Book Review: Make It Zero

Make It Zero:  The Movement To Safeguard Every Child, by Mary Frances Bowley with Jennifer Bradley Franklin

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Moody Publishers.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This book was an ambitious aim, and that is to inspire and encourage readers to help protect every child in America from poverty, hunger, isolation, abuse, and trafficking.  It should go without saying that these are ambitious aims and they place the authors in a place with a lot of other idealistic Christians associated with the social gospel [1].  This negative impression is furthered by the way that the authors focus their attention nearly exclusively on systemic and societal problems rather than on personal responsibility.  One example should suffice.  One of the many stories in this book is from a former sex worker who found herself assaulted because of her line of work, freely entered into for the purpose of earning money, and the framing of the story seeks to absolve her of any blame or responsibility for her poor life choices.  In general, the authors seem to think that it is a bad thing that the United States has a culture that focuses more on personal responsibility than the rest of the world, and that worldview tends to make me think less of the authors themselves.

The book consists of fourteen chapters that are divided into five parts.  The introductory chapter claims that this book and its reader, whom the author assumes will be swept up into an idealistic social cause to address these issues, will make a difference.  After that the first four chapters deal with the question of poverty, after that there are two chapters that deal with hunger and food insecurity, after that there are four chapters on isolation, and then two chapters on safety followed by two chapters dealing with trafficking.  Most of the chapters contain stories, usually of a person who struggled with these problems in childhood and found the authors’ social efforts to be a help, mediated through the author’s expression.  At other times the authors give the stories of fellow volunteers who sought to help with these problems through their own idealism.  Every part of the book is ended by action that one can take to identify with the people here, by dressing up in ugly clothes and cooking strange food to model the experience of foster children or being homeless for a day to see how it is like, and the book is closed with a couple of chapters that encourage hope and urge the reader to be a spark that sets the world on fire.

This is a book that I think gets half of the matter right in that it is very tender-hearted towards the many who suffered from horrific and broken childhoods filled with privation and trauma.  In reading this book I found many people whose stories were not so far removed from my own.  To be sure, as someone who can already relate to the people in this book, I found myself offended by the various poverty tourism techniques encouraged by the author to help the book’s target middle and upper class reading audience to have some sort of empathy for the plight of the suffering people in this book.  What I found the book missing was the sort of tough-mindedness that people need as well.  Perhaps that sort of thing is addressed in a sequel, but this book was missing a sense of grim realism that is necessary as well as the authors’ soaring idealism when it comes to living successfully in a fallen world inhabited by people whose native inclinations and family backgrounds lead them to rebel against God’s ways time and time again.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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