The West boys finally band together in this book! Their adventures continue, but it was heartening to read about Jarret’s transformation from cruel and selfish older brother to caring young man. And Keefe must discover more about himself than he ever thought possible, including new reserves of courage. Roland finally gets to be a “normal” brother without all of Jarret’s bullying and Keefe’s currying favor and trying to mitigate Jarret’s behavior.
Standing Strong showcases Theresa Linden’s ability to really get inside the head of teenage boys. My favorite aspect of this is Jarret’s journal, which Father Carston suggests that he keep. Jarret pines for the connection that he felt when Jesus appeared to him in the canyon in Battle For His Soul. He desires to do the will of God, but doesn’t quite know how to get there. Jarret faces continuous temptation from pretty girls at school, and one in particular: a blonde cheerleader named Chantelle.
When Chantelle reveals that she has few scruples when it comes to fooling around without her parents at home, Jarret must decide where his true loyalties lie. He also has to deal with some “friends” who turn out to be bullies just like he was. Meanwhile, Keefe is off in the woods trying to prove himself to Peter, Roland, and God. He tries to do some hardcore fasting and hiking and receives help from a surprising source. Keefe struggles with his calling to the Franciscan brotherhood on a gut level, and finds it hardest to work up the courage to tell his father.
I cheered when Jarret decides that he doesn’t want to get a girl pregnant anymore, since the tragedy with Zoe. And I cheered again when Keefe goes off to the retreat in Minnesota with the Franciscans. As the boys endure challenge after challenge to their emotions, stamina, and moral values, how will they Stand Strong? This is another page-turner from Linden that is sure to impress your teenager and drive home some very important points about the manliness of virtue.