"PULLING OUT [original title for How It's Done. Catchy, eh?] is a contemporary coming of age story about Grace, a high school senior from a fundamentalist Christian home who gets swept off her feet by a visiting professor who is teaching a term at the local college. Before long, she's in love, engaged, and in way over her head. It's a story about power and love, and the power of many different kinds of love. Ultimately, it's a story about how a young woman stops letting others define her and learns to define herself--just in time. NOTE: This book does not fall into the category of 'Christian fiction.'"Easy enough. I didn't really need her "note," but it was good to know and I agreed after reading the manuscript that it was not "Christian fiction." So, fast forward nine months and the manuscript for PULLING OUT is a book called How It's Done and reviews are coming in. SLJ weighs in with a nice review, closing with:
"MacLean delivers a gently redemptive, compelling story of a young woman who wants to grow up too fast."Good start, but it places the book under the heading "Fresh Christian Fiction." Hmm. I'm not sure what's up with that. But there's more. Soon after, the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books also writes a positive review but says:
"Numerous Biblical references are presented familiarly, as if readers will know chapter and verse . . ."Wait, huh? And then there's a very positive review in Publishers Weekly, but with this qualifier:
"A couple of scenes that feel like 'battle of the scripture quotes' as well as an occasional curse word and sexual situations help make this a fully rounded tale. "Bah! Finally, the coup de grâce, from a teacher on her unsuccessful attempt to get the book approved for curricular use:
"The district thought it was a bit racy and could put some parents on edge. They also worried about the Bible verses."Mercy! "Worried about the Bible verses"!?! WTF!
By now, if you haven't read the book, you might think it's wall-to-wall scriptural references, appropriate mainly for divinity school students. Nothing could be less true. I haven't counted but I bet there aren't more than a dozen quotes, none of them particularly challenging and prior knowledge of any of them isn't at all necessary to comprehension. So why do they get mentioned in the majority of reviews by adults, even more often than the on-page sex (which is what Christine and I worried about about prior to release)?
Don't misunderstand, I have no problem with reviews that raise issues. I welcome any aesthetic judgment, like "the Bible quotes felt forced coming from Grace and were badly integrated into the story." I'd disagree, but that's how reviews work. But there seems to be more than that at work here. These reviewers seem to feel readers need to be aware of the very existence of a few Bible quotes, just as they feel readers need to be aware of the existence of explicit sex or particularly strong language (in PW's case, they point out Bible quotes, profanity, sex in that order and in the same sentence--an odd trio, don't you think?).
So, here's are question--or questions? First, am I overreacting (entirely possible)? Or is the children's book establishment have a rather . . . unusual relationship with the portrayal of religion in children's books? And isn't this a bit odd, considering where we are as a culture?