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Your best friend hates you. The guy you liked hates you. Your entire group of friends hates you.

All because you did the right thing.

Welcome to life for Mena, whose year is starting off in the worst way possible. She’s been kicked out of her church group and no one will talk to her – not even her own parents. No one except for Casey, her supersmart lab partner is science class, who’s pretty funny for the most brilliant guy on earth.

And when Ms. Shepherd begins the unit on evolution, school becomes more dramatic than Mena could ever imagine…and her own life is about to evolve in some amazing and unexpected ways.

Mena was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home. Her youth group wages a hate campaign against one supposedly gay student, harassing him to the point that he attempts suicide. Mena realizes what the youth group did was wrong and writes him a compassionate letter to apologize, which soothes her conscience but angers the church. The boy’s parents sue everyone involved, and Mena and her family are kicked out of the congregation. Now Mena’s ostracized by her former friends and her parents.

Mena is lonely and confused. She has no one to turn to, until she gets a new lab partner in science class – the geeky, funny, and handsome Casey. Mena’s ultra strict fundamentalist parents don’t allow her to socialize with boys or take part in any secular activities, so she lies to them and tells them Casey is a girl. Casey introduces her to his unconventional family and forbidden pleasures such as puppies, science fiction novels, and Lord of the Rings. He eventually becomes a love interest.

When the biology teacher introduces lessons on evolution, Mena’s former church and the youth group begin a protest. Mena is drawn into a counter-campaign led by Casey’s older sister. Soon both Mena and her parents find themselves publicly humiliated by the pastor, who actually suggests during a service that Mena go kill herself. This causes her parents to finally start to realize what their daughter has been going through. Mena concludes at the end that she can believe in scientific fact and the gospel, and tries to convince her parents to let her go to a more liberal church.

This is a first novel that tackles some heavy themes – evolution, religion, gay rights, bigotry, and honesty. It isn’t a “Christian” novel, but I think that liberal Christians may enjoy it. Intelligent Design proponents and fundamentalists would likely have problems with it. I’m of mixed mind about it. I did like Mena very much and could relate to her on some levels. The other characters were spot on, and Casey and his family were likable and interesting. I enjoyed how Casey brought Mena out of her shell. The story started out strong. I couldn’t wait for Mena to be vindicated.

However, that never happened. She feels guilty about lying to her parents, despite the fact that she was justified in doing it. Telling them the truth doesn’t accomplish anything. Her parents never apologize for the way they’ve treated her, even though she had done nothing wrong and in fact had been the only person to do the right thing. They still tell her that she had no business writing that letter. I think that’s rather unchristian of them. Mena decides at the end that her former friends’ bigotry and the pastor’s suggestion that she should die is due to them having a different viewpoint. That is completely wrong. These people are hateful and hypocritical, and for a pastor to say a child should commit suicide is stunningly evil.

I felt that Mena never truly came into her own and she never got the vindication that she so deserved. The students are never enlightened. There was no real closure. We never even find out if her parents will allow her to go to a more liberal church or continue to see Casey. We can only hope that she gains some independence and strength in her new found friends and beliefs.

It felt a bit like the author was going out of her way not to step on anybody’s toes. Instead, she tried to find a happy medium, and it doesn’t work.

All in all, this is still a good read, although the ending may fall a little short for some.

2 1/2 out of 5 stars – worth a read