Monday, October 1, 2007

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

Talk about an opener that grabs you!

I knew today would be ugly.

When you’re single-handedly responsible for getting your church, your pastor, and every one of your former friends and their parent sued for millions of dollars, you expect to make some enemies.
(p. 1)

Mena has not had an easy time of it recently. She has done something she is convinced was the right thing to do, yet now she is an outcast among all of those who meant anything to her: her friends, her church, and, most especially, her parents. She has grown up in an extremely conservative Christian family – one in which Harry Potter and even The Lord of the Rings is forbidden. She has no friends except those in church and now she has lost them. She is living a life in exile and she is miserable. Not only does she have to have to live without any friends, on her first day of school, she discovers that her former friends are going to bully her, both emotionally and physically.

In her biology class she meets her teacher, Ms. Shepherd, and gets a lab partner who is thankfully not a part of her church. Casey just appears to be a science geek, albeit one who can make her laugh. He does, however, want something from her that she thinks is impossible. He wants for her to work with him on a science project. Mena knows that there is no way her parents would let her go to a boy’s house, and so she lies in order to get there. As she discovers the life outside her church and family, the lies continue. It’s not that she’s doing anything most parents would object to – she’s absolutely not – but she does feel guilty about deceiving her parents.

Then crisis happens. Ms. Shepherd gets to the evolution section of her curriculum and Mena’s former friends rebel. They want the theory of intelligent design to be taught along with evolution. Ms. Shepherd refuses, citing the separation of church and state, and the all of the students who belong to Mena’s church pick up their chairs and turn their backs to the class. Each day, Ms. Shepherd utters the magic word, evolution, and the Back Turners assume their position. With the backing of the church, this has all possibilities of turning really ugly.

One of the things I loved about this book is that Mena takes something really bad and learns from it. It occurs to her, that had she not been ostracized, she would also be a Back Turner. And yet because she’s been given the opportunity to think about the issue, she agrees with Ms. Shepherd’s position. I also like the fact that she still feels loyal to her parents (although I would love to shake some sense into them) and she not happy about lying to them. Finally, Mena never questions her own Christian faith. She does, however, question the idea that those in her church are always right. It is possible to believe in God and to also believe in evolution. To truly solidify our faith, we must be willing to question it.

This book has characters that were really easy to like (as well as some that were really easy to dislike). Robin Brande must have had a blast writing the character of Kayla (Casey’s sister). I wish I could have had a science teacher like Ms. Shepherd. And Casey seems like an incredibly sweet lab partner/boyfriend. As I have said in previous posts, I'm a sucker for interesting characters, and this book is full of them.

I really enjoyed Evolution, Me & other Freaks of Nature. I’d love to use it in a book club setting so that we could discuss all of the issues it brings up. This was a great read.

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