Sebastian’s debut memoir, ranging from a French boarding school to life in Texas, describes the near-death experience that prompted her belief in God.
“As Unbelievable / And Even At Times Impossible / As They Might Seem / These Events Are All Real,” Sebastian claims in an overblown epigraph to her spiritual memoir. This might suggest a fantastical story, but it’s a straightforward, chronological account of Sebastian’s teens and 20s—with a mystical experience appended. The book begins with Sebastian leaving Spain for Largenté, a strict Catholic boarding school in southwest France. She deftly paints her falsely rosy picture of what an all-girls school would be like: “…pillow fights, girl chats by the Dorm’s fireplace, giggling in lacy gowns dreaming of a romantic future while braiding our hair.” Instead, arriving late on her first day, she was given penance for not addressing the nuns by proper titles. She quickly learned to stifle her individuality and perform rote actions unquestioningly. Influenced by Stoics and existentialists, Sebastian was melancholy until a new friend, Michelle, arrived from Houston. Intrigued by Michelle’s yearbooks, Sebastian decided to move to Texas after graduation. College presented a difficult decision between two suitors as well as much agonizing over evolution. Though unconvinced by the theory, Sebastian resisted the seeming alternative of superstitious religion—until a spring break car accident that should have killed her (she incurred multiple skull fractures and brain hematomas, as evidenced in the appendix’s medical reports) convinced her of God’s existence. Like Blaise Pascal, she had a mystical experience in which she heard Jesus speak. Sebastian vividly evokes each setting and remembers her teen angst with notable recreated dialogue, but the religious preoccupation feels like a hidden agenda. Still, she often writes lyrically, as when remembering “the blended mist of calming beauty and inner inquietude.” Possessives, plurals, verb forms, punctuation and capitalization pose problems—“The three of us joined the large group of girls going together towards the Hallway leading to the English Language class”—in addition to homonym slips and dangling modifiers; all could be ameliorated by a native speaker’s thorough edit. Additionally, translation of every French phrase feels superfluous.
An odd but enthusiastic mix of schoolgirl anecdote, American travelogue and mysticism.