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YA Fiction: Evolution, Me and other Freaks of Nature

May 2, 2009

I just finished this book, about a high school girl who is alienated from her evangelical peers because (spoilers, I’m all about them) she writes a letter apologizing to a gay boy who commits suicide after they try to convert him. Post-alienation, she makes friends with a fan of their amazing wonder science teacher, and clashes with her previous pals as that science teacher teaches evolution instead of intelligent design.

I liked it; it made me think. About Mormons, and all our varying views on evolution. And about the way it’s so easy to treat people badly because that somehow proves that you are righteous and they are not. The romance was very well done; nice zing, and it was my very favorite kind of romance in all the world, even better than the Darcy Pride and Prejudice plot done well: it’s the kind where the guy and girl are friends first, real friends, and they are kind, and they don’t lie to each other or play stupid tricks, and then finally they get the courage to tell each other how they feel and they fall in love. What does that romance sound like? Hmmm? Oh, that’s right. Real life! I love it when art imitates life.

Here are my questions about it: 1-Why are parents of teens so often distant from them in YA books? Is it genre convention? Is it the need for an antagonist and parents are just the most likely villain? Is it that teens and parents are notorious for not getting along? Or a combination of all three?

Every time I read about bad teen/parent relationships, it makes me sad. I had some tiffs with my parents as a teenager, but overall they were good to me and I knew it. I guess that makes for no story, though. In the writing I am contemplating right now, the protagonist is estranged from her father. And I realize it’s been done to death, but ah well.

2-I really wish the author, Robin Brande, had done a bit more to make her evangelical villains more well-rounded, more likeable. She did allow one of them, Bethany, to be sincere, with a good heart. But I think more of them had a good heart, or at least good intentions, than she allowed us to see. By portraying all the evangelicals as nutty publicity-hound closed-minded posturing idiots, except for one sincere one, she undermines Mena’s struggle. Wouldn’t it be even harder for Mena to leave her group of friends if we’d been shown a little more kindness between them? Wouldn’t it be harder for Mena to accept their fundamental closed-mindedness if she had seen some true goodness? And why would Mena’s parents have been duped for so long into believing in this pastor who was such a jerk if he had not had some goodness in him as well, or at least attempts at goodness?

I feel that a more nuanced portrayal of the evangelicals would have strengthened the book a great deal. Yes, they can still be closed-minded, they can still be the villains in the end, but grant them a bit more redeeming value, is what I say. I speak as a devout Mormon, and as someone who hopes that when writers depict my faith and culture, they take the time to paint a layered picture of us, not just a one-note song. I think Robin Brande is talented enough that she could have brought more depth to her villains, had she so chosen.

It’s worth reading, though. Reminded me also of the talk my brother just gave on balancing religion and science at BYU’s Life Sciences commencement. He quoted President Eyring’s father, the scientist Henry Eyring, something to this effect (I paraphrase): “God, who created the heavens and the earth, knows about evolution, and is apparently not disturbed.” I love that.

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