Les Miserables meets Wal Mart: A review of Chris Fabry’s “June Bug”

It has been said that there are only seven different stories in existence – the books you enjoy are all just variations on these seven different themes.
I don’t know whether this is true, but I do know that it’s not uncommon for an author to copy old stories intentionally. Sometimes this is done well, and sometimes… not so well.
I don’t usually go for modern retellings of old stories. (Though I admit that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies does have a strange sort of appeal…) It seems to me that the best “copies” of this sort are those that are both good in their own right, and good in that they enhance an original work rather than try to re-create it. Sometimes new books are wonderful on their own, but sometimes they are most valuable when they help you read old books well.
I just read a book that copied an old story loosely, and copied it pretty well. June Bug is Chris Fabry’s newest book, due out in August 2009. (Thank you to the folks at Tyndale for providing me with an advanced reader copy!) June Bug is Fabry’s modern interpretation of the classic Les Miserables. It’s a somewhat loose interpretation, but Les Miserables fans will quickly recognize some key themes and plot points.

The story is told mostly from the point of view of “June Bug”, a young girl who travels the U.S. with her dad in an old RV. One morning, she is shocked to find a picture of herself on the missing children board inside a WalMart. The story follows her as she finds out more about her dad, her long-absent mother, and herself.
It’s a pretty good story even apart from its ties to Victor Hugo’s classic book, but I particularly enjoyed the way it illumined the original work for me. It distanced itself from Hugo’s book enough that it did not feel like a copy of a better book, but it also offered me a window into some of the original players. June Bug is not a Great Book in the way that Les Miserables (arguably!) is, but it does make for good weekend reading.
I enjoyed reading June Bug, and now I can’t wait to re-read Les Miserables. I think I’ll appreciate it even more for having read Chris Fabry’s book. I think Hugo would approve of this… and I bet Fabry would, too. ‘

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Rachel Motte

Rachel Motte is a freelance writer, journalist and editor specializing in social issues, educational affairs, and international religious freedom. Her work has appeared at CNN.com, The Evangelical Outpost, The New Ledger, the Daily Caller, and in Jonah Goldberg’s recent anthology, Proud to Be Right. She is an alumna of Biola University, the Torrey Honors Institute, the Leadership Institute, and the World Journalism Institute. Rachel may be reached at rachel[at]rachelmotte[dot]com.