Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

Main character: High school freshman Mena Reece
Location: Not defined
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Fiction

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature is the first YA novel I've read that deals with the debate between evolution and intelligent design or, as some might frame it, science vs. religion. It is a pleasant enough read, though ultimately disappointing.

Mena Reece is not looking forward to her first day of high school. She has done something which has turned her entire conservative Christian church community against her. Her minister has denounced her from the pulpit, and even her parents are barely speaking to her because their insurance business is so closely tied to the church and they are worried that she will cost them customers. Since she is being shunned by her former friends, she begins to interact with other classmates that she never would have otherwise, including brainy Casey, her science lab partner. Casey introduces her to science fiction and fantasy, which is not as evil as she has been told.

When her science teacher, Ms. Shepherd, begins to teach a unit on evolution, Mena's church organizes a protest and demands that she also teach intelligent design. Ms. Shepherd steadfastly refuses to do so. The classroom becomes a battleground of strong wills, with Ms. Sherherd continuing to teach the unit and the protesting students turning their backs the moment the word evolution is mentioned. Then the unit is over and the class moves on to another subject.

Let me say that I am fully on the evolution side of this debate. But I have to say that this book came off as one-sided. I liked the portrayal of the teacher and her calm but firm way of dealing with the protesters. Mena and Casey are also appealing characters. I like their growing friendship and how Mena's world opens up because of him and his family. But the Christian students are portrayed as horrid, close-minded puppets who just parrot the hateful rantings of their preacher. The only one that that is not a vindictive "mean girl" is the minister's daughter who is so meek and mild that she is totally ineffectual. In the end, Mena and her parents join another church--one which (shock!) the science teacher Ms. Shepherd attends--which is much more accepting of different opinions. (And just where were these people during the rest of the book?)

In the end, I don't think that this book is going to persuade anyone to change their minds.

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature is on the 2009-2010 Lone Star Reading List.

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