I recently finished the book The Fourth Apple Tree by Joseph Scotto. It is a very interesting book about a boy's summertime adventures with his friends. It also tells of the boy's search for truth. What is very interesting is that you see a kid that just finished 6th grade, searching for truth. It's rather amazing, considering many adults search for truth and don't seem to find it.
The author, Joseph Scotto, is a former teacher of mine. He was my teacher for Biology, Advanced Biology, Chemistry, Physics, German II, and he filled in for a while as my Geometry teacher. He is a Christian man, and his lifestyle reveals that. He wrote this book as a novel, as fiction (which is somewhat odd, considering that this book is about the search for truth). Yet he admittedly uses many actual circumstances in his own life to tell this story. Let's just call it autobiographical fiction.
I cannot help but think (because I really do not know) that the search for truth is the actual story of how he found Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. The storyline surrounding this truth is filled in with intimate details of the games they played, the emotions that they experienced, the exploits they pursued, and the "enemies" they made that particular summer of 1968, which were probably made up to some degree to fill in the details.
The book starts out as school lets out in late spring of 1968. Joe and his friends are playing "The Game," an amped-up game of tag. They play this game this throughout their neighborhood. Sometimes, the storyline gets tediously detailed in its description of "The Game," but you get a sense of the personalities and character of Joe and his friends. Throughout the book, Joe and his friends play this game often.
They also play little league baseball. The group of friends play on different teams, but they all come out to support each other. The author also uses baseball to help to reveal the character of Joe and his friends. The author also shows how the proverbial bench-warmer, Joe, uses his time in the dugout, as well as 1st or 3rd base coach, to think about his search for the truth and to ponder the events going on around him.
While at a baseball game, Joe's brother, Phil, has his bike stolen. Joe, along with Steve, and the rest of the group, try to find who stole Phil's bike and what they did with it. Along the way, they find out that the group that stole Phil's bike has also stolen many other bikes and are moving them around the neighborhood trying to hide them from everyone, including the police. They also discover that this group of bike thieves is dealing marijuana, which only complicates the situation.
Joe and Steve spend a lot of time trying to spy on the bike thieves to find out what they are doing with the bikes. They want to turn these people into the police, but they need evidence of where the bikes are being kept. While the other friends are involved, Joe and Steve do the bulk of this spying. They are eventually caught spying by the bad guys, and are on the run from them for a good portion of the story.
While Joe spends his time scared that these bad guys are going to eventually catch him and hurt him, he finds consolation in a place you wouldn't really expect to find it - with a former hippie named Larry. Larry was visiting a friend in Joe's neighborhood when Joe crossed Larry's path. Larry was talking about how he lived a life of drugs, but hit rock bottom and eventually found Jesus Christ and got saved. He is sharing his story with people in Joe's neighborhood. While many of Joe's friends laugh at Larry, Joe listens to him. This is what Joe wants - he wants to know the Truth.
Joe and Larry cross paths a few more times that week, and Larry continues to share the truth of Jesus Christ with Joe, and whoever else he comes in contact with. This causes Joe to go home and start reading his Bible to find out who this Jesus is. As Joe read his Bible and talks with Larry, he has more and more questions. Quite remarkable, considering that this kid, who just finished 6th grade, is this involved in a search for truth when many adults don't even care about the Truth.
Anyway, it wasn't until Joe thought that the bad guys were surely going to catch him, and he is running for his life, that he stops and puts his trust in Jesus Christ as his Savior. After this, a tremendous calm comes over him, because he knows that God will protect him. And this changes his perspective throughout the rest of the story.
So, as the story comes to a conclusion, we find Joe and a couple of his friends in the dugout after a baseball game. The bad guys have them cornered. The bad guys want Joe and his friends to smoke some marijuana, and then they said they will let them go. Joe refused, even after his best friend, Steve, did it. Still trying to find a way to get away from these guys, Joe and his friends wait until the bad guys get distracted, and they make a run for it. Joe then goes and hides in the woods.
This is where the 'fourth apple tree' comes into play. Joe knows these woods very well, and he navigates his way through the woods, at night, to get away from the bad guys who are chasing him. He finds a narrow corridor that leads him to this tree, the 4th apple tree. The people chasing him are not able to find this corridor, but Joe knows they are very close - he can hear them. Joe finds a place to hide at the base of this tree. It is a place where he finds comfort and protection. A place where he can pray to God for safety and delivery. A place where he can wait out the bad guys and experience God's protection.
Eventually, the other friends who got away are able to contact the police, who then come and arrest the bad guys, and Joe is free to come out of hiding. While this would be a traumatic experience for anyone, especially someone of Joe's age, Joe uses the situation to draw closer to God and rely on Him for safety and protection.
Throughout the story, we see how Joe's curiosity about the truth led him to a real search for the truth. We see that even though Joe's friends did not take Jesus seriously, Joe still wanted to know more about him. He avoided the negative peer pressure in order to pursue this truth that he was longing for.
We see how people can be used to further the cause of Christ. No one would think that a hippie would be a good witness for Christ, but it was because of him that others came to know Christ. God can use anyone.
And we can see that knowing God can give a Christian peace that only God can give, even in the face of difficulty. While Joe's human emotions of fear want to take over at the end of the story, he prays to God and relies on him for his protection. How much can we learn from this 12-year old kid who turns his life over to God and relies on him for protection from his enemies? We would all do well to follow his example.
This book is long (501 pages, to be exact). While at times it was tedious reading (in describing "The Game" or talking about nearly every pitch in a baseball game), the overall storyline will hold your attention. As I got into the book, I wanted to continue reading it. It did not get boring. It held my attention, and I continually wanted to come back to find out what was going to happen next to Joe and his friends. I congratulate Joe on his 1st novel, and look forward to a possible sequel.