Rarely have a been more conflicted about a book. There is so much to love about The Inquisitor’s Tale. In fact, it just won the 2016 Newberry Honor Book as well as the Cybil audiobook of 2016. But I have a few concerns about it, particularly for Christian families. Make sure to read the full review to help decide if this book is right for your kids.
Before I read this book, my main concern came from the subtitle. I was sure a book about “Three Magical Children and their Holy Dog” couldn’t be respectful of religion. I was wrong. Although there’s plenty of humor in this story, none of it comes at the expense of religion. In fact, Gidwitz treats both Judaism and Christianity with profound respect.
A girl with visions, a Saracen oblate, a Jewish boy with healing abilities, and a venerated dog miraculously resurrected are thrown together and end up on the run. They each must overcome ingrained prejudice for the others. In turn, this helps them identify prejudice in their society and unites them in their quest to save copies of the Jewish Talmud from being burned. (It’s ever so much more wonderfully complicated than that, but that’s the story in a nutshell).
What I Loved
- Hard Questions–I love books that make kids think. Gidwitz doesn’t shy away from hard questions like, “If God is good, why does he allow suffering?” While certain characters pose solutions, the children find their own peace with this question though the story itself.
- Historicity–Gidwitz provides wonderful explanations at the end of the book about where some of the surprisingly true elements of his story came from. In fact, while reading the book, several of the names, details, and stories stood out to me as ones I’ve had heard before.
- Homage to Chaucer–As a former English major, I loved the form Gidwitz chose for this story. Like The Canterbury Tales, this book is told as a series of tales by various people in a bar. The Inquisitor is trying to get at the truth, and various people take turns telling of their encounter with the three children.
- Art–Did I mention this book contains illuminations in much the same way as a medieval text would?
- Profanity–“Damn” is used at least a handful of times and “Ass” more than that (with the double entendre fully intended). There are also at least a dozen cases of Medieval-style blasphemy (e.g. “God’s boots” or “God’s hat”).
- Some gross stuff–So, I didn’t love the farting dragon (which is bizarrely based on a historical account). There is also a very bloody scene where William, the oblate, kills a mob of fiends. However, at that section of the book, I thought they were actual people (I’m still not clear). Since he can only kill them with “flesh and bone” this scene is quite gory (e.g. smashing heads like melons). Although, if your kids have read his A Tale Dark and Grimm, The Inquisitor’s Tale is significantly less gory.
- Universalism–While I truly appreciate the respect Gidwitz treats both Orthodox Judaism and Christianity in the book, the universalism The Inquisitor’s Tale promotes is at odds with both religions. To me, this is the largest issue I had with the book. I’d definitely discuss it with my kids before (and after) handing them this story. In fact, the opportunity for discussion may just be a very good reason for your kids (10 and older) to read this book.