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(Calvin Becker Trilogy #1)

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  708 ratings  ·  106 reviews
Some kids told lies to be special. Calvin told lies to be normal. The son of a missionary family, he looks forward all year to summer vacation in Portofino--especially since he'll once again have the chance to see his beloved Jennifer. But even in this seductive seaside town in Italy, the Beckers can't really relax. Calvin's father could slip into a Bad Mood and start ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published January 1st 1999 by Berkley (first published 1992)
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Average rating 3.78  · 
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Michael Perkins
Oct 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
This novel, about the author's fanatical Protestant fundamentalist family, published in 1999, is a companion volume to a memoir the author wrote about that family, "Crazy for God" (link below), published in 2007.

What makes these books different than similar accounts is that the author's parents were part of what has been called "evangelical royalty." Before I go into what that is and specifically who his parents were, I'd like to offer a bit of clarification that I think is important to
Oct 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
A cute, delightful and endearing coming-of-age autobiography set in the madness of a fundamentalist Christian evangelical family.

The main character is a young boy attempting to be normal in this religiously fanatic family, whose mission, according to his parents, is to "convert the pagans" (which is, according to them, essentially everybody who is not part of the particular, minuscule splinter of one of the many USA Pentecostal "churches" to which they adhere), and whose pre-Enlightenment, 16-th
Sep 04, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People who want to know what goes on behind the scenes of the Religious Right
If youre still in the fundamentalist and/or evangelical fold and are familiar with the writings of Francis Schaeffer -- or even if youve left in the last few years -- the novel Portofino by Schaeffers son Frank is bound to be unnerving. Especially if youve also read his recent autobiography, Crazy for God.

In Portofino, Schaeffer writes about the son of an American missionary family living in Switzerland, following two of their summer holidays in the Italian town that gives the book its name. We
Jun 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great story telling The least believable parts are the least fictional

The best way to enjoy this book is if you know almost nothing about the author. Therefore this will have two parts. Why this is a good read and then what you do not need to know.

Potofino is a fun, funny and touching book. It is the first of three books about a teen aged Calvin Becker and his humorous journey from the self-obsessive awareness of childhood into the larger world view of a not yet adult. This is generally termed
Jan 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved it. A young boy's amusing attempt to be normal in a religiously fanatic family. Good stuff, especially if you went to one of those kinds of churches, colleges, etc. Should be on the shelves of reasonable church libraries in the "therapy" section.
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
I first read this book 20 years ago, and revisited it in preparation for my holiday to the Ligurian coast, where the story is set. Told from the point of view of Calvin, the son of American Protestant fundamentalist missionaries, the narrative features two summer holidays in Portofino, one in 1962 and one in 1965. In addition to the dysfunction of the family, which can be at times sinister, at times amusing, the beauty of the area and the personality of the locals is brought to life by ...more
Bob Henry
Jul 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
This coming of age story is a real page-turner. I found myself at times laughing out loud, sometimes embarrassed, and often relating to Calvin's family. This is a fun novel with rights of passage and moments of brilliance all wrapped into one vacation destination. Frank Schaeffer does an amazing job of creating the tensions of a pastors family, but keeps it authentic and often very raw. This is not the "Christian Novel" that many are expecting, instead it seems more a memoir of the struggles ...more
Jun 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: sicily-italy
to borrow from the reviewers on the book cover,this was wickedly funny,charming and raucous. A coming of age story. Some parts of the book reminded me of Ralphie from Christmas Story. Delightfully fun read, great summer read.
Nov 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I grew up Fundamentalist so I can relate to this book.
Dec 09, 2011 rated it did not like it
This novel has such a wealth of detail about the inner workings of certain lives that I can't help but believe that the author has drawn heavily on his own experiences.

The reason I rated it so low is primarily because the author's portrait of a dysfunctional fundamentalist Christian family on vacation. He painted them all as outrageously self-righteous liars and hypocrites. The characters are unbalanced and unlikable.

The father is particularly awful. He seldom attempts to control his rage and he
Oct 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I liked this author's non-fiction and thought I'd try his fiction. This book is hilarious. At least partially autobiographical, it's the story of a boy (10 in the first half; 13 in the second half) named Calvin who goes on vacation every year to Portofino, Italy. His parents are fundamentalist missionaries of a severely Calvinist sect that keeps splitting; his mother is one of those super-pious types who weaponize prayers and try to "witness" to strangers on trains using gimmicky things like the ...more
Wendy L
Jun 25, 2013 rated it liked it
What a sweet, touching, uproariously funny novel! As one of those pagan Roman Catholics the Beckers were trying to "save", I was able to enjoy the book without the baggage of knowing the author's parents in real life were reknowned Protestant missionaries. That knowledge seems to be responsible for some of the ambivalent reviews.

