Icon: A Novel is a new work by Georgia Briggs, and my daughter loves it.
The book is a young adult novel focusing on Euphrosyne, an Orthodox girl living in a post-Christian America. Icon: A Novel is receiving rave reviews from the Orthodox community, and may be the first entry in a new genre of Orthodox young-adult fiction.
When I found out about the novel, I wanted to try to get my daughter interested in something that encouraged her practice of Orthodoxy. When I found out the author and I share the same hometown, I used that as a point of interest. But it was after reading a sample of the book on Amazon that my daughter insisted we buy it.
She tore through Icon: A Novel in a matter of days, and there were tears in her eyes when she finished. After insisting I do a review of the book for this site, I did her one better: I asked her if she wanted to interview author Georgia Briggs.
Mrs. Briggs graciously agreed to be interviewed, just days after the birth of her daughter. Her comments below contain mild spoilers, so if you haven’t read the novel and don’t want it spoiled, you can buy your copy here.
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What was the inspiration for this book?
This book had a couple different sources of inspiration. The main source was my oldest stepdaughter, who is twelve years old and was the basis for the character of Euphrosyne. I had the idea one night of a girl stuck in an anti-Christian world with a wonder-working icon, and I basically stuck Euphrosyne’s character in that situation and let her tell the story. She was such a strong voice in my head that once I started writing, she took over for me.
Another source of inspiration are the stories that I read about child saints and wonder-working icons. There are many child martyrs who have shown extraordinary faith and courage in the face of persecution. I wondered what they were like, what kind of doubts and struggles they had, and how they managed to persevere. The accounts of wonder-working icons fascinated me, especially stories of icons that bled or reacted when damaged (for instance, the Panagia Portaitissa, and the icon of St. Nicholas “O Streidas”), as they seemed to reflect martyrdom in a mysterious way. The parallels between the bleeding icons and the wounded saints became the core of the book.
Are any of the other characters based on real life people?
Besides Euphrosyne, there are a number of characters that at least started out as real life people and then grew into their own personalities. I based a lot of Mimi’s character on myself, or at least on my experiences as a librarian and my snobbiness about recommending books. Various people from my parish make cameo appearances. Wart is directly based on my Boston Terrier, Scout, who snores and can be mistaken for a chubby black piglet.
Do you have a favorite character? Do you relate to any of the characters?
I relate a lot to Mimi, who wants to be there for Euphrosyne, but is young and inexperienced with kids. My favorite character is Euphrosyne herself. I love how deeply she thinks about things, even though she doesn’t share many of her thoughts with adults.
In the book you depict a vision of Heaven. Is this how you imagine Heaven to be?
(Spoiler alerts!) In the story we follow Euphrosyne around on earth for three days after she dies, but we don’t actually go with her when she travels onward into Heaven. I did this on purpose; I’m just not creative enough to capture the glories of Heaven. I would make it too simple or too sentimental. It’s better left a mystery. The three days on earth are easier to imagine. I don’t know exactly what the transition into afterlife will look like, but this was a good way to wrap up the story.
Do you imagine your guardian angel to be there like Shamar was in the book?
I’ve always wondered what my guardian angel looks like! I imagine mine more like what Shamar becomes as they’re about to pass into Heaven—all bright and fearsome with his sword brandished. It’s a comforting thought when I get creeped out at night.
Do you think the dystopian future Euphrosyne inhabits will ever become reality?
I don’t know. Some things I see on the news make me think we’re heading that way, which scares me, but then again there have been people in every generation who think that society is about to collapse or evil people will take over. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t. If it does, we’ve just got to pray for strength to stay faithful though it.
Does Dr. Snead represent your impression of therapists and doctors?
No, definitely not. I’ve known some amazing therapists and doctors whose personal care for their patients help people recover from devastating trauma and mental illness. Therapy is incredibly helpful. Dr. Snead is more of a government plant than an actual therapist, who would listen to Euphrosyne instead of trying to tell her what she should or shouldn’t believe.
When Euphrosyne goes into the classroom with the other children, is she the only Orthodox child in the room? I’m the only Orthodox child in my class. What advice do you have for kids like me?
For one thing, I would say to focus on beliefs you share with other kids. As an American, you’re probably not going to study or work with many other Orthodox, but there are a lot of Christians and even non-Christians who will share basic values like kindness and loyalty. When you agree on something, enjoy being on the same page as everyone else, and when you don’t agree, hold fast to your own beliefs without being rude or mean.
Be on the lookout for kindred spirits, people who love truth and beauty. Have coffee with them whenever possible.
Are you thinking of writing a sequel or a prequel to this book? Have you already started?
I have started on a sequel, and we’ll see if it becomes a reality! Stories are fragile things. Poke or prod them too much and they collapse, so no promises yet!
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Seriously, if you haven’t bought a copy, you can go grab one now. It looks like a sequel is already in the works. And I know my daughter will be ready.
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