I knew I'd enjoy Colleen Swaim's Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints just by the cover. (Yes, there's a saying about that.) It's contemporary and engaging without screaming "STORIEZ 4 TEENZ." Just like Coleen's writing.
I enjoyed learning more about familiar saints while also being introduced to several saints I hadn't heard of before, particularly those canonized in the past couple of decades. Swaim has included saints whose lives can be tied to familiar themes for young people today - family conflict, physical violence, sexual immorality. Her writing is subtle in showing the grace at work in each saint's life without becoming preachy.
The saints included in this first volume are:
Saint Dominic Savio
Saint Teresa of the Andes
Blessed Chiara Luce Badano
Saint Stanislaus Kostka
Saint Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception
Blessed Pedro Calungsod
Saint Maria Goretti
Each biography is bookended with a Scripture passage, memory verse, "Saintly Challenges," and space for journal writing. I liked the use of photographs and the focus on saints from around the world. The suggestions in the "Saintly Challenges" are pretty clever, such as when Swaim suggests that you could "strive to really listen to the other person in a conversation, striving not to cut him off or monopolize the discussion," in imitation of St. Dominic Savio.
I originally purchased this as a resource for my 10-year-old, but the "mature content" of some of the stories means that I will be waiting a couple of years to share the book with him, although I may read some of the stories aloud to him. Some of the saints either died very violent deaths or encountered graphic sexual violence, and these aspects of their lives are handled with candor without being overly sensational. St. Maria Goretti's story, with which many readers may also be familiar, is told frankly enough that for a younger child unfamiliar with the concept of rape it would require an explanation. The book is geared towards teenagers, though, so it's not that I don't think these subjects should have been included; just something for parents to consider when evaluating the age-appropriateness of the material.
I would recommend this book as a Confirmation gift or as supplemental reading for seventh graders and up, based on the content, although I myself found things to contemplate as a much-older-than-teenaged reader. It's poignant to read about these lives that ended so soon and how strongly these young people adhered to their faith, often without the support of their families. It's also an excellent window on global Catholicism to learn about the lives of saints from India, Uganda, and the Philippines. I'm excited to see that Coleen has a new book out and I'm looking forward to adding that to our library, as well.
For an excellent interview with Colleen Swaim, check out Nancy Piccione's Q&A, where Colleen addresses the scope of the book:
My goal throughout the process was to seek out saints of both genders who are representative of the worldwide vitality of Catholic youth lived to incredible heights. With some saints and blesseds, that meant scouring Vatican resources for newly recognized individuals, while others fell into my lap through the recommendation of a friend of a friend. I tried to include both classics and those who I felt Americans need an introduction to, and I believe the book succeeded on those fronts.
I agree! Very nice to see this slim-but-substantive collection of biographies that speaks to the challenges that modern teenagers face.