This latest literary novel by R.P. Burnham explores the darkness and hypocrisy of fundamentalist religion.
The story begins in Maine, when our young brilliant protagonist, Charlie, is but a girl of thirteen. She lives a turbulent life with her alcoholic mother, who seems to bring a new boyfriend to their rundown apartment every month. Her mother, blinded by alcohol, isn’t able to express the love she feels for Charlie. She isn’t able to adequately provide for her daughter either. In spite of it all, Charlie would rather stay with her mother than having to live with relatives or worse, foster parents, a real scenario if child services find out what’s really going on in their home.
However, the day arrives when both mother and daughter aren’t able to hold up appearances anymore. When Charlie is attacked by one of her mother’s boyfriends, a neighbor calls the authorities and the girl’s life radically changes. She goes to live with her uncle — her mother’s brother — to a beautiful house on the other side of town. Her uncle, an egotistical, self-righteous minister, runs his household like a tight ship. He always has the last word; no one is allowed to express their real opinions; for him, women are mere instruments of reproduction and belong in the kitchen. Charlie, a smart girl, adjusts accordingly in order to please her uncle and avoid problems and in doing so becomes an excellent student of the church’s teachings. Her uncle soon sees Charlie’s potential and uses her as a weapon for his own purposes. If he can get Charlie to intelligently debate the absolute truth of the church, more followers will join his congregation.
Later, in high school, Charlie is faced with prejudice because of her beliefs and those of her uncle. She meets a boy there, Jeremy, who seems to be the only one who understands her. They become friends, but, because of Charlie’s uncle, they don’t have the opportunity to see each other as normal friends would. A big part of the novel revolves around Jeremy, as some of the chapters are written solely from his perspective. In these chapters, Jeremy discusses religion as well as several political issues, such as the war in Iraq and the extreme views of the conservative party.