If you’re craving more books like The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe with clean fantasy and wonderfully shown Christian symbolism, Millie Maven by Ted and Rachel Dekker is an awesome trilogy we’d recommend. Though it isn’t without its flaws, it echoes the great works of Lewis with its realistic redemption arcs, creative world, and excellently crafted character confidence.
Though there were certainly many good parts of this trilogy, there were a few flaws as well. The world system, though certainly creative, was confusing and wasn’t ever fully explained. In the first book, a random assortment of kids are picked to be tested for supernatural abilities. If they succeed in these tests, they get to go to a school called FIGS (the FarPointe Institute for Gifted Students.) Millie gets a red medallion at the end of her trials, a chosen, special honor that has never been given before. However, it is also vaguely mentioned without explanation that Mac, Millie’s best friend, could also be the red medallion of her own story. How the different realities with multiple red medallions work together was never explained, and instead led to reader speculation. This part slightly distracted the reader from the main point of the story, though the well-written prose and engaging plot certainly made up for it.
We also found that Millie wasn’t unique. She had the desires and fears that make up the core of every character, but she didn’t seem to have many interests or personality traits that set her apart (besides her love of drawing which was mentioned briefly at the beginning but dropped.) She didn’t have any spunky catchphrases like her best friend Mac or a quirky obsession like Boomer but came across as somewhat bland. Yet, despite all of this, she was still relatable because of her desires, which the authors showed at the very beginning.
So many fantasy books begin with orphaned children who are in the care of an evil guardian and Millie Maven was no different. The trilogy opens with an introduction to Millie’s life imprisoned under the oppressive rule of her evil aunt, who forces her to call her “Mother” and scrub her mansion clean daily. Yet despite this overdone opening, the authors also made sure to begin with giving Millie a desire (to celebrate her twelfth birthday) right away, which made her quickly sympathetic. This contrasts with the many other such openings that expect sympathy to come simply from meeting a character with a difficult or broken family situation. On top of this, the cliche also served to further the author’s analogy. Similar to works by Bunyan and Lewis, Ted and Rachel Dekker meant to write a fantasy-adventure story that mirrored many aspects of a Christian’s journey of coming to and serving Christ. Since the Bible often describes unbelievers as “enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6), this fits perfectly with the picture the authors painted of life before Christ (or as they call Him, The Great Teacher).
Millie spent the majority of her life slaving away for practically no reason other than it was all she had ever known. When a mysterious woman named Aggie offers Millie the chance to travel to the distant land of FIGS and perhaps change her life forever, Millie accepts. She reaches the FarPointe Institute for Gifted Students with over twenty other students, all gathered to learn about the Great Teacher and discover their individual “gifts” — supernatural powers that are meant to assist them in learning about the Great Teacher. Millie quickly realizes that she was not given a gift, and throughout the trilogy fights feelings of inadequacy. But instead of solving this problem by giving Millie many feats of strength and bravery to accomplish so as to show her “true worth,” the authors offered Millie promises from the Great Teacher, who meets Millie and reminds her that she has been chosen and is loved, and that nothing she could bring to the table would ever change that.
This was immensely refreshing after so many novels of “inadequate” protagonists who find their worth within themselves, which is an unbiblical and ultimately unsatisfying resolution. Millie is overall an unremarkable protagonist with an extremely remarkable God, which is where our hearts and minds should always turn to when faced with worthlessness and difficulty.
Although the authors did not cover every aspect of the Gospel, the themes the authors did select (worthlessness without Christ, forgiving others no matter what the wrong, and the ultimate triumph of good over evil, etc.) were done remarkably well. Ted and Rachelle Dekker spun a surprisingly poignant tale by getting at Millie’s deepest desires and fears and bringing biblical truth to light in those moments. This made the books touching and powerful, especially when considering that Millie was not the only character whose desires and fears were explored in such detail. Even the “villains” of the story had raw, powerful moments of weakness and even redemption. In fact, one of our favorite parts of this trilogy were the multiple redemption arcs.
Throughout the trilogy, Millie’s dread and fear of both her abusive “Mother” and the bully Doris (who constantly and publicly mocks her for her missing gift) is understandable. The authors did well at making us resent both antagonists. Yet when the time came for redemption arcs, the turn-around was remarkably well done. The authors wove the biblical theme of forgiveness throughout their arcs, which is a big part of what made them so believable. Millie starts to understand that those she considers her enemies are hurting, and that they attempt to prove that they are strong by hurting her. Once Millie understands this, she is able to offer forgiveness to those she once feared.
From the classroom bully to Mac, Millie’s bubbly friend, every character went through some measure of transformation. The authors displayed a deep understanding of what motivated each of their characters. In fact, the well-developed and at times slightly quirky side characters made some of the most interesting character moments in the series. The authors clearly poured much time and energy into making the many supporting characters interesting and highly realistic (even in certain aspects where Millie’s character might have been lacking). Not a single side character was a cookie-cutter member of a troupe, even though some originally appear to be. Each one travels their own journey to discover the biblical truths echoed through this beautifully-written Gospel analogy. The individual details that make each character unique is one of the most impressive aspects of the trilogy.
From colorful side characters and relatable redemption arcs to a “worthless” protagonist who finds her worth in The Great Teacher, this trilogy is a unique and impactful display of the all-powerful love of Jesus.
Hi! My name is Mara, and I’m a Christian artist, violinist, and blogger. I remember the day that I decided that I would learn something new about what makes a good story from every book I picked up — whether it was good, bad, or a mixture of both. I use my blog as a way of sharing some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned and to highlight which books, cartoons, and movies have taught me the most about writing an awesome story. I’m in tenth grade and live in Philadelphia.
Hello, I’m Sophia! I’m a child of God and I love to write! I’m also a total theater kid and a strong dessert (specifically cupcake) enthusiast. For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed both reading and making my own stories. I’m so glad I get to share with you what I’ve learned from some of my favorite (or sometimes least favorite) stories on my blog. And in case you’re wondering, Mara and I are cousins. I live in Philadelphia and am in eighth grade.
3 thoughts on “Millie Maven: A Trilogy Review by Guest Bloggers Mara and Sophia Scudder”
Mara and Sophia, I enjoyed this review so much! You did a great job showing both what worked and what didn’t with a neutral tone. Thanks for sharing! I’ll have to check out this series.
Thank you for your thorough and insightful book review, Mara and Sophia!
Thank you so much for your review of this series. I have looked at these books multiple times, but haven’t yet tackled them. I’m so grateful to get your reflective and thorough perspective on them.