Remember, you read it here first. N. D. Wilson (no relation, I hasten to add) is a name that will soon be widely known. He will write many books, Lord willing, in many genres for our instruction and delight. His first is Leepike Ridge (Random House).

Still in his 20s, Wilson hails from Moscow, Idaho, where his father, Douglas Wilson (one of the leading lights of the classical Christian schooling movement), and a group of kindred spirits have built a Christian community of Reformed conviction centered on Christ Church in Moscow. Wilson the younger is a fellow of literature at New Saint Andrews College, where he also "teaches classical rhetoric to freshmen" (the book jacket informs us), a daunting task, and serves as managing editor of Credenda/Agenda magazine, published by the Christ Church community.

Earlier this year, a short story by Wilson appeared in Esquire magazine, and he'll have adult fiction in book form before too long. (No, not that kind of "adult.") Meanwhile, he has made his debut with what gets called "a novel for young readers"—in this case, as publishing conventions go, readers age 8 to 12.

Like many of the age-based generalizations that are common currency in our day, this publishing category combines the silly with the sensible. There is the pseudo-scientific precision of the age range and behind it a pedantic conception of reading that adventurous readers young and old consistently ignore. The young ones wantonly read above their "grade level" (while retaining an affection for the picture-heavy volumes in which they first sounded out words); the old ones move without fuss from Walker Percy and Calvin's Institutes to Narnia and the adventures of Frog and Toad.

So yes, Leepike Ridge was clearly written with young readers (perhaps even young Wilsons) in mind. Ever since the Harry Potter books began breaking records, publishers have been investing more time and money in fiction for kids. But like all books that satisfy a discerning 8-year-old or 10-year-old, this novel will also hold the attention of a reader in his 30s or 70s, especially if that reader has children or grandchildren nearby.

One of the salient qualities of satisfying fiction, of course, is that it bears re-reading (and re-reading and re-reading). Still, there's a particular never-to-be-repeated pleasure in following a story to its end for the first time, and I don't want to spoil the fun of the readers of this review, who will (I hope) pick up a copy of Leepike Ridge at the first opportunity. But without giving too much away, I can tell you that Wilson's tale features a winsome 11-year-old protagonist, Thomas Hammond, whose adventures unfold in a rural American setting that pretty closely resembles our familiar world, unencumbered by needless specificity and bathed in a certain strangeness. Not a tall tale exactly, and certainly not an epic (though there are playful allusions to the Odyssey), but something closer to a yarn, cross-bred with the boys' adventure stories that once sold like hotcakes and recounted by a narrator who is slyly funny as well as omniscient.

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Oh, Boys

Boys. That brings us to an important subject, one that prudent souls avoid altogether. (Consider the career-crippling remarks of former Harvard president Larry Summers.) As a man who—for instance—doesn't drive a car and never has, I'm as ready as the next right-thinking citizen to decry facile generalizations. But that hasn't prevented me from noticing that men and women, boys and girls, are … different from one another.

You may feel a certain twitching as you read Leepike Ridge aloud to a young listener. Those are your reader's antennae at work, signaling you to pay close attention: The writer is up to something. Consider Thomas's mother, Elizabeth, for instance. She is hardly a shrinking violet—on the contrary, she's strong and resourceful. Still, she's felt the burden of raising a son alone since her husband died. And as the plot unfolds, she actually needs to be rescued, like fictional women in less enlightened times.

Possibly, possibly, this is a story written first for boys—though not with the notion that girls (and women) will disdain it across the board. (I love the novels of Barbara Pym, after all.) The action includes a lot of mucking around in caves and such, with plenty of gross-out scenes and some rough-and-ready Popular Mechanics-style science. The bad men in the story—all too banally evil, in fact—are models, for a boy, of how not to be a man. And Tom's co-hero, Reg, doesn't correspond to the hip figures staring out at us from full-page movie ads. He's disabled by an injury. For a while he has to wear a girl's shirt—pink and much too small, with bubbly flowers. He has interesting theories about pre-Columbian settlers in America, which he's willing to expound at length.

Where do boys look for models these days? Reg—Reginald Ulysses Fisher—isn't a bad place to start, though it's unfair to put too much weight on his shoulders. He's a loyal friend. He's brave, funny, and inventive. He knows his Bible, and he knows how to pray. At the same time, he has a blessedly independent streak—which cost him his position at an Ivy League university, but which allows him to assess with an open mind the elaborate carvings and statuary he discovers in a mountain's hidden chambers.

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Plenty there for an 8-year-old. Meanwhile, our reader may be twitching again, wondering why the names of certain characters ring a bell (Are they from Homer? From somewhere else?) and why certain scenes are reminiscent of … what? Nothing on the surface of the prose impedes the flow of the story, but some readers will delight in taking it apart, tinkering with it, figuring out how it's put together.

Stories, stories, stories. The Bible is full of them, though you wouldn't always guess that from reading theology. Indeed, Christians in general and evangelicals in particular have often had trouble remembering the place of stories. Even when they are ostensibly celebrating stories, evangelicals feel more comfortable reducing them to some tidier form of cognition.

Not N. D. Wilson. He knows in his bones that stories matter. "In the history of the world," Leepike Ridge begins, "there have been lots of onces and lots of times, and every time has had a once upon it. Most people will tell you that the once upon a time happened in a land far, far away, but it really depends on where you are." And wherever and whenever you are, wherever we are, we are all part of the one story of Creation and Fall and redemption, to be consummated in the Great Feast that we anticipate each time we celebrate the Eucharist. (Reg and Tom make do with Crazy Berry. It's every bit as efficacious as wine.) That's a story for the ages, and for all ages, to be told and re-told as long as the world keeps turning.

John Wilson is the editor of Books & Culture.

Related Elsewhere:

Leepike Ridge is available from and other retailers.

It was Books & Culture's book of the week.

The author's father, Douglas Wilson, summarized and reviewed Leepike Ridge on Blog and Mablog.

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