The Children’s Bible: A Novel

img_20200531_124626210img_20200531_124639752The bare bones of this story: Eve/Evie is a high school girl with a 9-year-old brother, Jack. Her family goes in with several other families of long-friendship-duration to rent a large, historic estate on the East Coast for a summer vacation. (Notably, the greenhouse is all busted up and the once-imposing dining room table is too small for their modern group.) Once there, the parents initiate a routine of hard drinking, drug taking, and swinging, while setting their group of offspring loose to pretty much do as they please, mainly just touching base with them at group dinner each night.

The kids maximize their freedom and go off on an extended camping trip to a nearby beach. While there a huge storm threatens. They make it back in time to find the adults battening down the hatches. It is one monster storm, however–it floods the area, cuts off the power, knocks trees down through windows, etc. Parents cope for a while, but then give up. The young people decide they gotta get away.  With the aid of a stranger they find injured by the storm (he turns out to be the caretaker of the estate), they escape the parents and relocate to the absent owner’s personal compound some miles away. Here they establish a workable, peaceful routine until one of the parents tracks them down. Next, because they relax in their lookout assignments, they are invaded by greedy, crazy wild men with guns looking for whatever they can find (reference the community problems of  “The Walking Dead”).  Harrowing times ensue, but the property owner eventually descends in a black helicopter with a SWAT team and dispatches the baddies. She permits the young’uns to stay on and gives them advice (but not too much). They do stay on, but civilization continues to deteriorate, and at the end of the book Eve’s brother Jack dies. The earth/Nature is reclaiming its world.

In this book Eve’s little brother Jack, a pure little soul (but not stupid), is given a child’s version of the Bible by one of the parents, who is herself a non-believer. He is interested in it and undertakes to understand and apply what he is reading to his own actions. Religious analogies and references slyly abound in this novel. We have a flood, an ark, a cleansing fire, a savior from above, (Appalachian-Trail-) angels, lambs and donkeys, a miraculous healing, and a surprise birth with no father involved. We have the good people locked up temporarily in a pseudo-train car while the baddies are being dealt with. We have Jewish characters and those named Luca and Mattie and Eve and David and Rafe and Justin. We have a good and kind person nailed to a workbench and then tied up with razor wire to a tree. We have references to the Book of Revelation, and we have apocalyptic events. A lot is going on beneath the surface of this readable, short novel.

In books for young adults, parents and other authority figures are largely peripheral because the focus is on the YAs learning to navigate the world for themselves. Not always–but often–the parental figures are useless or worse, ignoring their responsibilities, treating their kids like they’re already adults, leaning on them instead of vice versa to solve difficult situations, etc. That is taken to a serious extreme in this book, and the kids can’t stand their parents for it. The parents are painted as lazy, immoral, and faithless. While there are rare moments described where the parents evince genuine worry and love for their kids, the adults are not willing to do the work to raise them. The kids suffer for it, despite their cynicism, judgement, and reasonable ability to forge ahead on their own. With the exception of one (who plainly needs psychiatric care), the reader will feel sympathy toward and interest in them. There ARE several adult figures whom the kids grow to trust and admire and who help them at critical junctures. In the way of the world, however, these others can only help the kids along. They cannot make the world all right and safe permanently (since that is not the nature of the world anyway). Evie eventually receives an illuminating understanding of these adults, however, which causes a positive shift in her attitude toward them.  (This is a beautifully written passage which alone makes the book worth reading, and tempers Evie’s future resurgences of resentment.) Nevertheless, parents do not receive a pass for their failures, as is pointed out later.

This book is a richly-constructed novel worthy of thought, but it is not transcendent. There is no satisfying “answer” or feeling at the end. There is coarse language, including religious profanity. There are scenes of harrowing violence. The young adults and their parents engage in sexual activity (not together!) and there are many sexual references. It is not suitable for younger readers. Older readers of all ages will benefit from directed discussion such as in a class or book group.

Don’t think I’d add this to a school library collection, and I’d be careful which young readers I recommend it to. However, it would be a stimulating read for an adult book club.

Categories: Books We Recommend, Controversial YA Topics, Crime, Dysfunctional Relationships, LGBTQIA, Natural Disasters, Offensive Language in YA Literature, Parent Conflict, Peer Relationships, Religion, Social Disorders, Social Media, Violence

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