The Thing I’m Most Afraid Of by Kristin Levine

An American girl learns to overcome her fears against the background of the Bosnian Civil War.

The Thing I’m Most Afraid Of by Kristin Levine. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021, 321 pages

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 10-14

Becca has anxiety issues: crowds, planes, disease, strange food, alien invasions, you name it. So taking a plane all the way to Austria to spend two whole months with her dad doesn’t seem like the best idea. Her parents are amicably divorced, and Becca amicably divided her time between them until Dad accepted a dream transfer to Vienna. And acquired a girlfriend. It doesn’t help that Mom will accompany Becca that far, because Mom has her own backpack-through-Europe dream to fulfill.

For Becca: new digs, new dad’s girlfriend, new girlfriend’s son-her-own-age (Felix) that she’s supposed to get along with, and a new babysitter. Au pair, that is: Sara, a Muslim refugee from the Bosnian civil war. It’s 1993 and Austria is dealing with an influx of refugees, not always hospitably. How is Becca supposed to deal with it, on top of everything else?

“Face your fears” is a cliché, but how do we do that? Becca has been keeping a “Doomsday Journal” for years, in which she writes all the possible scenarios that could occur and how she might handle them. In Vienna she learns that others have anxieties, too. Felix’s are mostly minor, but Sara, who had to leave her family behind to an unknown fate, is genuinely afraid for them. And for herself, if she has to go back. Helping Sara proves to be one way Becca can handle her own fears, even though it leads to a fearful situation. The Bible puts it this way: “Perfect love casts out fear.” Nobody in the story appears to read the Bible, but it’s still true.

Considerations:

  • While touring St. Stephens Cathedral in Vienna, Felix shows Becca a statue he calls “Toothache Jesus.” The Son of Man is holding his face in a mournful attitude, which I suppose resembles a toothache, but strikes me as irreverent.
  • “Amicable divorce” is a contradiction in terms. Also, a parent’s new love interest is often a difficult adjustment for a child to accept. We don’t really see that here, but at least Becca’s dad and his girlfriend aren’t living together.

Read more about our ratings here.

Also at Redeemed Reader:

  • Reviews: Nowhere Boy is another story of an American boy helping a Muslim refugee in Europe. In the Shadow of the Sun pits American siblings against the North Korean government.
  • Resource: See our “Learning to Lead” booklist for books on courage and honor!

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Janie Cheaney

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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