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The Rapture of Canaan

by Sheri Reynolds

Kirkus A second tragedy-laden southern coming-of-age tale from Reynolds (Bitterroot Landing, 1995)--this one, set in a strict and punitive religious community, with a good, gothic allure despite its lamentably plodding prose. Ninah Huff is 14 when she really begins to chafe at the confines of her small world. Her grandpa Herman, founder of the Church of Fire and Brimstone and God's Almighty Baptizing Wind, keeps harsh control over their small South Carolina community, which is populated mostly by Ninah's extended family. Those who stray from the righteous path know to expect treatment that can range from whippings with a leather strap to sleeping overnight in a newly dug grave. And Grandpa Herman is always ready with Scripture to justify any of these punishments. Ninah, meanwhile, finds herself dreaming more and more about forbidden things, especially her strong physical attraction to James, one of the few boys around who's not her blood kin. When she winds up pregnant, it sparks tragedy within her family and shock waves throughout the community. But Ninah insists that she's not guilty of the sin of fornication, that what she and James did together was a form of pure prayer. And, sure enough, when baby Canaan is born, he appears to bear a sign from God--his hands are joined at the palms like someone perpetually praying. Grandpa Herman proclaims him the New Messiah, and he's taken away from Ninah to be raised by others. This time out, Reynolds burdens her story with some unworkable metaphors--a rug that grins?--and much awkward dialogue, but, in all, she creates a strongly compelling tension between family feeling and religious fervor. The fate of Ninah and her son is uncertain until the small epiphany (or, really, anti-epiphany) at book's end--a moment that seems just right. Fire and brimstone that goes tepid at times but is really chilling overall. (Literary Guild alternate selection; author tour)

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Publishers Weekly In this gritty portrait of a young girl who battles repression in a rural Southern religious community, Reynolds (Bitterroot Landing) once again showcases a compelling narrative voice that's simultaneously harsh and lyrical. The narrator is Ninah Huff, granddaughter of Herman Langston, the founder of a Pentecostal sect in rural South Carolina. Herman is a strict disciplinarian, to say the least: he forces one congregant found guilty of drinking to sleep in an open grave. Because of the Pentecostal group's rigid attitudes, Ninah and her peers are frequently scorned and mocked at school. But her real problems start when she becomes pregnant by her prayer partner. Ninah's subsequent rebellion and the tragic aftermath of her tryst threaten to tear the community apart, particularly when the despotic Herman interprets an ordinary, curable birth defect in her infant son, Canaan, as a sign that she has given birth to the new messiah. While many of the issues Reynolds deals with are coming-of-age staples-teen rebellion; the standoff between adolescent expression and religious repression; the morality of the individual vs. the morality of the group-her gift for characterization ultimately transcends the material as Ninah's strength and resilience enable her to move beyond benighted religiosity toward a true and lasting faith. Literary Guild featured alternate selection. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal For Ninah Huff, being different from most people has meant being saved. Growing up in her grandfather's penitential religious commune in the rural South, Ninah is surrounded by love and the assurance of sanctity, though she sometimes wonders if she is truly holy. At 14, she begins to have serious doubts. Are all outsiders really damned? Are long, somber dresses and never-cut hair really necessary? Most of all, how sanctified are the feelings sparking between Ninah and James, her prayer partner in the Church of Fire and Brimstone and God's Almighty Baptizing Wind? With Ninah's pregnancy, questions of faith and sin take on real urgency, leading to tragedy and even a miracle. Ninah relates her story in prose both poetic and page turning; Reynolds lives up to the praise garnered by her first novel, Bitterroot Landing (LJ 11/15/94).-Starr E. Smith, Marymount Univ. Lib., Arlington, Va. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Book list For 14-year-old Ninah Huff, growing up in the extended family community of the Church of Fire and Brimstone and God's Almighty Baptizing Wind has meant working on the communal tobacco farm, receiving harsh punishments for unintended acts, being different from schoolmates, and enjoying a few simple pleasures. Foremost among the pleasures have been the company and stories of Nanna, whose husband, Grandpa Herman, founded the church after surviving wartime combat and unilaterally controlled its finances, doctrines, and daily life. Then comes a pleasures surpassing all others in the person of 15-year-old James. Designated prayer partners, Ninah and James share rebellious ideas, tentative touches, and more (after beseeching Jesus to speak to each of them through the other), leaving Ninah pregnant and touching off events that shake the community and its faith. Reynolds' second assured coming-of-age novel (after Bitterroot Landing, 1995) is also a devastating portrayal of organized religion as illogical, intolerant, and cruel but still unable to extinguish the spark of the human spirit. --Michele Leber

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.