Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2015. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.
“Jory understood that it was her job not to ask any questions, but to keep Frances occupied and out of the way until whatever it was that was happening to her family had finished happening.”
The Quanbecks are a strict evangelical couple raising their three daughters in the tiny town of Arco, Idaho in the 1970s. Their oldest daughter, Grace, is strong in the faith, and dreams of becoming a missionary, while their middle daughter, Jory, just wishes she could have a normal life like other thirteen-year-olds. The youngest, Frances, is still too little to really understand what her parents’ religion means for her future. Mrs. Quanbeck has her doubts about allowing seventeen-year-old Grace to go on a three month mission to Mexico with their church, but her husband overrules her. When Grace returns home from Mexico pregnant, her mother’s worst fears are proven justified. Worse, Grace insists that an angel fathered the baby, and a follow-up visit to Mexico can uncover no evidence of a human father. Exiled to a crumbling house on the edge of town, Jory and Grace gain an unexpected freedom as their father tries to hide Grace’s situation from their conservative community.
Jory initially resents being caught up in her sister’s banishment, pulled from her Christian school, and sent to a public school on the edge of town with a rough reputation. But as she begins to tentatively make friends with her new classmates, and get a taste of the freedom her strict upbringing has denied her, there seems to be a certain silver lining to the situation. But Jory also has to face new situations without any parental guidance or oversight, navigating crushes and parties for the first time. Grace looks on with a certain disapproval, but refuses to tell on Jory, and is much too preoccupied with her own situation in any case. Their neighbour and landlady, Mrs. Kleinfelter, is a grandmotherly presence, but reluctant to interfere with the Quanbecks’ unusual circumstances.
Thrown together alone and forced to fend mostly for themselves, Val Brelinkski has ample opportunity to explore the complicated relationship that exits between Grace and Jory. Jory has never shared her sister’s deep faith and she doesn’t understand her claims to be carrying a child of God, but she realizes that Grace is not only utterly serious, she truly believes her bizarre pronouncement. Wandering out of the house whenever she can’t stand to be with Grace any longer, Jory forms a troubling friendship with Grip, the handsome young ice cream truck driver with a checkered past, who seems to give away more ice cream than he sells. But things get really interesting when Grip and Grace meet, butting heads over religious matters, and Grace finds her faith unsettled for the first time.
The Girl Who Slept with God starts off at a slow pace that enables the reader to form a deep understanding of the complex family dynamic that has long ruled the Quanbeck household. Dr. Quanbeck continues to try to control his daughters, even as they are slipping further from his grasp. Brelinski skillfully explores the damage parents’ extreme ideologies can do to their children, but also how different children adapt to the same situation. After a slow build up, Brelinski brings the story to a conclusion that is both devastating and profound. Rich in Christian iconography and astronomical metaphors, The Girl Who Slept with God is a thematically complex story with well-developed characters who are realistically flawed, and deeply human.
You might also like Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley.