Gary Schmidt - English professor • David Crump - religion professor
George Marsden HON
Nancy Hull - English professor

Trouble book coverTrouble
by Gary Schmidt, Calvin English professor, New York, N.Y.: Clarion Books, 2008, 297 pp., $16.

Gary Schmidt describes Trouble as the “most Calvinist book” he’s written.

“This really is a world where trouble is everywhere,” he said. “The question is how do you live in such a world—a world filled with both trouble and grace?”

That is the question for Henry Smith and Chay Chouan, the main characters in Schmidt’s newest young adult novel.

Young Henry Smith never expects to have to deal with trouble. In fact, his father tells him that, “If you build your house far enough away from Trouble, then Trouble will never find you.” And the Smiths believe that is true. Growing up among the rich and privileged in Blythbury-by-the-Sea in a house that has stood for three centuries, Henry Smith has never seen trouble.

Chay Chouan, on the other hand, has dealt with trouble all his life. A Cambodian immigrant from nearby Merton, Chouan seems to have trouble follow him wherever he goes. From refugee camps all the way across the ocean to New England and up the coast to Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine, trouble trails him.

“I thought it would be interesting to take a kid and a town that has never known trouble and a kid who has known nothing but trouble and smash them together and see what happens,” said Schmidt.

That’s how Schmidt begins the novel. “It’s kind of like Romeo and Juliet, but I start with the tragedy,” he said. Trouble in the form of Chay Chouan’s pickup truck crashes into Henry Smith’s older brother, Franklin, leaving him hospitalized and severely injured.

The tragedy sparks racial tension between the two communities and the schools where Chouan and Smith attend.

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“It is such a study in contrast,” said Schmidt, who spent time in Concord, Mass., doing research for a different book. “I saw a 10-year-old boy there dressed in a suit I’ll never be able to afford, carrying a briefcase. He and his mother and grandmother were discussing his acceptance at Concord Academy, a place where they would spend a quarter of a million dollars before he ever reached college and wouldn’t even notice it.

“I looked at him and wondered what he would be like as an adult. How could he ever empathize with real people when he’s never even had to worry about making a choice like if I get these shoes, I can’t afford this shirt? It’s like Henry, who is so privileged he has never had to think of trouble, and suddenly it comes into his life, and money can’t take care of it. What then?”

Trouble drives a wedge between the Smiths and the Chays and their communities, but the story is also about grace. “In the end it will be OK because there is grace in the world,” said Schmidt. “The kids [Chay and Henry and others] have come together and formed this relationship, and it’s all about forgiveness and grace.”

In fact, by the end of the narrative, Smith learns, “The world is Trouble … and Grace. That is all there is,” Schmidt writes.

While the novel is not explicitly Christian, Schmidt said that as a Christian who is a writer, it is not possible to write without reflecting who you are. “I am who I am, and every writer is going to show himself or herself in his or her writing whether intentionally or unintentionally,” he said. “My stories are always going to reflect who I am as a writer. Writing that line about trouble and grace, well, that is what it’s all about—the fall and Christ’s redemption.”

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