Also by this author: The Dream Traveler's Quest, Into the Book of Light, The Curse of Shadownman, The Garden and the Serpent, The Final Judgment, Millie Maven and the Bronze Medallion, Millie Maven and the Golden Vial, Millie Maven and the White Sword, Play Dead, Nine
Series: Millie Maven
Published by Outlaw Studios on October 2020
Genres: Children's, Fiction, Christian, Suspense, Young Adult
Millie Maven is a three-book, middle grade series (for ages 8-12) from award-winning authors Ted and Rachelle Dekker that is sure to inspire kids for years to come. If you want your children to learn to stand with great courage and conviction in these changing times, this is the series for you and them.
I didn’t know what to expect from a Dekker family team-up. Now I don’t know if I want them to do anything else. That was one of the concluding lines of my review of the Rachelle Dekker/Ted Dekker novel, The Girl Behind the Red Rope. At the time, there hadn’t been firm plans for another team-up, but after the success of the indie-published Dream Traveler’s Quest children’s series, the Dekkers wanted to strike gold again. Millie Maven is a three-book series that hits at the upper echelon of middle-grade novels, a woefully lacking market in Christian fiction. And it is absolute perfection.
This is everything I wanted in this Dekker team-up. It’s Circle-adjacent, in the sense that there’s some definite connections to the Circle universe. Fans of the Circle are going to flip. If I had to talk about this book in terms of the Circle, I’d call it an alternative universe middle-grade version of Showdown, with some significant differences. That’s all I’ll say there. But Millie Maven doesn’t get bogged down in the Circle mythos. It is its own story and it’s entirely captivating.
These are quick reads and they have the typical tropes and styles common in middle-grade novels. There were some parts that seemed a bit juvenile, but that’s because it’s written for juveniles. There were parts I wanted fleshed out or the pacing to be a bit slower or for there to be more depth, but that’s just me wanting more and wanting something that wouldn’t have been a good fit for the target audience. (Believe it or not, Ted/Rachelle don’t write their books with just me in mind.)
Each book hits at just over two hundred pages, making it a substantial read, but not overwhelming. I actually think that the Dekkers could have slowed down the pacing in the last book and pushed it to a four-book series without it feeling like added fluff. A lot happens in the last book that, with some more depth and time, may have been a little more impactful. (Ok, but really maybe it was me just wanting more story.) But it’s well-written, well-edited, clear in its tone and message, appropriate for its intended audience, and seems to have a great internal grasp of its own purpose.
The message of Mille Maven is also on point. While Ted and Rachelle have sometimes had their struggles blending story and message into a seamless whole, the message of Mille Maven is appropriately told and made clear without detracting from the story. The reader learns through the story, as the character learns. It’s still a bit on the nose at times, but in a way that drifts into allegory, not into didactic teaching.
Without giving too much away, in an attempt to escape her evil aunt, Millie Maven dives deep into an enchanted pool and surfaces in the world of FIGS—the FarPointe Institute for Gifted Students. It’s here that students will be taught to utilize their supernatural gifts of strength, transformation, or nurture. These skills will be tested in a Hunger Games style gauntlet, where the winners advance onward and the rest are returned to their homes.
Mille Maven struggles. Cliques soon form and Mille isn’t among the popular. She keeps barely surviving, but her supernatural gifting never manifests. Like all of Rachelle’s books (and many of Ted’s) the theme of discovering one’s identity is strong, and it’s an especially poignant theme for its intended audience. Millie’s struggle to understand herself, her self-doubt, her feelings of inadequacy and failure, are all very relevant struggles. And as Millie learns to overcome, as she faces the enemy named Soren and finds hope in the words of presence of the Great Teacher, she learns that she is complete and perfect, chosen and loved by the Creator himself.
To do a deeper dive into the messaging of the books would be to spoil a fair amount of the rest of the story, so in vague terms, let me say that Mille Maven progresses and regresses from here, and even her teachers at FIGS seem to struggle with understanding Millie’s connection with the Great Teacher and are used to a more works-based system of discovering identity and success. Ted and Rachelle Dekker address the ease with which we are ensnared by false messages and the struggle to discover light and truth.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are also major themes, as Millie Maven must learn to forgive her enemies at FIGS, and to love them even as they conspire against her and actively, but unknowingly work toward their own destruction. There’s a poignant scene, and you’ll know it when you get to it, that suggests that many of the enemies we have in this life act as they do out of fear, self-preservation, or from the genuine belief they are doing the correct thing. Millie finds herself dealing with enemies that honestly believe they are doing what’s best because they’ve been beguiled into a wrong system of thinking. It’s a powerful, deep theme that we should all really think more about, because it changes how we perceive and deal with our enemies. You even deal with characters whose struggle is to forgive themselves, even as they recognize that they have been forgiven, they struggle to reconcile their old self and actions with their new self. It’s powerful stuff, and the imagery used to convey this message is thought-provokingly delightful.
Mille Maven and the Bronze Medallion | Rachelle and Ted Dekker
The first book in the Millie Maven trilogy introduces us to Millie. Millie is, like so many young people in these kinds of stories, an orphan with a strict, loveless caretaker. Mother—actually her aunt—has very exacting ideas on how a young girl should behave and is quite creative in making her point. Mother’s introduction is intense and abrupt. Her verbal and emotional abuse toward Millie is evident and clear, with an undercurrent of self-righteousness. Millie longs for escape and, on the night of her twelfth birthday, she gets it.
Millie Maven and the Golden Vial | Rachelle and Ted Dekker
The second Millie Maven book opens with Millie yet to discover her gift, but in possession of something much greater: a bronze medallion from the Great Teacher himself. It’s caused some consternation among some of the staff (and unbridled glee in others), because the Great Teacher hasn’t been seen or heard from in a long time. Millie’s struggle is that while she has this token of the Great Teacher’s acceptance, she’s still missing the gifts and powers that the rest of the group is discovering in themselves.
Millie Maven and the White Sword | Ted and Rachelle Dekker
The final volume in the Millie Maven trilogy picks up six days the completion of the trial in Millie Maven in the Golden Vial. This time there are no trials. This time is not a quest. This time it’s real—assuming that the world of FIGS is real, and Millie has some idea that it’s more real than her known reality.
There’s so much that happens in such a short time in this book, as the Ted and Rachelle Dekker add a new character arc even as they attempt to close the real earth and other earth(?) storylines while shoehorning in one final twist. I would have preferred if the Dekkers had taken their time on this one and given readers fifty more pages. Or even a fourth book! There’s so much of impact in both story and theme that it deserves to be dwelt on.
This series was everything I hoped it would be. Strong writing, strong themes, just enough of the Circle amid a brand-new story. Not since the Books of Mortals has a Dekker fantasy found me so enraptured. The Dekker bond continues to be a winning combination and I hope this isn’t the last we see of them writing for this audience.