Playing by the Book - S. Chris Shirley

When seventeen-year old high school newspaper editor Jake Powell, fresh from Alabama, lands in New York City to attend Columbia University's prestigious summer journalism program, it's a dream come true. But his father, a fundamentalist Christian preacher, smells trouble. And his father is rarely wrong.

Jake navigates new and unfamiliar ways "up North." Starting with his feelings for a handsome Jewish classmate named Sam. What Jake could keep hidden back home is now pushed to the surface in the Big Apple.

Standing by his side are a gorgeous brunette with a Park Avenue attitude and the designer bags to match, a high school friend who has watched Jake grow up and isn't sure she's ready to let him go, and an outrageously flamboyant aunt whose determined to help Jake finds the courage to accept love and avoid the pain that she has experienced.


The Good:

This book is important. The subject of religion and especially conservative Christianity is incredibly relevant in North America at this time. There is a tendency to demonize religious groups while forgetting about those who are raised in such systems and truly have no other way of thinking about the world. During his time in New York, Jake is exposed to diverse ways of thinking, living, and coping with life's difficulties. Jake's internal struggle, mixed with sudden exposure to many new ways of thinking about religion, sexuality, and human existence, brings him to a tipping point where he must decide who he needs to be and what is most important to him. Ideologically, this novel is a wonderful contribution to the body of literature exploring sexuality and religion.

Unfortunately, while the transformative story at the core of this novel is intriguing and manages to cover a lot of important ground, I do have trouble with the writing style. Much like Alex Sanchez's The God Box, however, Shirley's novel relies on a hermeneutical approach to the Bible, which makes the book feel like a teaching resource at many points. Perhaps a more humanist approach to Jakes journey would have allowed for a more fully constructed and nuanced transformation.

In the end, the book will appeal to a niche audience of teens trying to reconcile religion and sexuality. This is an important book, and though I have issues with the writing style, the themes and content are necessary and will hopefully help struggling teens come to terms with their own complex situations.

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