A family of evangelical Christians is derailed by a daughter’s pregnancy.
In 1970, Jory, 13 going on 14, is growing up befuddled as the middle daughter of the Quanbecks, who contain their children in a religious and moral bubble as impervious as the bomb shelter in their garage. Jory’s father, Oren, a Harvard-educated astronomer, runs midnight laps in the backyard of their Arco, Idaho, home, and her mother, Esther, often takes to her bed with headaches. A bland, macrobiotic, sugar-free diet is rigorously enforced. Grace, 17, eldest daughter and the pride of the family, goes off to Mexico on a church mission but soon returns home, pregnant. She insists that God is the father of her child. The Quanbecks buy an isolated farmhouse on the outskirts of town and send Grace there to wait out her gestation period, with Jory as unwilling companion. Jory is appalled by the prospect of attending the oddly named Schism High School instead of Arco Christian Academy. Not only does Schism require a whole new wardrobe—bell bottoms and T-shirts instead of long skirts and modest blouses—but a whole new lifestyle. As kindly neighbor lady Mrs. Kleinfelter and Grip, a good-hearted ice cream man with a dubious past, act as eccentric mentors, Jory manages to weather her co-exile. Since the novel is told entirely from Jory’s point of view, and Grace does nothing much except stay home, the emphasis is, for some time, on vividly evoked but conventional scenes of teenage angst, as Jory worries about gym class, her first period, her popularity, an upcoming homecoming dance, etc. The action accelerates and so do the stakes when Grip introduces Grace and Jory to a hippie enclave, and Grace—very abruptly, since she has seemed so devout—embraces the counterculture. The repercussions of this for the entire Quanbeck family are dire indeed.
Despite the wrenching shift in tone, a soulful exploration of the limits and consequences of familial control.