I was so excited when I saw the reviews of this book. Someone wrote a novel for kids about science and religion? AWESOME. I know a number of kids who feel tension between what their parents believe and what they learn in school – how great to have a novel where the protagonist is dealing with exactly that issue!
The good news is that Mary Mae competently tackles this problem. Mary Mae is a pleasant, relatable protagonist who is curious about her teacher’s world while remaining respectful of her family’s beliefs. The people she encounters in church, at home, and at school are, to a one, good and reasonable people with Mary Mae’s best interests at heart – they just have different ideas about what’s best. The conclusion Mary Mae eventually reaches is age-appropriate (i.e. she doesn’t suddenly launch into some lengthy, deep philosophical diatribe) and, again, respectful of her religious beliefs while remaining open to the possibilities of science.
So this book is a success, in that sense. BUT – and this is a big, important but – every sentence sounds like this: “But there’s this little crab a-setting in the corner all by hisself.” (Other examples: “Some of them pages is real old,” “His wife is a-setting off to the side,” “Don’t want nobody in the class to know I been crying.”)
I cannot tell you how incredibly distracting the dialect (Appalachian, I guess? What other dialects are there in southern Ohio?) is. If it were only present in the dialogue, or otherwise scattered throughout the text, I could have dealt with it. I might’ve even found it charming. But when every single sentence has multiple folksy-isms, it actually makes the book difficult to read. There were sentences I had to work pretty hard to parse – so how am I going to pass this off to a nine-year-old? Are they really going to have the patience to wade through the irritating writing to reach the book’s message? I don’t know. I barely did.
In short: This book is sort of a mixed bag. I like that it grapples with the tension between science and religion, and I like Mary Mae, but the dialect made reading the book feel like a chore.