Reviewed by Jocelyn Pearce for TeensReadToo.com
Starting this book, I wasn't sure what to expect. It deals with religion, so I thought it might be preachy. It talks about Darwin, so I was expecting some strong opinions on the subject--everyone has them. BORN AGAIN is Kelly Kerney's first novel, so I had no expectations as to the writing. In the quote on the back cover, Mel (the main character) talks about using the Bible to prove Darwin wrong. I, personally, am not a religious person and believe Darwin had the right idea, so I wasn't sure I'd be able to enjoy this book.
Wow, was I ever wrong. This book deals wonderfully with the admittedly heavy topics of both Darwinian science and religion (Mel belongs to an Evangelical Pentecostal family), without being at all preachy. Kerney isn't trying to convince the reader of anything; she is only showing one girl's search for the truth, and in that she raises some thought-provoking questions about science, religion, and life.
When the novel begins, Mel is an enthusiastic, religious, and smart teenager. She not only wants to do what's right in her own life, she wants to save everyone else, too. She believes every word from Pastor Lyle's mouth as if it came from God himself (which she believes it does). She would never dream of going against what the church and her parents teach her...Right?
When Mel receives a scholarship to academic summer camp, with that comes a reading list. She isn't sure that Pastor Lyle would approve of some of the books on it, like WUTHERING HEIGHTS, but they're not on the "blasphemy list," so she reads most of the books.
And then she comes to Charles Darwin's THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES. She knows that her family and church would certainly not approve of her reading this. Secretly, she borrows a copy from her best friend, Beth, and starts to read. At first, Mel is determined to use the Bible to prove Darwin wrong. She's sure it can be done.
However, as she reads, what Darwin says begins to make sense. This, coupled with some discoveries about the past of her own family, has her doubting some of what she's been told. If what her parents have told her about their own lives is a lie, then who knows what else is a lie? Mel also finds that Darwin and God don't have to be mutually exclusive. This is an idea that has never occurred to her; this is not what she has been taught. Mel's beliefs are being challenged, and now she has to figure out exactly what she believes before she can defend or disprove anything.
BORN AGAIN is a fascinating and brilliantly written look inside the Christian fundamentalism that is so prevalent in America today. It is a thought-provoking story about one girl, but it addresses so much more than just what Mel is dealing with. The front cover blurb on the book says that BORN AGAIN is "enough to make an atheist pray--that this is not America's future," speaking of the Christian fundamentalism addressed in the book. It's true; these people are so sure of their beliefs and so extreme that it is a little scary at times. As Christian fundamentalism seems to become ever more popular in America, this book is a must-read.