Thursday, July 23, 2009

Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

I went back and forth with this novel. There were things I liked, and yet things I felt were too contrived. I loved the premise of the book, and think that the controversies within are very import to explore. I think there is a strong faction of ultra conservatives/religious fundamentalists in our society that do have these strong opinions and do try to impact things such as gay rights and the teaching of evolution in our schools. However, I thought that the characters in this novel were bit heavy handed, almost too stereotypical. For example I thought the pastor was portrayed as very small-minded and nasty, and Mena's parents were not fleshed out all- they were very one-dimensional and not believable to me. I also thought Mena's old friends were especially nasty for Christians. The characters in Casey's family were much more developed - compared to Mena's parents, and I liked them. They were quirky and fun. I also liked the science teacher. But again, were these characters also too stereotypical?

However, what I did like about the book was Mena's character. I thought the author did a great job drawing out Mena's conflict between her religious beliefs and science. I like how the author shows that God and science can co-exist, that faith does not preclude scientific fact, that there is room for God in science. I also loved the relationship between Mena and Casey...though wondered if it would be too chaste for some of our readers?

I also like the way the author unfolds the slowly, throughout the novel, we learn what happened to the boy in Mena's old school and how it came to be that her old friends are now ostracizing her.

Overall, I felt this book did an excellent job addressing the issue of evolution vs creationism. And I think it did a great job of showing the reader that a few, powerful people can have a strong influence on society! And that it not always easy to make the right decisions in the face of peer pressure. Anxious to see what you all thought.


Lisa said...
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Dawn said...

This book proved to me that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I really wanted to read this book, but I did not love it. Religion is a sticky subject to tackle and the book made the church look terrible. For example, Pastor Wells portraying the message of hanging oneself in his sermon when Mena’s family goes to church. How could a religious leader do such a thing? Were there any character’s, besides Mena, that were nice and attended church? It seems as if everyone that went to the one particular church was nasty.

Throughout the book I wanted to know more about what Mena did to have everyone turn against her. I wanted to read the letter that she wrote, but we never get that chance. I did like Mena’s character. She seemed to struggle with many issues. I was glad she had Casey to turn to and to see what other families are like.

Mary said...

I have to agree with Kathy that I went back and forth with this book. There were some good scenes, and fun characters but overall it seemed to be like an after school special. It tackled complex subjects with too many stereotypes and it didn't completely satisfy.

I understand that the members of the church were going along with their Pastor's teaching but it's hard to believe that not one other person thought that the treatment of Denny was morally wrong. Mena's family was afraid of pending lawsuits and were upset that she did not tell them that she was going to write the letter, but I still expected there to be some discussion about the actions that the "church kids" took and Mena's role as accepting onlooker. Did they really believe it was wrong to speak out?

I also did not like that the only example of anyone living with faith and science was Ms. Shepherd and that was not revealed until the end. I guess that was the big revelation. But to believe that anyone of faith had to be in that particular church and no one else of faith could reconcile science with their religion is a stretch. The Connor family and all but one of the inner circle friends (Steph) were depicted as having no particular religion and everyone else went to Mena's church. Even if this was a small town with little diversity, I would have liked to see some reference to any of the many different world religions as well as to any of the many different christian religions. Maybe on the blog?

I liked that the romance with Casey was light. I think this would be fine for younger YA readers. Like Dawn, one of the things that kept me reading was the letter Mena wrote. I wanted to see if my hunches were correct.

cvanslyk said...

I enjoyed this book for the most part but saw too many similarities to "Inherit The Wind" This was based on the actual Scopes Monkey Trials about a teacher who was thrown in jail for teaching evolution. They had a evil and vicious Reverend Brown who was very much like Mena's Pastor Wells. Even the endings were the same. Evolution and creationism can exist together. I always read "Inherit the Wind" with my senior 15:1 English classes because it can also relate to senior government classes. This book is a much easier read than ITT and my students might find it easier to understand. Unfortunately, Brown and Wells are not the only so called religious people who are evil. So even though it is unimaginable to throw a child out of church, this type of thing can happen. I have always been a practicing Catholic and a religious ed teacher but I have been disallusioned several times by the behavior of certain members of the church who present themselves as good Christians. I really would have liked more information about the letter Mena wrote and why all those good Christian people were harassing her. There were also many similarities with the book "Speak".
To me, this was not an original story.

Maria said...

I did not love this book. It seemed to me to be a rip off of Speak (by Laurie Halse Anderson). The same story line basically ran through the whole novel – the outcast of High school, bad first day, bullies in the hall, the geek lab partner, big event that caused the problem to begin with, the issue being alluded to but never fully explained until part way through the book, yadda, yadda, yadda. The one part I liked was the comfort she found in Casey’s family and how the Bible Girl blog helped her to question her beliefs without losing her faith/religion in order to see how it all made sense to her. Overall, I probably would not recommend this one.