The story reminded me of the show, "The Wonder Years," only set a decade earlier and much funnier. The narrator's voice is utterly convincing as a 10 to 14 year old boy
Dec 19, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Someone who grew up as a fundmentalist Christian
Having been raised by strong fundamentalists, I had a hard time putting this book down. The language of the prayers, the choruses, the "winessing", the embarrassment of not feeling normal is probably universal among children who grew up in the same boat. I liked the subplot with Jennifer, a British girl whom he sees every year that the family takes their vacation in Italy. The flaws of the parents are so glaring. Yet, young Calvin, the protagonist, manages to have lots of beach friends. I would ...more
Sep 10, 2009 rated it liked it
I did not expect to like this book as much as I did, considering how little I have in common with the lead character. However, I did find that I could relate to his spirit and the way he questioned so many things and did what he wanted to. I thought the book was very well written and interesting to read. I did not find it as funny as others did, though the family interactions are humorous. Mostly I thought it was kind of a sad book because the family is scared of the dad and his behavior. I was ...more
Apr 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Having grown up in a family with fundamentalist leanings, I resonated with Calvin's desire to be "normal" and burst into laughter at several points as Schaeffer painted a picture of how ridiculous we Christians can sometimes seem. At the same time, the book paints a sad picture of broken people who feel the need to hide their brokenness behind religious platitudes. I kept changing my mind about whether I liked the story or not, and the 3 star rating reflects the fact that I still can't make up ...more
Bert Stanaland
Mar 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent!!! This is the honest, innocent account of life in a super religious missionary family, who are out to convert the Catholics in Switzerland and their vacation spot in Italy and yet Mom uses her prayers to correct the Dad and maintain her superiority over him. Dad has a nasty temper and even went so far as to throw all the supper dishes on the floor in one of his tantrums, and yank the toilet tank off the wall. This is humorous, and fun, just charming. I hated to see it end. No ...more
Jul 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
Calvin Becker, the lad featured in Portofino, is one of the most self-absorbed, devious characters I've come across. In Elsa Becker, the author sketches a very strong-willed woman who uses her hyper-spiritual to manipulate others. The best thing about the novels is the wicked sense of humor. However, from this trilogy it is clear that Frank Schaeffer scorns his family but continues to make his living off of their fame. He is still hooked in! He needs to individuate and get on with his own life.
Oct 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
The first book in the "Calvin Becker" trilogy, this is the semi-autobiographical work of the youngest son of one of the last century's great theologians -- Dr. Frances Schaeffer. The trilogy centers on the real retreat known as L'Abri,in Switzerland.

For anyone who grew up in a fundamentalist (Christian) church or home, this will be a fun read. If you enjoy the trilogy, I would save "Crazy For God" till after you have finished these three.
Oct 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
"Portofino" brings a good story and humor together, providing constant entertainment... I couldn't put the book down. All vacations end with forlorn, as did Portofino. When I reached the last page, I remembered the ache in my youthful heart when I looked out the back window of the car at the beach we were leaving behind.

For all those looking for a lighthearted, humorous read, you've found it.
Mike Barker
Oct 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Thoroughly enjoyed this. I suppose I've become a little jaded from reading so many junky killer-mysteries that I kept waiting for something untoward to happen. But this was remarkably tame. The rigors of growing up in an evangelical missionary family are revealed for all their quirky creepiness. But again not in a wholly unsettling way. Onward to the other two books in the series!
Aug 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who grew up in strict religion and is evaluating
I think this is one of the funniest books I ever read. I keep so I can read about every year and it still cracks me up.

Little Calvin and his families quest to save the heathen Roman Catholics from certain damnation. on vacation . . . in Italy.
Aneel Trivedi
Nov 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion, comedy
This is one of my all-time favorite books. Schaeffer brilliantly and hilariously nails (and destroys) the theology of strict Calvinists. Calvin (the character) is my hero. And the octopus incident makes me cry laughing every time I think about it.
Carolyn Brandt
Sep 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I loved this story. To this day this book makes me long to see Portofino! It has been at least 10 years since I have read this book and I can still picture the scenery there, the smells, and the people. Unforgettable.
Apr 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
I thought this book was very funny and entertaining. The juxtaposition of Reformed Presbyterians trying to vacation in Italy without falling prey to any of its charms was very funny.
Paul Thomas
Nov 29, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: character-dev
A cute, somewhat endearing story about a boy in a born again Christian family that takes an annual vacation to Italy. However, the story is pretty flat, and the writing is average. I almost gave up on this 200 page "novel" for lack of development a few times, so I can't imagine why it is part of a trilogy. I certainly won't read the next two.

The story never develops. We know early on that Calvin is a likable 10 year old boy who has a younger and an older sister. We know early on that his
Sep 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is a stark reminder that Christians must not idolize their leaders.

Once I got over the disappointment of hearing about the dark side of the father character who is obviously based on Francis Schaeffer, I found this book to be very funny, keenly observant, and overall well-written. Being both raised Christian and a Christian still, I could identify with some of the ridiculousness of the Christianese language and customs; however, I cant help but be sad that, if Francis Schaeffer is
Mar 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, fiction
Although a work of fiction the book carries a strong feel of memoir. The insights into a fairly fundamentalist, calvinistic, evangelicalism are both hilarious and VERY painful to read. I imagine the book wouldn't make a great deal of sense unless one had some insight into this Christian scene.
Sarah Rigg
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read this directly after reading the author's memoir about growing up in a fundamentalist Christian family famous in those circles, and enjoyed this novel by Schaeffer as well. A funny coming-of-age story.
Tom Woltjer
Sep 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very entertaining and enlightening
Jun 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: popsugar-2018
Enjoyable vacation read about a family of Evangelical Christians who go on an annual vacation to Portofino.
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Frank Schaeffer is a New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen books. Frank is a survivor of both polio and an evangelical/fundamentalist childhood, an acclaimed writer who overcame severe dyslexia, a home-schooled and self-taught documentary movie director, a feature film director of four low budget Hollywood features Frank has described as pretty terrible. He is also an acclaimed ...more

Other books in the series

Calvin Becker Trilogy (3 books)
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“But our prayers needed to be long so that we might not hide our lamp under a bushel, so that we wouldn’t get to heaven and find that we had been ashamed of the Lord and that because of this He would say we had denied Him before men so He would deny us before the Father.” 0 likes
“When Bible-believing fundamentalist Reformed Protestants go on vacation in Roman Catholic Italy, surrounded by unbelievers, they must witness to the truth.” 0 likes
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