Misdirected by Ali Berman

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Misdirected by Ali Berman

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: British teens might get a culture shock reading this novel about an atheist boy whose family move to America's Bible Belt and who struggles to defend his beliefs against a tsunami of hostility. But there's a lesson for us all in there: to what extent should we tolerate the intolerant?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: November 2014
Publisher: Seven Stories Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1609805739

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Ben's family are moving from cosmopolitan, multi-faith Boston to a small town in America's Bible Belt, much to Ben's disgust. He's not looking forward to attending a conservative Christian high school and it doesn't take more than a few days before all his fears are realised. Open about his atheism, Ben meets shock and disgust from teachers and pupils alike. When he meets a girl, Tess, her parents forbid the relationship: as a non-believer Ben, to them, is a dangerous and pernicious influence. With his brother on a tour of Iraq with the military, a sister away at college and two Boston friends who won't talk to him, Ben has only a few stolen moments with Tess to make life bearable.

And then even that goes wrong...

British teens are going to find Misdirected a bit of a culture shock. Britain is a much more secular country than the United States and it really doesn't have more than a tiny number of Christian fundamentalists. That a science lesson should be based around the tenets of creationism, that people would fear and distrust a person as a bad influence because they said they didn't believe in God, that everyone drives an hour to attend church on Sundays - these things are completely alien. They're alien to Ben too, but perhaps not quite to the extent they will be to his British readers.

This may make a British audience fall into the same trap as Ben even more quickly than he does - that is, to respond to judgmentalism with more judgmentalism. Shunned and bullied, Ben gets angry. And as much as he is scorned for his atheism, he scorns the people in Forest Ridge for their Christianity. He doesn't show them any more respect than they show him. And, in his anger, that scorn extends even to his girlfriend Tess who, while Christian, is not a fundamentalist.

There's a lesson for us all in there - atheist and religious alike - to what extent should we tolerate the intolerant?

Misdirected has an easy, colloquial style and it's a pleasure to read. Its characters are credible and well-rounded and I really did love Ben, who tells the odd white - and sometimes a shade of grey - lie but who is, at heart, honest and open with himself as well as others. I really wanted him to find a way to cope with his troubles and come out smiling. I sympathised with his plight too - I'm an atheist myself and, although I don't see my atheism as in anyway superior to somebody else's faith, I do detest closedmindedness and judgmentalism. I'd have had just as much of a problem keeping my mouth shut at the Christian Heritage Academy as he did. I also enjoyed the coming-out subplot - Ben's older sister is gay - especially as it illustrated another aspect of otherness as a counterpoint to religion.

I did find the decision by Ben's parents to send him to this particular school as lacking in credibility. They're presented as wise and thoughtful parents and it seems highly unlikely that they would have put their son in a school whose science curriculum was based on creationism or failed to notice that he was struggling before they did. But this is the only nit I can find to pick in a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking story.

You might also enjoy Bad Faith by Gillian Philip, about religious fundamentalism in a dystopian future. And there's Sprout by Dale Peck, which is about a boy growing up gay in a small parochial town.

Buy Misdirected by Ali Berman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Misdirected by Ali Berman at Amazon.co.uk

Buy Misdirected by Ali Berman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Misdirected by Ali Berman at Amazon.com.


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