

I was living in Sedona, Arizona and catching up on my reading while adjusting to an early retirement. Writing being a lifelong habit, the idea for the story of Jal came as I began a search for a replacement for my work related activities. A few months later the 2001 terrorist event occurred and my ideas shifted to a peaceful future world.

In the midst of traumatic happenings we seek a safe haven even in our imagination. My shelter was the imaginative beginning of the story of Jal as it is written. My experience in working with youngsters in middle school provided inspiration for other ideas. Life is seen through the eyes of a ten year old protagonist because belief in the divine is unquestioned. Miraculous events are all around us at that age and are still at any age if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Q: In your author bio, you mention the dramatic, often disquieting, urban settings of your adult years. As someone who lives in a rural small town and loves the quiet life it offers, I found that sentence particularly intriguing. What about the big city setting do you find most disquieting?

At mid-adolescence my life took a turn from a rural area in Kentucky to the large metropolitan area of Detroit, Michigan.

In the rural setting of my birth strangers were few and kinship connections were many. The generations that remain in one place over a hundred and fifty years weave the kinship patterns into fascinating tapestries. Thus, relationships were on a familiar footing with most of the residents for miles about and beyond.

From a personal setting I was catapulted into a strange landscape of impersonal multitudes of people.

Learning to traverse this strange terrain on a different planet was disquieting in itself. The fevered seeking and searching of a materialistic society was foreign to me. The Church became my anchor as I explored and assimilated the many facets of my new home. I gravitated toward the educational opportunities and the splendid cultural milieu of the city.

As time passed I became aware of the unequal treatment of the large Afro-American population. Being from a different population myself, my indignation knew no bounds. A spectator and sometimes marcher I followed the momentous civil rights era and applauded as the old order fell and the new arose.

In the latter years before moving cross-country I worked with inner-city youth and Jal is modeled on a composite of them. Their often heartbreaking problems left me at a loss when it seemed that all I could offer was a sense that I cared for them.

The slower pace of my rural background wherein I learned to judge a person by their character rather than by their possessions has resonated within me throughout my life. And as you can see in the book the concepts find expression through the characters.

Q: Turning to your book: your protagonist, Jal Valhyn begins his journey after a troubled time at home, and a few other characters in your story seem to also come from difficult backgrounds. How much, if any, did your career as a social worker shape The Boy Who Walked A Way, and were any of your characters influenced by your experiences in that work?

A background in clinical social work is very influential in shaping my world view, thus the story of Jal. It is essential for a child to internalize the sense of mastery. The worth of the trait is incalculable and determines whether we succeed or fail in every endeavor of our life. The main characters in the book illustrate the concept. Parables of the groups passed on the way to the safe haven illustrate both the folly of the larger society and the withdrawal from it. From ruin and devastation belief in the divine (God) can lead to the creation of a magnificent future. “Where there is no vision the people perish.” That verse from the Bible is no less true today than when it was written.

Q: The names of your characters are one of your story’s most unique and memorable features. Where do you find inspiration for naming the characters you create?

I love names, especially the old names found in genealogical records, like Alistair, and Alifair. One ancestor named her daughters, Elisa Isadora, Selena Caroline, Louisa Victoria, Malinda Jane, etc… She must have been poetically inclined. Unique names were given by the older generations to their children, such as Ora, Ada and Ressie. Probably, the names were shortened, the longer forms being Lenora, Adelaide, Clarissa. Other names are from the Hebrew which I find sonorous in an indefinable way.

Q: Now that you have shared this first story with the world, I have read that some of your characters may come to life again in a second novel. At this point are you willing to share any details about that story or about which characters we can expect to see again?

My half written book focuses on the characters living on the dark side. The Daggie characters are taken from Daganland, the country that intersects Jal’s new home. It’s written in a humorous tone for the subject doesn’t lend itself to heavy handedness. I confess that I have trouble creating a villainous protagonist, so the stories center on a nineteen year old and his mentor who is middle-aged. Perhaps, Bratlee’s maneuvers to adapt to his surroundings reflected mine when I sought to adjust to the urban environment.

Q: Finally, I want to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions about your book. With your permission, I’ll ask one final question. In the time since March 3, 2013, the date on which this book was published, what has most surprised you about the experience of writing, publishing, and marketing a first book?

Writing is a pleasure and being an older writer I decided to go the self-publishing route. The search for an agent and traditional publisher was not an option. I reckoned my odd way of writing would find publishers scarce, especially with the mix of fantasy creatures with human beings.

The amount of time needed to promote the book is overwhelming at times. I tend to be a private person so I had no platform for a beginning writer. Playing catch-up is a daily chore. I’m still in the (new) process of contacting book stores, scheduling book signings, maintaining a website, and interacting on the media sites, FB, Twitter and LinkedIn. Goodreads is another excellent site for reader interactions and promotional purposes.

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