What we do in the dark and preach in the sunlight

Faith, family and forgiveness are on a collision path in journalist Kelsey McKinney’s debut novel, God Spare the Girls (2021). Caroline and Abigail are the daughters of an evangelical pastor, deep in the heart of rural Texas. As older sister Abigail’s wedding approaches, the girls discover a shocking secret about their father, one that will have repercussions on their entire family and the megachurch congregation that he leads.

At heart this is a book about love — for God, for family, for community — and whether we can ever really know another person, no matter how close they are to us. My only siblings were brothers, so the bond between Caroline and Abigail fascinated me, as it was described in passages like this:

Abigail opened her mouth, closed it again. “Okay,” she said, rolling her eyes and raising her hands, pretending to let it go. Caroline knew she hadn’t, really, though. To have a sister is to watch the same movie on repeat until the end of time. You’ve seen every scene, every musical interlude, every action and reaction is predictable. You know which phrases are catalysts and which are checkmate. Abigail had merely decided to bide her time.

The glimpse inside the evangelical Christian religion also held some fascination for me, as I don’t have any close contacts within that community. The author McKinney walks a fine line, presenting the religious aspects fairly while being clear-eyed about the gap between “what I say” and “what I do” and how it can contribute to a loss of faith.

The rural Texas landscape plays a supporting role, with the bulk of the action taking place on the ranch that Caroline and Abigail jointly inherited from their maternal grandmother. It’s hard not to draw parallels between this description of the landscape and the contrast between their father’s public and private actions:

To Caroline, the day was bright and full of spite. Weeds with purple heads and scarves of green leaves grew on lanky, smooth stalks, their roots slithering underground, choking out the other life until they alone remained — malicious and dominating, albeit pretty if you really looked at them. The grass shifted in small ways, tiny creatures trying to survive. The air was quiet all around her.

This book may not be a good choice for anyone who has a deep-seated hostility toward reading about Christianity in general or evangelicals in particular. For me, the emphasis on the interpersonal relationships and family dynamics were the main attraction, and I’m glad to have read it.

Published by Julia

I learned to read before I started kindergarten, and I haven't stopped yet.

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