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I Believe in water

Edited by Marilyn Singer

HarperCollins

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280 pp., $15.95

This collection of 12 short stories struggles with the challenge of discussing spiritual convictions with a teenage audience. Using a variety of approaches, the stories address the beliefs of Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Sufis, Jehovah's Witnesses, and voodoo practitioners. The main characters are all teens in moments of identity crisis.

In a story by Virginia Euwer Wolff, three high school girls, of Christian, Islamic, and Buddhist faiths, discover they are pregnant, and agonize in prayer for wisdom and direction.

Another story, "Handling Snakes," by Joyce Carol Thomas, deals with the pitfalls of mindlessly following religious practices. A girl of 12, about to be baptized into a faith that includes handling rattlesnakes during services, witnesses the horrible death of a deacon.

Two of the most effective stories are about voodoo and Sufism. "Esu's Island," by Jess Mowry, is an engaging tale of young teens on an island near Haiti, where the chief's son is about to pass through his coming-of-age ceremony. Religious themes are effortlessly woven through the story and concern delightfully authentic characters.

The story, "I Believe in Water," by M.E. Kerr, is a dialogue between an atheist teenager and her devout grandfather, who longs for her to join his religious faith before his impending death. The story is touching and true, as she holds to her beliefs but clearly loves her grandfather.

This collection of short stories will entertain most teens. Whether or not it will elucidate their own spiritual searching is another question.

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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor