"Big Four" Highlights


 

A Wilder Ride

Adventure tale by EWTN anchor provides inspiration for adolescents

By Brian Caulfield, FFG Editor

You probably know Raymond Arroyo from his popular news show on EWTN, or his bestselling biography of Mother Angelica, the founder of the Catholic media network. Now get ready to meet Raymond Arroyo the action figure, swashbuckler, slayer of seven-headed serpents and fire-breathing demons.

Well, at least Arroyo the author of a new young adult thriller that features these things in a 12-year-old boy who finds himself at the center of forces of good and evil. In the first of a planned series of novels, Will Wilder of Perilous Falls is a brave, adventurous, mischievous, yet good-hearted boy who becomes the unsuspecting protagonist in a nail-biting plot that lifts him out of his middle-school doldrums and into a hidden world. At the heart of the story is a saint’s relic that must be protected from evil forces lest all hell (literally) be unleashed upon the world. The plot also turns on prophecy, prayer, mystery, and three buddies who get into trouble up to their necks (literally) and are delivered by the wisdom of elders and the power of heaven. There are lessons on loyalty, faithfulness, obedience, trust and love that parents will approve of, as well as outstanding parental figures. This latter is a rarity in juvenile literature in which moms and dads too often are separated, clueless, detached, or absent.

Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls, to be released in March by Random House/Crown, has all the ingredients of a great adolescent adventure. Catholic readers will wonder if this is the “Catholic Harry Potter” series that they have been praying for over so many years, but don’t ask Arroyo to answer that question.

Rather than compare his work to the preternaturally popular boy wizard, Arroyo prefers to outline the very real virtues of Will Wilder. “I didn’t set out to make a moral tale, but a central point that comes out in the book is that history is so important to family life,” he said in an exclusive FFG interview. The second point, he continued, is like the first: “You are not alone in this world.”

The story of 12-year-old Will actually begins as World War II ends, when his great grandfather, a U.S. soldier stationed in Italy, claims a finger relic of St. Thomas the Apostle from a bombed-out church to keep a secret society from stealing it. This deceased ancestor is a presence throughout the plot, illustrating Arroyo’s point that our decisions have inevitable influences on our descendants, for good or ill.

Another theme is that an ordinary boy of 12 can possess special gifts and a call from God that will change (or preserve) the world. The drama of Will’s young life does not demand the task so often presented to teens today – do your own thing to find your true self. Rather, Will finds his heroic self by being true to the task set before him by his ancestors, or his destiny. In today’s adolescent literature, this is a radical, even subversive, message.

“The gifts that we receive sometimes are the ones we wish to deny, because of the seeming burden that they place upon us and our sense of freedom and personal fulfillment,” Arroyo explains. “Yet we really never truly find ourselves until we embrace and seek to develop these gifts. This is something I try to bring out in the book.”

Arroyo also draws out in quite graphic fashion the reality of the spiritual world. Will faces dark shadows, ugly monsters, fierce storms, mysterious accidents, dark figures and powers of light. Yet the real battles take place in the moral realm of free will and faith. Will encounters evil in the guise of an apparently good person, and experiences temptation as the false fulfillment of a dream. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, he pursues an apparent good by performing one seemingly small disobedient act that unleashes an underworld of evil.

The father of three children (ages 16, 12 and 10), Arroyo conceived of Will Wilder and his adventures as a “soap opera” – that is, while telling his kids stories during bath time. It took years and much guidance from other writers and editors to weave his tub tales into a saleable novel. Like Will Wilder, Arroyo seeks to fulfill a calling to provide wholesome, entertaining and inspiring books for adolescents. He has also founded a nonprofit called Storyented (rhymes with “oriented”) which addresses the issue of declining literacy among kids.

“In the middle grades kids are discovering themselves and the world and their place in it,” he said. “They still have that child’s innocence, yet they are entering a new stage in which everything will be tested. This book offer characters and a plot in which young people can immerse themselves, and hopefully emerge more ready to face the world and its many challenges.”

Visit raymondarroyo.com for more information on the Will Wilder series.