Published by Viking
Publication date: August 4th 2015
Genres: Debut, Fiction, Literary
Even within their evangelical Christian community the Quanbeck family is known as unusual, but in The Girl Who Slept with God, fourteen-year-old Jory is used to it. Until, that is, her devout sister, Grace, is allowed, at seventeen, to go off on a mission to Mexico, and returns pregnant. The potential embarrassment to their father within their religious circle is such that he purchases an isolated house in the country where Jory and Grace will live until after the birth of Grace’s baby. There is no discussion of this decision or of the upheaval it will cause to Jory’s life; the confusion it will create in her young mind. A confusion that she is unable to identify and deal with, as shown by her only thought early in the novel, when her father drops them off at their new home.
Bending down, he pressed his lips against a spot in the middle of her forehead. “JoryAnne,” he whispered, and then touched the spot firmly with the tip of his finger, as if sealing the kiss into place.
She had a sudden impulse to slap him.
In this one sentence, debut author Val Brelinski slides smoothly into Jory’s mind, leaving no doubt as to her opinion on her exile and illuminating her self-protective instincts. On the other side of the Quanbeck coin is Grace, so filled with the Holy Spirit and devotion to witness for Christ, that even as her own mother questions her condition she remains obdurate in her stance that this is a baby from God.
“I didn’t ask for this,” she said. “It was given to me. It was a thing that was given to me alone, and I alone am to bear it.”
Religiosity is a topic that can tilt a book in any number of directions or even weigh it down to the point where it can’t move. Brelinski uses Jory at the tender, bewildering age of fourteen to guide us through what could be the weighty, murky mess of a sister claiming that God has made her pregnant. Although both Grace and Jory are stuck in their exile Jory goes into the real world for school. Not the Christian school she had been attending but a public high school. And while most of us have not been uprooted from a fundamentalist education to a secular one, Brelinski circumvents that aspect in The Girl Who Slept with God and goes for one more relatable to all—freshman year. A time that, even if it was decades ago, can cause most of us to tense up and our brains to fizzle with the remembered pressure of all the minutia that went with trying to fit in. From getting undressed in front of other girls in the locker-room to trying to decipher the social cues of the cool girl (is she mocking me or being nice?) Jory is thrown into the minefield of high school without any signposts or guidelines.
High school is just one place where Jory’s horizons begin to expand in ways her father never considered when he came up with the plan to seclude his daughters. The property they live on is owned by an older woman named Hilda, a woman who’s seen much of life and has a common-sense approach to it, who ends up being a much needed lifeline for Jory. Then there is Grip, a man in his late twenties, who provides friendship and understanding for her, allowing her to ask all the questions she cannot voice to anyone else, but his openness and beliefs about freedom and living life take both Jory and Grace well beyond the realm of their world. Through these two people Brelinski redefines what is meant by family and how and who we learn from.
I imagine there are many who will focus on Grace’s pregnancy and her resulting crisis of faith as the meat of The Girl Who Slept with God but for me, this is an incredibly touching coming-of-age novel. Jory’s experiences in a world that is commonplace to most but unheard-of to her mean that mistakes and poor judgment are plentiful but so is the beauty of things as simple as a prom date who wants to make sure he buys a corsage to match her dress. That this simplicity becomes complicated as the new Jory and Grace crash against their old family is not unexpected. With the voice of experience and the prose to convey it, Brelinski brings forth a story that takes the larger themes of religion and God’s will and strips them down to family and love. And how they can all be so right and so wrong at the same time.
Author Val Brelinski grew up in a evangelical Christian home which heavily influenced The Girl Who Slept with God. Check back in tomorrow for a fascinating Q&A provided by her publisher.