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.