Review: The Girl Who Slept with God by Val Brelinski

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Released: 4 August 2015
Publisher: Viking Books
Page Count: 384

Synopsis

The Girl Who Slept with God is set in a small town in Idaho in 1970. It revolves around the Quanbecks, an extremely devout Christian family, whose eldest daughter returns from a missionary trip in Mexico pregnant with what she says is God’s baby. Throughout most of the novel, the father–Oren–tries his hardest in order to keep people from finding out about Grace’s situation, going so far as to send her and her fourteen year-old-sister Jory to a house on the outskirts of town to diminish the possibility of shame from tarnishing the family name. The novel’s perspective comes from Jory, who can’t understand why she’s being punished in order to keep her sister’s secret. Meanwhile, at home, the littlest sister–Francis–struggles to understand what is happening, and their mother spends most of her time laying in bed with ‘headaches.’ The family does what they can to prepare for the baby, and Grace and Jory try to make a new home out of the situation that they’ve been put in.

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I received this book from First to Read, hosted by Penguin, in exchange for an honest review. I have not been paid for this review.

This novel is part coming of age, part exploration of religion and science, and part tragedy. It’s clear from the beginning that things won’t end necessarily well for the Quanbecks, particularly when it comes to how the parents handle the situation. Their actions seem utterly ridiculous to modern readers, but Brelinski still writes the parents in such a way that you hope they’ll come to their senses by the end of the novel. I ended up enjoying this novel more than I thought I would–the premise intrigued me, but I didn’t expect to grow so emotionally connected to the characters, particularly with Jory. It’s extremely hard to see her try to make the best of her family’s actions; Brelinski really captured the tone and essence of a fourteen-year-old. Jory felt like such a real character.

I thought Brelinski also captured the time period and atmosphere well. I thought the way that Brelinski portrayed mental illnesses was accurate for the times, and felt accurate. The characters do what they can to shy away from using certain terms or descriptions of how they’re feeling until later in the novel–it reads like a coping mechanism for the characters to keep putting off the reality of their situation until they can’t any longer.

Her writing, while not the best that I’ve come across, was quite beautiful at times, and executed the story well. I would have really liked alternating perspectives from Grace, too. I think she was an interesting character, and would have loved to have seen some of the events from her point of view. Particularly when it came to the last fifty or so pages.

All in all, I enjoyed this book. I do think it dragged a bit in the middle, and there could have been perhaps one or two events left out, but it’s a solid story, with a solid set of characters. And I think that Brelinski handled the tragedy within the story without overt sentimentality. It could have felt a little “Lifetime,” but it didn’t. I recommend it to those who are interested in novels that explore family dynamics and problems (I’m a sucker for dysfunctional family stories, and this did not disappoint in that category), novels that explore coming of age characters, and novels that explore religion and its connection to both science and those who believe. There are some poignant questions raised that I think were handled extremely well on the religious front.

I give The Girl Who Slept with God three-and-a-half stars (though I don’t have a ‘half star’ image, so it’ll just be three stars shown below).

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Until next time, happy reading!

–E. Adeline

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