Sparks fly when a fundamentalist Christian boy and a militant atheist girl fall in love in this debut novel of free-thinking ideas.
Central Washington University freshmen Rick Vitter and Julia Paxter meet cute at a triathlon and then repair to a Starbucks, where their repartee naturally leads to sparring over the existence of God. Rick, a Christian and creationist, is appalled at Julia’s atheism and Darwinism, but she is hot, and he thinks he can coax her to let the Lord into her heart. Julia disdains Rick’s primitive superstitions, but he is hot, and she imagines she can cajole reason into his mind. Their inevitable rapprochement is all on Rick’s side. With the assistance of a persuasive biology professor and atheist manifestos by Richard Dawkins and other authors, Julia bombards Rick with refutations of the argument for intelligent design, Pascal’s wager, and other chestnuts of Christian apologetics. Her attack is harsh—the story of Yahweh ordering Abraham to sacrifice Isaac prompts her to brand the Old Testament God a “sick bastard”—and merciless. Even after Rick retreats to a tame, liberal-ish theism that accepts evolution, the Big Bang theory, and homosexuality, she continues pressing him to reject the existence of the soul and declare Jesus a mere figment of the imagination comparable to the Great Pumpkin. While Rick wrestles with these discombobulating challenges to his belief system, his family tries to push him away from Julia and into the arms of a pretty Christian airhead. While too quick to dismiss the intellectual and cultural legacies of Christianity, this tale offers a case against religious truth claims that is lucid, engaging, and often compelling. The story surrounding it is less successful. Playing out in a succession of outdoor-sports dates, from snowboarding to rock climbing, Rick and Julia’s courtship feels rote, and readers may find themselves skimming past the cumbersome flirtation to get to the ideological debates. Grey’s partisan prose—looking askance at the 6,000-year-old Earth theory, Rick “had achieved his first victory over dogma”—further bogs down the narrative. (The author’s catechistic intent is confirmed by the study questions in an appendix.) The novel’s rationalistic commitments work against its emotional impact: no matter how reasonable a conversion to atheism may be, it just doesn’t make for a resonant love story.
An intriguing brief against religion set in a stiff and uninvolving romance.