The Girl Who Slept with God, by Val Brelinski

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This provocatively titled book turned out to be a very good, yet quirky and different, coming of age tale.

Viking Books sent this in 2015 and it’s been idling on my shelf ever since. (But note that we do read books sent to us! It may take longer than anticipated, but we will read those sent! 😉 ) Our book club wanted to try and rejuvenate our reading choices and a “cult-type” book was considered to be the cure for our book club doldrums. This was one I brought for a fiction suggestion. While it wasn’t chosen for our book club, I decided that now was still going to be the time to finally read it. I’m really glad I finally did.

The first sentence certainly clicked!

On the last day of August in 1970, and a month shy of her fourteenth birthday, Jory’s father drove his two daughters out to an abandoned house and left them there. 

What follows is the story of Jory and her sister Grace. Grace is fervently religious – so much so that even her parents are scared of her. Although they live in a home with already deeply religious parents, Grace is to the extreme about it, feeling her every day existence must be filled with providing everyone around her lessons on leading a Christ-like life. The girls cannot watch television, dance, drink, go to the movies, etc. Grace’s lifelong dream has been to go on a mission and when she’s 17 she fulfills that dream with a mission in Mexico. She’s not gone long before she’s home, pregnant, but convinced it’s God’s child. God has spoken to Grace and this is His will that she carry his divine child.

Jory and Grace’s parents feel the only way to handle the disgrace Grace has brought to their home is to move them to a far away house, far away from their community, school and church. Jory is sent along with her so Grace is not left alone. She must also now deal with being enrolled in a public high school, one that is vastly different from her Christian-based schooling. Jory is exposed to a shocking-to-her new world of hippies, drugs, sex and drinking. She must adapt to this new life and faces many burgeoning realizations about her sister and her parents.

“Inside it was noisy and unbelievably warm and the band was now gearing up for it’s final go-round. Jimmy stood in front of the microphone. He tapped on it experimentally and slung his guitar strap around his shoulder. “The next song is dedicated to a girl named Jory,” he said, “who’s learning about life the way we all do – the hard way.” 

Yes, there are times when the story is slightly over the top, it includes the creepy man character driving around in the big white ice cream van, a guy that Jory is convinced she is in love with. He takes Jory and Grace to a hippie commune and after Jory is hospitalized after an LSD reaction. Jory is also plunged into a whole new high school experience and goes to parties, starts drinking and is invited to the Homecoming Dance, all things explicitly forbidden in her old life.

But this also addresses mental illness, abandonment, survival and coming of age issues that made all of it a very compelling read. Now that I’ve finished The Girl Who Slept with God, I’ve started on our book club choice, Educated by Tara Westover. I’m just starting it, but already I see that this is similar in some ways with its religious fervency similar to the thread running through The Girl Who Slept with God. So both were very good suggestions for our book club / cult month. I’ll of course let you know how I felt about Educated once finished. In the meantime, I do recommend The Girl Who Slept with God!