Back to the Bright Before, a book review

by Jessica Thornton

Imagine the literary scene twenty years ago. You could go to the library, Barnes and Noble or Borders, (remember Borders?) and most of the books on the shelf were pretty decent. We didn’t know how good we had it.

Like Don Quixote, I search for books of this past era. Sometimes, I find them. And every once in a while, I strike gold and I find one hidden among the New Releases.

It’s true. There are still good writers creating wholesome children’s literature. It is also true that these writers are finding it more and more difficult to get published by the Big Five. However, it’s not impossible.

Back to the Bright Before

Some discouraged writers, or writers who prefer higher profit margins and more control over editing, timing, etc., are turning to self-publishing, and there are some very well-done self-published books on the market.

Last fall, Penguin Random House released Katherin Nolte’s middle grade fiction novel, Back to the Bright Before. I was astonished to discover that this delightful family friendly story is chock full of Catholic imagery and symbolism.

The heroine, Pet, short for Perpetua, (the saint whose feast day is today as I write this), goes on a quest. Her ultimate desire is to heal her broken family. The physical object she seeks is the rumored lost coin that Christ held up when the Pharisees asked him about taxes.

Pet’s father suffered a tragic accident which left him injured and unable to work. Pet’s overworked mother has lost hope and struggles to keep the family financially afloat. Simon, Pet’s adorable four-year-old brother, was also affected by the accident. He stopped talking, except for one word, “cheese.” 

This family of four lives down the road from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Abbey, a convent of taffy-making nuns! Pet befriends a kind, young novice, Sister Melanie. She teaches Pet various Latin phrases which are used throughout the story.

Mrs. Minnow, an elderly neighbor, tells Pet the legend that a monk hid the coin somewhere on the abbey grounds .With careful planning, Pet and Simon set out to find the treasure. Pet has high hopes that such a coin would pay for another surgery for her dad. Pet and Simon are not alone in seeking the coin, however. Gordon Minnow, the adult son of sweet Mrs. Minnow, is mean, selfish, and cunning. He is an excellent antagonist for our child heroes.

Throughout the adventure, Pet and Simon run into various characters with other-worldly powers. Coincidentally, these characters are named Gabby, A.R., and Mike. Think about it, you know these names. The Amazon description for this book mentions magic, but you and I know it’s not magic at work here.

Without spoiling the ending, I will let you know that a lamb, a fish, and some very special salt play key roles.

Back to the Bright Before is a lovely adventure story riddled with Catholic symbolism, perfect for a family read-aloud or for 8 to 12 year olds. I loved it and chose it for the Lion box in November of 2023. I don’t know if author Katherin Nolte is Catholic or not, but she sure does a fabulous job incorporating Catholic themes and beliefs in her novel. Let us pray that she writes more books for young readers.

If you didn't get the Winter 2023 Lion & Lamb box, you can order your own copy of Back to the Bright Before here, because when wholesome books get published, we should show our support.