A happy Tuesday, Reading Nook!
I hope all of you had a wonderful, reflective long weekend!
Today, we're reviewing Immaculate by Katelyn Detweiler. I wasn't really sure what to expect - books about teenaged pregnancies are kind of hit or miss with me - but I was genuinely intrigued by this thoughtful debut novel.
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published May 26th 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers
It's a surprising, provocative story, with well-plotted themes and genuinely immaculate writing
Mina is top of her class, girlfriend to the most ambitious guy in school, able to reason and study her way through anything. But when she suddenly finds herself pregnant—despite having never had sex—her orderly world collapses. Almost nobody believes Mina’s claims of virginity. Her father assumes that her boyfriend is responsible; her boyfriend believes she must have cheated on him. As news of Mina’s story spreads, there are those who brand her a liar. There are those who brand her a heretic. And there are those who believe that miracles are possible—and that Mina’s unborn child could be the greatest miracle of all.
Things that worked:
From the start of the book, it's impossible not to love Mina. She's likable, surrounded by a loving circle of friends and family, and also has a sensible head on her shoulders.
So it's especially difficult when Mina realizes that she's inexplicably pregnant, and her friends and family begin to turn against her. Detweiller doesn't hesitate to show us just how angry and judgemental people can be, and it's genuinely painful to see Mina's realization that not everyone will stand by her. .
However, Detweiler equally shows us how Mina continues to find the inner strength to keep going, without succumbing to the judgement of others. There are constant moments where Mina mentally reexamines her own behavior, and reminds herself that no, she isn't like others. She won't sink to their level.
And even if when she does - and really, who could blame her? - Mina immediately reexamines her own actions. There's an epecially poignant moment where Mina confronts a best friend whom she believes has spilled the rumors about her pregnancy, and she's humbled to realize that it wasn't the friend who gossiped. Detweiler shows a bit of a light switch going on at this juncture, and how this really helps set Mina on the path of learning how to be above rumors, gossip and vitriol.
Bottom line: Mina is a normal girl who's put into extraordinary circumstances, and Detweiler unflinchingly shows us how through extraordinary courage and conviction, she's able to stay above the fray.
On family and friends
Unsurprisingly, for much of the book, Mina's family and friends struggle with her pregnancy. Her father refuses to talk to her; her boyfriend hates her, and so on and so forth.
Detweiler does a spectacular job of showing the evoultion of a crisis; from family and friendships initially failling apart, to how they pick themselves up together again. There's a lovely degree of faith in how Mina's mother, sister and remaining friends continue to regard her, and it's that very faith which helps to (very) gradually influence the opinion of friends and strangers, near and far.
Though it's not an overt analysis Detweiler does subtly dissect how people typically tend to stick by one another until a crisis strikes, and then they start thinking the worst of one another. Detweiler challenges us to break that mold, and remain true inspite of everything.
The religious aspects
I'll be honest: I'm not religious by nature. However, I absolutely appreciated how Detweiler chose to approach the religious aspects of the novel.
Detweiler is very, very clear from the initial pages of the book that this isn't a book which is going to postulate whether there's a right way or a wrong way to approach religion. Instead, there's just a tacit recognition that there's a certain way to act that's good, decent and humane, especially in challenging situations.
We see a number of people not reacting in that particular way toward Mina, and Detweiler really does a nice job of showing us just how their behavior can damage a person's psyche, but also how a person can find the strength to rise above it - especially with some otherworldly guidance.
It's a lesson in determination that is universal, and I appreciated Detweiler for making it that way.
On that note...
The right to choose
I know that there are a lot of strong feelings about teenaged pregnancy, and Detweiler is incredibly respectful of all of them.
She presents various options for Mina to pursue, and makes a beautifully reasoned argument for why Mina decides to go through with the pregnancy. While my personal beliefs may have had me choose a different alternative had I been in her position, I was just so moved by Mina's rational.
I felt even more invested in her journey, and completely understood where she was coming from, every step of the way.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
It's strongly implied in the beginning of the book that the pregnancy is supposed to force people to think differently about the world around them, and spark some kind of global change. However, we don't ever really see that change happen, outside of Mina's own immediate family.
The fact that Mina eventually feels threatened enough to leave her town, proves to me that the pregnancy didn't really foster the type of dialogue and/or communication that anyone was hoping for. And while Detweiler does imply that Mina's child will likely do great things with the world, it does make the book feel a little more open-ended than I would have liked.
But conversely, having Mina and her child's story remain open-ended does remain true to the story of the Bible, and I would love to hear Detweiler's thoughts on where Mina and her child go from here.
Mina's journey is a confusing, emotional and provocative one, and it's worth every moment that we spend with her. Detweiler encourages readers to confront their stereotypes and assumptions, and I think that every reader will agree that we come away better for it.
Highly recommend, full stop.
About the author:
Katelyn Detweiler (katelyndetweiler.com/) was born and raised in Pennsylvania—in a small town much like Mina’s—living in a centuries-old farmhouse surrounded by fields and woods. After graduating from Penn State University, she made the move to New York City, where she is a literary agent representing books for all ages and across all genres. Katelyn currently lives, works, and writes in Brooklyn. Follow her @katedetweiler