Twins Elisha and Elijah Springfield are members of The Veritas Project, a top-secret investigation team that seeks not only the facts behind strange mysteries and crimes, but also the truth behind the facts. Commissioned by the president himself, The Veritas Project consists of the twins along with their highly trained parents, Nate and Sarah.
In Frank Peretti's Hangman’s Curse, The Veritas Project has received a new assignment: to investigate the strange events taking place at Baker High School.
Three popular athletes at the school lie in incoherent comas, victims of a mysterious form of madness. Rumor has it that the athletes are cursed by Abel Frye, a young man who hanged himself in Baker High decades before and who is said to haunt the school. Although homeschooled by their parents, Elisha and Elijah enroll in Baker High as undercover agents to discover the truth about Abel Frye, as the curse claims victim after victim.
Hangman’s Curse tackles several weighty issues head-on. Relentless bullying and the occult involvement of several “uncool” students are central plot elements of Hangman’s Curse. Drugs and suicide are also mentioned. Parents of younger teenagers may therefore wish to exercise caution with this book. However, Peretti manages to send a positive message regarding such troubling matters, vividly portraying the heartbreak that results from treating others unkindly. Elisha summarizes a lesson learned from her involvement in the case: “People are precious, and sometimes we forget that.”
Peretti also addresses the non-Christian worldview frequently taught in schools, including evolution, moral relativism, and postmodernism. In several passages throughout the book, Peretti clearly intends to provide teenagers with arguments against such beliefs. Elijah and Elisha debate with their teachers, point out inconsistencies in textbooks or lectures, and argue for a Christian view of truth and morality. Unfortunately, they come across more as nuisances than as lights in a dark classroom, while the views expressed by their teachers are rather caricatured. Yet Peretti’s overall message is sound: “When you lose sight of God, you lose sight of what the Truth is.”
In the sequel, Nightmare Academy, Elijah and Elisha are sent on another assignment: to discover why fifteen-year-old Alvin Rogers lies in a hospital bed, with all truth erased from his mind. Their investigation leads them to a youth shelter, where they enter a summer camp as undercover agents. Elijah and Elisha soon find themselves as victims of a horrifying experiment to create life without truth. Nothing is as it seems, and the mission of camp directors is to destroy the minds of teenage participants. “It’s as if his whole mind has been erased,” marvels one camp director. “All knowledge, all logic . . . gone.”
Like Hangman’s Curse, this book emphasizes the futility of relativistic truth and morality. Here, however, relativism rather than bullying is the central topic. In Nightmare Academy, Peretti portrays and addresses three postmodern conceptions of truth: The individual defines truth, the group defines truth, and those in power define truth.
The teenagers at the camp experiment with defining their own reality, truth, and morality and experience disastrous results, while camp directors illustrate the chaos, fear, and destruction that results when those in power define these things. In several scenes throughout the book, Elijah and Elisha question the relativistic brainwashing that occurs at the camp, using arguments similar to those expressed in Hangman’s Curse.
Frank Peretti, perhaps best known for This Present Darknessand Piercing the Darkness, is a master storyteller whose books are hard to put down. Nightmare Academy and Hangman’s Curse are exciting, suspenseful, and -- unlike many of their genre -- wholesome. Peretti even uses his stories to communicate a Christian view of truth and morality.
Both books tackle a wide range of weighty issues -- perhaps so many that, unfortunately, artistic concerns are sacrificed. While Peretti rightly urges teenagers to question a relativistic view of truth and morality, at times the books seem to be more didactic than artistic. They suffer from the heavy-handed and ungraceful manner in which moral lessons are communicated. However, that aside, both Nightmare Academy and Hangman’s Curse are thrilling tales that teenagers will surely enjoy.
Image copyright Thomas Nelson. Review copy supplied by the publisher.
Marissa Krmpotich is a writer and student in Northern Virginia.
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