Teenagers struggle in a Christian dictatorship in McNenny’s debut YA novel.
After the Final Great Awakening, the United States became the theocratic Christian States of America. Its leaders did away with the U.S. Constitution and based their government on what they saw as the covenant that the Puritans made with God. When timid 16-year-old Josh Conrad’s father gets promoted, he moves with his family from Canton, Ohio, to Columbus. There, he meets the charismatic Peter, who spends his time in the woods training neighborhood boys as if they were soldiers. Josh soon ends up in the same high school program as these boys, who are known as the Josephs of Tomorrow. The school’s Youth Director, Mrs. Marone, started the program with the aim of preparing youth to continue “Jehova’s Revolution” by ferreting out “heretics” in America and bringing Christianity to the rest of the world. Meanwhile, sexual abuse survivor Maggie Anderson is living on the streets, surviving on the fringes of society through theft, coexisting with a gang of other youths. Soon, Josh begins to question some of Mrs. Marone’s teachings, as well as the movement she represents. After he starts college at Ohio State University, he meets Maggie at a private party, and his crisis of faith blossoms into a critique of his entire society. McNenny casts an observant eye on aspects of American evangelicalism, and he uses an invented slang to create a world that’s both foreign and familiar. At one point, for example, Peter explains to Josh how he felt lost before he joined Mrs. Marone’s program: “I was driving everyone babel. Then one day, Mrs. Marone matthew 18’ed me, and I mean, like the wrath of God Himself.” The basic skeleton of this story will certainly be familiar to many readers—particularly those who read a lot of dystopian fiction. But the fact that McNenny bases his dark world on elements of a present-day subculture gives the novel a bite that many similar works don’t possess.
A sharp, well-constructed dystopian tale.