A YA Double Dip: When Good Religion Goes Bad…

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Today’s Double-Dip deals with those times when religion becomes mildly to massively unpalatable.  I’ve got two super-engaging YA titles for you here (both of which I received as digital titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley and Edelweiss), so grab a dip-worthy snack and your condiment of choice and let’s get dipping!

First up: Misdirected: A Novel by Ali Berman…

Fifteen-year-old Ben is resigned to the fact that he is moving across the country to a small conservative town in Colorado.  His sister has just moved away to college and his brother is serving in Iraq, so Ben knows that with just him and his parents, this move is going to be difficult.  What Ben doesn’t count on is the Christian majority at his new school.  In fact, it seems that nearly every student is a Bible-thumping, God-botherer who thinks Ben is some kind of devil-child because he has chosen to be an atheist.  While Ben tries hard to fit in and ignore the obvious differences between his beliefs and those of his classmates, barriers are thrown up at every turn – first, his only new friend Tess is forbidden from associating with him, then his Science teacher makes a fool of him for accepting evolution as fact.  As Ben’s school life spirals slowly downward, he has to ask himself the tough question – is it worth standing up for your beliefs when it means you’re left standing alone?

Dip into it for…misdirected 2

…a highly engaging and thought-provoking read that really gets to the heart of freedom of religion and the impact that this has on how people behave.  Ben is a fleshed-out character who is portrayed as a normal everyday kid who has been prompted to evaluate what it is he actually believes when he finds himself in an unexpected situation.  The other characters in the book also have strong back-stories and all the characters that pop up in the story – adults and teens and in-betweens – have believable flaws and blind spots that drive their behaviour.

As well as the main plotline about religious belief (or lack of it), the story also covers issues of alcoholism, friendship challenges, homosexuality, grief and loss, and the impact of war on returned soldiers.  And then there’s Ben’s skills as a magician.

Don’t dip if…

…religious and philosophical debate is not up your alley.  While it’s presented in a very accessible and engaging way, this book is about religious belief (or the choice to forego religious belief) and if that’s not your thing, this may not be for you.  This book is probably also best suited to an American audience, because I suspect that you may be the only place in the western world with such overt and influential Christian lobbies.

Overall Dip Factor

I got sucked into this one very quickly and read it compulsively to the end.  There were a few little niggles that I experienced with the plot points – would such open-minded parents as Ben’s, who seem to promote and encourage independent thought in their offspring really send their child to a school that teaches Creationism as scientific fact, for instance – but I was able to get over these pretty quickly, as Berman does a wonderful job of developing all the hanging plot points and tying up the loose ends.  I would highly recommend this to readers of YA who like to be challenged and who are looking for something with a different twist on the starting-a-new-school story.

Next we have Creed by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie…

On what is supposed to be a fun out-of-town trip to celebrate a relationship milestone, Dee, her boyfriend Luke and Luke’s brother Mike run out of petrol in the middle of nowhere in the snow.  Desperate to push on and make their awesome night to remember, the three set off in search of a petrol station and help.  What they find is Purity Springs, a small isolated town that has everything any normal town should have – lights on in houses, meals on tables – except there is nobody in sight.  Creeped out and ready to return to the car, petrol or no, at first light the three are terrified to find themselves chased and then assisted by Joseph, a teen they don’t know if they can trust.  As things take a turn for the worse and the three friends fall under the control of Elijah Hawkins – religious zealot and self-proclaimed prophet – it appears that making it out of town alive is not a guaranteed outcome.  Seperated from Luke and Mike and unsure of how far she can rely on Joseph, Dee will have to fight to the death if she doesn’t want to end up shackled to Elijah and his brainwashed followers for all eternity.

creedDip into it for…

…a psychological thriller for the teen set that also has its fair share of gut churning cruelty.  I was surprised at how well this was put together as the initital few chapters had me questioning how high the quality of the narrative would be and whether I could hang in there with some pretty ordinary characters (that is, the main trio).  Despite the initial dialogue and thought-monologues that seemed annoyingly juvenile at first, the authors did a great job of setting up a sense of unease and lingering danger as the teens first encounter Purity Springs.

There’s also a genuinely psychotic older gentleman who makes life both horror-filled and quite icky for Dee, some henchman that ensure Elijah Hawkins grip is extended beyond the borders of one small town, and a whole lot of unsavoury happenings that generally have you wishing that someone would drop from the sky and rescue everyone, because you just know that it isn’t going to end well.

Don’t dip if…

…you like your psychological thrillers to be wrapped up neatly in the closing chapters.  The authors seem to have little regard for happy endings and the final chapter is somewhat ambiguous when it comes to the fates of those who emerge from Purity Springs.  This probably won’t be the book for you either if the thought of people being held against their will and sinister religious zealots who will do anything to retain control over their followers gives you the heebies.

Overall Dip Factor:

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I got sucked into this story.  It wasn’t exactly what I expected – I think I was imagining some kind of paranormal threat in Purity Springs – but it turned out to be engaging in a gut-churning kind of way.  As I don’t read many psychological thrillers, the level of creepiness in this one suited my tolerance levels but if you are more accustomed to this genre, it may not be quite up to scratch.  I did find the characters (particularly Dee and Joseph) left me with a niggling feeling of irritation whenever I finished reading one of their interactions, but I would definitely recommend this one to teen readers at the upper end of the age bracket who are looking for something creepily atmospheric, rather than downright horrific, or those who like a scary-but-bearable level of disturbance in their psychological thrillers.

I hope I’ve convinced you to to dip into either or both of these….

Until next time,

Bruce

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5 thoughts on “A YA Double Dip: When Good Religion Goes Bad…

  1. The second book sounds really interesting, I do tend to imagine every small town in America to be like that to be fair but it does have the vibe of something a little strange, like Silent Hill perhaps…the first one sounds a little too blatant in its themes, I am right in thinking that it could be a little too preachy(!) to an adult readership?

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  2. lol…you guys need to develop a broader image of America’s small towns 🙂 Trust me, you would only find “bible thumping” more in the bible belt and specific areas. And the dynamics of towns can differ from one end of a state to another, certainly from state-to-state and region to region, just like our accents 😉 What I really hate is the depiction of all Christians being “bible thumping.” The word “Christian” has become a dirty word, in my experience first hand, due to those who use it oppressingly (from way back right after Christ’s death through the Crusades and today) which is actually un-Christian. Oh, well.

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