A seamless blend of snark and sincerity.



In Kerney’s debut, a sanctimonious evangelical teen reads Darwin and begins to question her beliefs.

As an abstinence-devoted, church-going Bible Quiz Champion in Slow Rapids, Ind., 14-year-old Mel seems like the ideal evangelical Christian girl—particularly compared with her heathen siblings. Her older sister, Kyle, has an abusive boyfriend, a child out of wedlock and another one possibly on the way. Her brother Jared failed an Air Force drug test and now lives in Mel’s parents’ basement and works at a local factory, forgoing church altogether. But even Mel has her vices: Though she papers her school with pro-abstinence flyers and punches a girl on the school bus for showcasing her make-out sessions, she also is eager to cut out the sides of her cotton underwear to mimic the thongs that her (unsaved) friend Beth shows her in a contraband Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogue. Mel’s virtues are further tested when she wins a scholarship to an academic summer camp and finds the forbidden Darwin on her reading list. Curiosity gets the best of her, and promising herself that she will “save” Beth by taking her to the annual church conversion play, she snags a copy of The Origin of Species from Beth’s living room. As she reads, she finds to her surprise that Darwin’s words make sense to her—perhaps even more sense than her sin-obsessed parents and the charming Pastor Lyle at the church. And when Mel uncovers hard evidence that even her parents aren’t quite as pious as she had thought, she begins to understand that both her family and her church are entrenched in deep hypocrisy. Much to Kerney’s credit, there is no overblown happy ending—Mel’s ability to come to terms with her family, her upbringing and her religion is authentically complicated and clumsy.

A seamless blend of snark and sincerity.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2006

ISBN: 0-15-603145-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2006

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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