Before I get into depth with this review let me just preface it with this – I am an Atheist. I was raised Catholic but never was faithful and abandoned all pretense towards Religion in my adulthood. It all seemed like exotic Mythology to me rather than a basis for belief. To this day I maintain a staunch secular Humanist view towards morality.
The reason I bring this up is because I ordinarily would never approach a book with such a focus on Christian ideals and fundamentalism. I find too many of the books to be preachy and upsetting to me personally. However, Jeri Smith-Ready is one of my favourite authors. I knew that whatever she was going to do with this book would be done very well. I have every faith in her.
And my faith was rewarded tenfold because this is one of the best books that I have read in a long time, despite my initial apprehension. Jeri Smith-Ready has written a book about a boy of faith and an awful situation that I did not hate… That I rather loved, if truth be told. There’s a reason that she has been on my autobuy list for five years.
And, with that, on to the review.
David Cooper is in an awkward place in life. Since his older brother’s death his family has changed in unexpected ways. His Father, a severe alcoholic, gave up the bottle for God. His Father has also given up normal speak choosing to quote only scripture for conversation (if a particular passage applies to the situation). His Mother, tasked with the only household income, is unraveling from stress but maintains her belief that faith brings happiness. David’s older sister, Mara, is also coping in the best way that she can – by being the quintessential good girl (despite a secretive bad girl streak). David, a 16-year-old with proud Christian values, thinks it’s all too much even for him. He revels in his faith and his killer pitching arm knowing that a baseball career might be the only way that he will get to college.
One day, in their home school Math Cave, David meets Bailey. Bailey comes from hippie, pot-smoking parentage and believes in the pantheon of Science. Bailey is complete anathema to the Cooper family, challenging David’s faith, convictions, and principles. But Bailey cannot compete with the Coopers’ newest fervor. A woman named Sophia Visser has started a movement called The Rushers; a spiritual group of people who believe that the Rush (or Rapture) is near and that they must prepare for the world’s end. Suddenly David’s parents are obsessed, shirking everyone they know for the Rush and asking both David and Mara to sacrifice their lives for the good of the movement.
But David is 16, and only has one adolescence. And he won’t let anyone take that from him. Not even his God. Not even the Rush. However, things change when, one day, David and Mara wake up to find both of their parents are gone… leaving only their clothes and crucifixes behind.
This book has some of the best written, strongest, and most satisfying character dynamics that I have read in a long time. David, our narrator, is personable and quixotic. He wants to stretch his new boundaries, however he realizes that they conflict with everything he holds dear. Bailey represents the unknown future; a young woman with a very firm personality whose self-assurance will not allow her to sacrifice her own ideals for his. Bailey never gives, nor should she, because David also never takes. They have a perfectly beautiful relationship that sings from the page.
All of the relationships in David’s life are rather touching. His mother yields to her dominant husband but keeps an ardent eye on both her remaining children. It’s sad to see that she is really the only parent raising these two (since centuries old Bible passages often don’t apply to modern parental situations). David and Mara’s Father is a trip. He is hard and stoic, blindly following his faith as if it were another bottle. His devotion will lead to the ruination of his family if David cannot get through to him before the Rush comes. And, of course, there is his blossoming romance with Bailey, which is endearing and sweet. These are teen characters that all young adults should be reading. These are real people not just constructs. They are not just black or white. There are no extreme moral rights and wrongs in this book. These people just are, and they work, and they make this story beautiful.
I could go on and on about this book, it’s that thought-provoking. But I will leave it at this – It’s gorgeous, touching, focused, and warm. And it’s one of my favourite books I have read this year.
And that is all.
5 out of 5 gushing and glowing stars.
* This Side of Salvation was provided to me by the fine folks at Simon & Schuster, via Edelweiss. My thanks and gratitude for the early read.
* * This book releases April 1, 2014.
– Follow the Reader –