Each of these books is likely to ignite discussion about ideas that are central to Catholic life.
That said, there are few things that draw women together for good food, good discussion, and good times like a book club — you know, the kind where everyone reads (or pretends to have read) the same novel and then gets together to eat, drink, and talk about the book or things that are loosely related to the book.
Well, what if there were a way to combine some of the depth of a Bible study with the fun of a book club? Here is a list of books and novels with strong Catholic themes. These books don’t always fall in line with Catholic theology or moral teaching. The characters are deeply flawed, and not all of them exemplify Catholic values. But each of these books is likely to ignite discussion about ideas that are central to Catholic life.
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Jeremiah Land performs miracles. The first time his son Ruben experiences one of these miracles, he is 12 minutes old and, according to his doctor, dead — that is, until his father commands him “in the name of the Living God” to breathe.
The novel, told from the point of view of 11-year-old Ruben, centers on the cross-country trek Ruben, his father, and his younger sister must make in search of Ruben’s older brother Davy, an outlaw whose crime may or may not be justified. Their epic journey brings them into contact with both kind and malevolent strangers. This novel is at once a great adventure story and an exploration into faith, miracles, and what exists beyond this life.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Another novel whose main character seems to have a special connection with God, this story begins with narrator John Wheelwright introducing us to Owen Meany, an 11-year-old boy who believes he is God’s instrument:
“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”
While neither John nor Owen could be described as model Christians, through their friendship and experiences, readers are compelled to examine the relationship between miracles and faith.
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni
Sam Hill was born with ocular albinism, a rare condition that causes red pupils. Teased mercilessly by his classmates and tormented by cruel Sister Beatrice, Sam’s life sometimes seems like a living hell. Even his mother’s devout Catholic faith is of little comfort to Sam. Yet, it is his mother’s enduring faith that ultimately shapes Sam’s life and gives him the ability to see what really matters.
My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Family, Faith, and Miracles by Justin Catanoso
While facing his brother’s cancer diagnosis in 2001, lapsed Catholic Justin Catanoso discovers that his grandfather’s cousin is about to be canonized a saint. This discovery leads Justin not only on a journey to Italy, but also on a journey of exploration into his faith and into the arms of long-lost relatives halfway across the world. My Cousin the Saint is a beautiful memoir and a testament to the power of familial love.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
In 2006, author Mark Sullivan was at an all-time low. One winter night, just after briefly considering suicide, Sullivan prayed and asked God to give him a story, something great to write about. That very evening he heard the true story of Pino Lella, a young Italian resistance fighter during World War II. Lella’s story is so incredible that Sullivan at first doubted its truth. But after years of meticulous research and weeks with Lella himself, Sullivan wrote Beneath a Scarlet Sky. And while Lella’s own Catholic faith isn’t necessarily central to the novel, his unwavering courage and resilience are inspiring, and details about the work of the Catholic underground and its effort to save Italian Jews from the Nazis make this a great story indeed.
The Kristen Lavransdatter Trilogy by Sigrid Undset
A series is for serious readers and lovers of classic literature, this trilogy by Nobel Prize winner Sigrid Undset follows the life of a young Norwegian noblewoman as she struggles, as she puts it, “to travel the right road and to take her own errant path.” Kristin wrestles her entire life between her devotion to her father and her love for the handsome yet roguish Ereland and between her own stubborn will and her ardent desire for God’s mercy. Deeply Catholic and beautifully written, Undset’s novels manage to communicate eternal truths through the lives of deeply flawed characters.
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Even though this Newbery Award-winning novel is traditionally read by middle grades students, it can inspire deep and meaningful conversations about free will and what it costs us. The Giver also offers a strong pro-life message.
Obviously a book club, even one that focuses on books with strong Christian themes, can’t take the place of scripture study or of reading Christian literature. But a fun evening with friends chatting over a good book is certainly a gift from God. So, whether your book club is into epic journeys, coming of age stories, memoirs, World War II novels, classic literature, or even children’s literature, reading these works will likely lead you into discussion that will enrich your book club and possibly even your faith.
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