This Side of Salvation - Jeri Smith-Ready

I think it's pretty obvious that this book has serious religious undertones going on, but that's not to say it's a book only for religious individuals. The larger themes of a family in turmoil, and of those who prey on the fragility of others, as well as the determination of a young man to keep his family and his life together, transcend the Christian underpinnings. 

This Side of Salvation is not trying to convert, nor is it attempting to demonize religion, but rather religion is used as a catalyst to explore greater themes of faith, family, and a belief in something beyond this world. I actually love Smith-Ready's own words in her author's note:
The beliefs or lack thereof portrayed in this book belong to the characters, not the author. Those who comb these pages for a religious or anti-religious agenda will be left scratching their heads. It's just about this boy, y'know?
David's story begins with him arriving home, late at night, with his sister, only to discover his parents are missing, their clothes laid out on their bed, empty, as if they were raptured. Flashback to years earlier, when David's family is struck by the tragedy of his older brother's death. As his parents become more and more involved in various religious groups in an attempt to find meaning in their son's demise, David finds himself becoming very uncomfortable and worried about his father's mental state. 

One day, in an attempt to keep his parents from bringing up his friend's sexual orientation over dinner, David brings up a new religious movement he came across online. His parents unexpectedly begin to subscribe to this new belief system, and begin to dismantle David's life, asking him to give up his friends, his school, baseball, his girlfriend... basically his entire future. As you might expect, this doesn't go over so well for David, but he's not ready to desert his religious beliefs entirely either.

This is an intriguing novel, covering a lot of ground with a convincing narrative structure and voice. I did find the father's use of scripture to be a bit excessive at times, and this may be a deterrent for some non-religious readers. But within the overall structure, I think the scripture and religious content work well and drive the characters and conflicts throughout.

Recommended

(Note: This review is from an Advanced Reading Copy - Out April 1, 2014)

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