Cherie said...

I thought the book was a quick and easy read but I found myself getting very upset that it took so long to be informed of exactly what Mena did to become kicked out of the church. I also found it hard to believe that her parents, and the "religious" kids at school were so vicious to Mena. I don't think the author did a great job at defining the other characters who were angry with Mena.

I also felt that the author did a poor job of resolving the issue/ending the book. I felt like the ending was quickly thrown together and when Mena had that talk with her parents it was just a "we'll see what happens" deal.

I liked the book because it was easy to read, and trying to figure out exactly what Mena had done probably held my attention, but I wasn'tcompletely enthralled by it.

rebeccakryger said...

After The Hunger Games, this book was somewhat of a let-down. One aspect of this book that really bothered me was the fact that it took about 100 pages to even find out why Mena had been ousted from her church. There were so many times where Mena would say something like, "because of what I did" and I got to the point where I wanted to yell, "Well, tell me already!!" I am torn about the religious aspects of this book as well. Like Dawn points out, some points make the church look really bad while other times I felt Mena was a bit too preachy.

The character development was weak too. Other than Mena, we don't really find out very much about the other students--why they act the way they do or are so quick to isolate Mena when she was the only person doing the right thing. I did like Casey and the warmth they showed Mena. It was sad that Mena's parents would be so against Mena even being friends with someone like Casey when he is such a decent, well-rounded kid. Casey's sister, however, was a bit over the top for a high school student. The whole mentor trick played on Mena's parents was a bit of a stretch.

This book might be appropriate for some students, but I don't see myself recommending it like I would The Hunger Games.

Jen said...

I have read all of the comments and I agree with much of what has been said already. I felt disappointed to read this after Hunger Games. However, after she finally reveals her "big mistake" or the note, I felt it got better. I did not love it and agree that the characters are underdeveloped.

I am not even certain where the author was going with her story. I think that the ending was ambiguous at best. The parents bothered me a little as well. They seemed so ignorant. Maybe that would be a draw to a younger readers.
Overall, I don't hate it but I don't love it either. I am very mixed.

Lisa said...


Lisa said...

Sorry...just checking to see if this works. I have to agree with Maria-the only thing I thought about as I read this book was Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak. Speak was so well written that I had trouble with Brande's story line. Way too many similarities!! With that said, I was interested to get to the part in the novel that explained what Mena actually did. I actually think Mena's "church" resembled somewhat of a cult. It was sad for me to read the part where Pastor Wells singled out Mena and her parents. Mena's parents are another story!! I was glad to see that she was able to connect with Casey's family and Ms. Shepard. At least she had someone she could trust and confide in. I found it difficult to believe that Mena's parents reacted the way they did to her confessions. Maybe that was Brande's way of showing their development?? I agree with many of you the the characters were well-developed. One last was also great that Mena had her "Bible Grrrl" outlet. I think this definitely added to her character and her self-esteem. This was not my favorite, but it may appeal to some of our students.

Kathy J. said...

I am intrigued about the comments that compare this novel to Speak. I didn't get this at all when I read the book, but now that you pointed it out I can see the similarities!

Dawn said...

I did not think about Speak when reading the book eitehr; however, I do see the similarities a little. I love Speak and really did not love this book, so they are totally different to me in that way.

Rebecca Kennedy said...

I was also not thrilled by this book. I was annoyed by the fact that we were never told about exactly what happened between Mena and her friends until nearly half way through the book.
I feel like the characters were underdeveloped. The portrayal of Mena's parents especially bothered me.
I have had an experience in high school with a friend of mine who joined a church group and was change almost over night. This book reminded me a lot of my friend and how she was changed unfortunately for the worse. She became heavily influenced by the church group in her daily life. Its amazing the power these types of things can have over people and how much people are willing to change just because they want to feel like they belong to a group.
Overall, I did not love this book. It was a quick and easy read and it might be a good starting point for some interesting discussions in class about science vs. religion.

Chris K said...

The book was okay. I felt that the subject was interesting and I really wanted to know Mena had done that was so terrible to be thrown out of church. Based on my own religious experiences I felt that was a stretch. Students may find the religious piece a bit uncomfortable to them based on their own beliefs.

After meeting up with Casey's family Mena had an opportunity to see what another family was like. I would not say they were normal but completely different from her own.

I think some of my students would really like this book. The religious piece may not be as important to them as the acceptance piece. I think they would be able to make connections to the storyline of being accepted by others, or not being accepted. I would hope students would read this text and decide to stand up for what is right, even if they stand alone.