The other day I tweeted, "Never before have I read a YA novel with a hilarious parody of Richard Dawkins in full anti-religion strawman mode. You go, girly romance!" and a whole lot of people answered, "WHAT IS THAT BOOK I WANT TO KNOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!"
So, it is Winter of Grace
by Kate Constable, and I wasn't going to read it, and then I read it, and I was still not sure why I liked it, but I liked it a lot despite some niggles.Why wasn't I going to read it?
Because it is part of the Girlfriend Fiction line, which is a tie-in to one of those tedious pre-Cosmo magazines for teenage girls, and when they first appeared at work, I assumed they were as trashy and dull as the similar Dolly Fiction line that existed when I was a teenager.
Also, Winter of Grace
is about a girl who discovers that the boy she likes is a born-again Christian, and she becomes a Christian, and I could only imagine the whole thing collapsing under the weight of bad writing and didactic evangelism. Why did I read it?
First, skimming through them at Borders revealed that they were well-written, had a strong emphasis on friendship between girls, and were written by a mixture of new and established Australian YA authors.
Secondly, someone on my flist (and I can't remember who, but if you read this, please stand up so I can read your post again) posted about Winter of Grace
, and made it sound more interesting and sophisticated than I had assumed.
rhapsodised about it last Saturday, and I was intrigued. Why am I still not sure why I liked it?
Talking about religion makes me uncomfortable. It's a good thing I'm Catholic, because if I'd been raised in an Evangelical family, I would have died of mortification long before I reached adulthood. Why did I like it a lot?
Because it was SOOOO GOOD. I mean, okay, yes, it squeezes in a journey from agnosticism, through various flavours of Christianity and into [spoilers] in 165 pages, so that's like, a journey of many years in a short space of time. And it's very much concerned with a white, middle-class Australian brand of religion, though as sajee
says, that's true of the entire line of books. Hmm. Perhaps these points should have gone in the above paragraph? Anyway. Actual reasons I liked it:
The lead character, Bridie, is a familiar and likable sort of girl. Sixteen years old, smart but not a genius, feels like she's still in the shadow of her rather domineering best friend, Stella, even though Stella's family have sent her to a Catholic girls school this year. Her narrative voice is very real -- one moment incredibly articulate, in other moments, not so much.
In the opening scenes, Bridie and Stella are attending a peace rally, pretty much lifted straight from early March 2003. They rescue a handsome boy from being bashed up, and befriend him. This is Jay. He's a born-again Christian, and he thinks that, just as Bridie saved him, he can save her. Bridie initially goes to his church -- your standard issue megachurch, where worship is best expressed through dollars -- out of curiosity; she stays because it's a welcoming community, and she's first puzzled, then enthralled by the concept of God.
This inevitably causes conflict: most notably with Stella, who is coping with life at Catholic school by becoming obnoxiously atheist; her mother, who has her own reasons to hate God. And at the same time as Bridie wants more and more to withdraw into the world of services and youth groups and the safety of unquestioning belief, she finds herself assailed by doubts and questions, and the only answer Jay's church offers is to pray them out of her. Matters come to a head when Bridie's mother, a biologist, is invited to speak at a forum on atheism, which is being attended by a visiting professor from England who is famous for his witty anti-religious bigotry. Oh yes, and the Christian youth group are planning to picket it in monkey suits. Needless to say, HILARITY ENSUES, right before the story punches you in the gut and then kicks you a few times to make sure you're really down.
In a short space, we're given a series of vivid character portraits -- Bridie's family (grandmother: Very Catholic; father: kept the social justice, ditched the religion; mother: airy fairy New Age hippie type), Bridie's mother (a type-A personality whose parents belong to a thinly-veiled version of the Exclusive Brethren), Jay and his older brother Elliott (a youth leader who is committing the ultimate born-again sin of having doubts). I kept laughing, recognising fictional versions of types of people I've met in real life.
Okay. I think I've figured out why I liked it so much!What are my niggles?
Stella is one of those characters who, while I was friends with girls like her when I was Bridie's age, now I just want to sit her down and tell her to get over herself, because she's just not interesting enough to justify that level of borderline sociopathic self-absorption. Buuuuuut, maybe she just hit a nerve. You know. Maybe.
Also, there are lots of moments where characters spouted opinions that should
have turned them into OTT strawmen, and I'm thrown out of the book. Then I remember seeing someone actually express [deeply ridiculous opinion] in seriousness, and I try to return to the narrative, only I'm a little bit put out by the reminder of actual stupidity.
So, yes. Winter of Grace
. I would not recommend it to fundamentalists of any stripe, nor to people with no interest in the travails of a Christianity-centric middle class white girl. But, you know, that still leaves a lot of people. No idea if it's available outside Australia, but some kind of arrangement might be worked out if anyone is particularly keen.
ALSO, I BOUGHT A KOBO
THE OTHER DAY. It is wee and full of books! And, I admit, not very fast at start up, but the super-long battery life means I only turn it off at night.
Right now, I'm reading a PDF document instead of a proper epub book. This is a nifty feature, although I confess the PDF format loses a lot of options for things like changing text size, and page turning is not so convenient as with an epub. So probably, if I want to read fic or something on Kobo, I am going to have to find an epub editor for Linux. Which, I'm told, exist, I'm just far too lazy to actually do things. Case in point: this entry has taken me three days to type.
BUT YES, KOBO. People scowl at it on the train, knowing that it and I are singlehandedly destroying publishing as we know it, etc. Well, screw them; at home, I'm reading a biography of Mary Tudor that's printed on paper. Only it's not very good, but you can't have everything.