Blind Faith -- Ellen Wittlinger
When I read Joan Bauer, I always know what I'm going to get. A character who has a passion/talent for something, whether it be waitressing, selling shoes, a budding historian or a pumpkin grower. A love interest. I have no issue whatsoever with this, and I don't see it as a fault at all -- I love her books. Her books are like comfort food to me. Sarah Dessen is much the same way -- the stories and characters themselves change, but I'm always pretty confident that I know what I'm walking into when I start a new novel.
I never really know what I'm going to get when I pick up an Ellen Wittlinger book. Just that it'll be good. Blind Faith didn't disappoint.
Liz Scattergood has always felt closer to her grandmother, Bunny, than to her mother. For that matter, Liz's mother has always felt closer to Bunny than to her own daughter. Liz has never really connected with her mother -- Christine and Bunny seem to have this closed-membership club of two.
Then Bunny dies. And Christine collapses.
Enter the Singing Creek Spiritualist Church.
Things get rough. Liz's dad is an atheist -- an atheist and a half, really:
On Sundays, if Mom and I went to church with Bunny, Dad stayed home and read books. "I'll get my wisdom from Tolstoy rather than the Gospels," he'd say. "I trust Leo over Peter and Paul any day."
He never liked it when people talked about church or religion. I'd once heard him tell Mom that religion was superstition on one side and hypocrisy on the other. He didn't believe any of it and he didn't trust people who did.
I felt for him -- it would be a hard situation to be in, to have your wife suddenly go from 0 to 60 in the religion department. And for the religion to be one that even most religious people raise their eyebrows at -- that would be even harder. And for your wife to turn to that religion instead of to you, their husband -- that might be the hardest. I would imagine.
But the book is about Liz. Who, like so many kids, finds herself stuck in the middle. On one side, she desperately wants to believe, like her mother, that she can contact Bunny through the Spiritualists. On the other, she thinks that her father might be right.
Even though the issues in Blind Faith are BIG issues, the book never feels heavy:
The whole idea of boys being people you would actually choose to spend time with was pretty much totally incomprehensible to me. I could never think of anything to say to them, and they seemed equally dumbstruck by my presence. I think Roxy was right when she told me, "Getting straight As is not exactly an aphrodisiac." Once they grew up, like Dad, males apparently became human again, but the younger ones were aliens. All that loud talking and pounding on each other--it was embarrassing how much they wanted attention. I mean, I was attracted to men in movies, like Johnny Depp or Orlando Bloom, but I couldn't imagine having a boyfriend I'd have to actually speak to.
All of the characters are engaging and likable (even Roxy eventually won me over, though it took a while), and the complex relationship between the whole Scattergood clan was very well drawn. It was like Sandpiper. I felt like these characters were real people.
And, as always, I just enjoy Ellen Wittlinger's writing:
Dad sighed as though he were pulling the frustration up from the bottoms of his feet.
Sometimes I wondered if "best friend" just meant the person who knew you well enough to embarrass you the most.
I'm beginning to suspect that we may be on the verge of a new wave of YA books that explore religion and belief -- it's become such an unfortunately divisive force for so many of us in recent years that it isn't really surprising. I just hope that talented authors like Ellen Wittlinger and Dana Reinhardt, who are able to explore without preaching, will be the people to continue the trend.