The Treasure With a Face: Catholic hero’s journey

Author: Janeen Zaio

Publisher: Perpetual Light Publishing

Age Range: 9 – 13

This is the classic tale of the hero’s journey.  Twelve-year-old Eli is sent on a dangerous journey to deliver a precious mirror to a wealthy customer.  Along the way he manages to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges and ultimately finds his true self and vocation.

The story begins with Eli being berated by his short-tempered Uncle Shem.  I have to admit I struggled in the beginning of this story – I didn’t like Uncle Shem and felt depressed because Eli seemed to be trapped in his situation. Eli is presented as an optimistic and imaginative soul who longs to escape and find treasure. He also longs to meet this ‘Jesus’ who people say is the true Messiah.  With growing excitement, Eli learns that he is to make a delivery that will give him the opportunity to meet Jesus.  I’m sure many boys in this age range will relate to Eli’s feelings of longing for adventure.  As a twelve-year-old, Eli feels stirrings of dissatisfaction and dreams of his future life as a treasure hunter.

I began to enjoy the story once Eli had set out on his journey.  The pace picks up and Eli encounters a range of adventures and interesting characters. He has in his possession a knife, gifted from a stranger – a talisman that appears to bring him good luck along the way.  Eli meets bandits and lepers, friends and foes.  He trudges through mud, plods across dry, barren land and scrambles up hillsides to shelter from pounding hailstones. Eli successfully delivers the precious mirror – which is a relief.  The story then takes a turn and focusses on Eli’s encounter with the first Christians.

Eli learns that he will not meet Jesus in person because He has been crucified.  Instead, he meets Mother Mary and Saint John, along with a group of Christians who meet regularly together.  From here, Eli learns about the words of Jesus at the Last Supper and about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  Mary explains the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and Eli begins to partake of the daily ritual of sharing the Blessed Sacrament.  He struggles to understand at first, but ultimately takes a step of Faith and trusts in God.

From there, Eli defeats his enemies, and his destiny is revealed to him as he quietly prays in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The ending is satisfying, and loose ends are tied up all around.  Eli has grown in confidence and understanding.  He has found his vocation and will now move onto the next phase of his life.  The book is well pitched to this age range.  Boys in particular will enjoy the antics of Eli and his new friends as they compete and dare Eli to undertake dangerous feats.  Eli’s courage and abilities are tested and extended.

Author Janeen Zaio

This is a very Catholic book with its exploration of the meaning of the Blessed Sacrament from a young person’s point of view.  The hero’s journey is very well accomplished and is a real strength to this book.  I felt that the whole story could have been edited down, particularly the beginning and ending sections of the book.  The exploration of the Eucharist felt “preachy’ at times and did not hold my interest after the excitement and fast pacing of the previous section of the book.

There is a handy and extensive section at the end which includes a glossary and questions to help engage young readers – such a great help to teachers and homeschoolers. I recommend this book.  It would sit comfortably on the bookshelf next to the Will Wilder series, The Virtue Chronicles and Antony Barone’s Shadow in the Dark. 

Check out more resources for teachers, homeschoolers and children at Janeen Zaio’s website HERE 

Homeschool and Teacher Ideas:

The work is done here: the final section of the book is thorough and very useful.

I recommend you use the questions provided in the book.  I was impressed with the topical nature of the questions – there is scope for in depth conversation, debate and further research.  For example, how do we as contemporary Catholics view the Sabbath?  What about people who leave the Catholic church to attend churches with large crowds and impressive live music?   There’s plenty there to think about and discuss.

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