The Pastor’s Kids breaks all the current marketing rules. It is a coming-of-age story, narrative fiction, but has no fixed age group for which it is intended. And, its only plot is an unfolding, like life. As my brother Dave wrote, “The reader has no idea where (s)he is going, or why (s)he should go there, but finds him(her)self curious about how these little lives will unfold. This absence of a ‘central driver’ to the stories is very refreshing. Unfortunately, however, I think it may make it less likely to be attractive to some readers, who are addicted to the captivating quality of a problem thread to be resolved, a question to be answered. Loved the book.”
The Mikkelsons grow up in an interdependent family, as Gish Jen uses the term in her book, Tiger Writing: Art, Culture and the Interdependent Self. Jen believes that in Asian narratives individuality is subsumed in family and culture. I maintain that many family cultures foster this sense of interdependence, in which each member contributes to the survival, the health and the joy of the others. Line, Marty and Paul are deeply aware of each other and their Norwegian Christian culture. Each chapter is told in the point of view of one of these three narrators, and in this first book in the series, we see the bedrock of the family’s story.
And there are things to resolve. One question is Paul’s bout with polio. He is sequestered in clinics for part of the book, then has two major surgeries to try to undue the damage polio has done to his muscles and tendons. Will Paul get to have the life he wants? Another question is what is going on with Ellie, the oldest Mikkelson sister. She lives alongside her active siblings, but seems to have a secret life. What is she thinking?
Overall, the series So Are You to My Thoughts shows that growing up in a powerful family structure allows the kind of individuation in which a person can become the self they were meant to be, to align their inner and outer worlds over time. And it does take time. Line, Marty and Paul are very different people and love and work happen for each of them differently. Their ideas and desires take them far from home and force them to make their own lives, as people of their generation did. But the circle of family their parents generated is very strong, and they never lose the sense of being in touch.
So! The Pastor’s Kids unfolds in a particular place and time, the Eisenhower years between 1952 and 1960, in the upper Midwest. Though post-war optimism and a growing awareness of diversity affected everyone, I am still amazed as I look back, at how the Scandinavians managed to maintain an isolated, unique culture for so long. Line, Marty and Paul begin to push against this in subsequent books in the series, developing their own individual stories. But The Pastor’s Kids, true to its time, reminds us that dignity once had value. Words and actions expressed it. I guarantee you will not be ashamed to read it to your kids!