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The debut novel from Lucas Klauss begins as a romance between atheist and evangelist. Phillip, the son of an atheist engineer, meets freckled, green-eyed, "unconventionally hot" Rebekah — "with a k and an h, like in the Bible" — while both are running track under the watchful eye of Randy Farragut, a.k.a. Ferret, a thirty-ish assistant coach who tortures him and flirts with her. She's missing her father, who has ditched his family to convert the heathen in Indonesia. He's missing his mother, who became obsessed with doomsday prophecies, built a bunker in their basement, left his father, and then died. Phillip loves stories of the apocalypse; Rebekah offers him her father's Bible, urges him to read Revelations and to join her Wednesday night youth group. He's pretty sure she's flirting, but maybe she just wants his soul?
At first, the swashbuckling Christian adventure stories seem to Phillip like just another "epic" version of Dune and other sci-fi favorites. But Rebekah and Ferret — who turns out to be moonlighting as youth outreach coordinator at the church — bring him further into the fold; soon he is hanging out with teens who congregate at the local convenience store, hoping to convince sinners to "turn beer into soda pop," while his former best friends continue to throw keggers. But this book is neither mere teen romance nor straight conversion narrative. It is much odder, less conventional, and more ambitious than any of that. It isn't so much about getting the girl or finding the Truth as about the small, slippery half truths and setbacks one encounters along the way. By the end, Phillip comes to see faith and doubt, sin and redemption, and love and friendship not as ends in themselves but as the beginning of really good questions.
Amy Benfer has worked as an editor and staff writer at Salon, Legal Affairs, and Paper magazine. Her reviews and features on books have appeared in Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, The Believer, Kirkus Reviews, and The New York Times Book Review.
Reviewer: Amy Benfer
Pain cuts through my foot each time it hits the pavement. I hobble and curse, and then I stumble onto a nearby lawn. The muggy air feels like gauze against my face.
Asher and Mark stop running too. We all catch our breath.
“What happened?” Asher says, planting his hands on his hips and doing that thing where he shows his top row of teeth as he inhales. The front two are perfect and white like crunchy gum.
With my butt perched on the curb, I lean back on my hands. The grass feels soft but prickly and it smells as much like chemicals as gas.
“I bent my foot,” I say. “On the curb.”
“What?” Mark says, cocking his head sideways.
“He stepped on the curb,” Asher says. “And his foot bent.” He demonstrates with his own foot, twisting it sideways.
Mark starts to jog in place. He’s lanky and looks kind of like a giraffe when he runs. “Dude, get up,” he says. “If Ferret sees us just standing around, he’s gonna—”
“Yeah, I know.” Ferret, otherwise known as Randy Farragut, is the thirty-year-old assistant coach of boys’ cross-country. During practice he rides his bike along the course to make sure everyone is running as fast and as far as he thinks they should.
And he despises the three of us.
Partially because we sometimes don’t run as fast and as far as he thinks we should. Partially because we obviously don’t care. Partially because everybody started calling him Ferret this summer and he decided that we were responsible. And we kind of were, but …
Anyway, it’s mostly because he’s a dick.
And even if he does believe that I injured myself, which he won’t, he’ll still bust Asher and Mark for standing around.
Which means sprints. A lot of sprints.
And a lot of public mockery when girls’ cross-country catches up to us in a couple of minutes.
“Try to get up,” Asher says. “Maybe it’s okay now.” He wipes the sweat around his sports goggles with his ratty Atlanta Cup tournament T-shirt, from when we still played soccer.
I push up from the grass, take a step, and grimace from the pain. I sit back down.
“Just go,” I say.
“You sure?” Asher says.
Mark kicks the toe of his sneaker against the asphalt and glances behind us again.
I shake my head. “Save yourselves.”
They laugh at me, and I think: This is why we’re friends. Because if either of them were in my position, I’d leave them, too.
Mark points behind me. “Hide behind that mailbox.”
In a yard off the nearby cul-de-sac, I see it. As big around as a column and made of brick, it’s more like a mail fortress. It’s perfectly sized to conceal a crouching coward, but—
“Just rest for a minute and take the shortcut,” Mark says. “We’ll meet you.” He looks back again, his eyes a little panicked. The Slow Freshmen—the only group of boys slower than us—are about to catch up. “Come on, dude.”
“Okay, okay. Go.”
Asher and Mark take off, and I push myself up again. I press my weight onto my good leg and limp to the cul-de-sac, flexing my hands and cringing as I go. I plop down onto a patch of shady grass behind the mailbox and shift myself so I can’t be seen from the main road. I gasp.
And then I hang my head and say, “Dammit.”
Because now I’m trapped. My ankle already really hurt, and I just made it worse. There’s no way I can meet up with Asher and Mark before Ferret sees them. And when he sees them and doesn’t see me, he’ll come hunting for me, the lame gazelle at the watering hole. Or whatever ferrets hunt.
I’ll be embarrassingly easy to find. But, to Ferret, the fact that I’m even trying to hide will be proof that I’m faking, that I really am as lazy as he keeps saying. Even though he’s the one who rides around on his Schwinn while the rest of us suffer.
He’ll insult me. He’ll humiliate me. He might even suspend me from the team.
And I’ll try to defend myself, but not hard enough. I’ll just take what he dishes out and call him Ferret behind his back. Because that’s what I do.
I hear a group of girls run by, their sharp breathing and the clap of their shoes against the pavement. I imagine Ferret barking at them to come see Phillip the Gutless Wonder.
I can’t stay here. After the girls pass, I’ll stagger away, no matter how much it hurts. I’ll limp through people’s yards and sneak back to the locker room and never come back.
I mean, I might come back if—
I hear footsteps.
One set of footsteps. On this street. Coming closer.
I didn’t hear Ferret’s bike, but I wasn’t really paying attention.
No no no.
My body tenses up. A cold drop of sweat dangles from my eyebrow. I want to swat it, but only my heart moves, like a dragonfly hovering in my chest.
The footsteps move softly. Closer.
I look up.
Standing, towering over me, green eyes catching the light.
There’s this girl.
© 2012 Lucas Klauss
Posted January 3, 2012
Ok, so to start things off, this book is absolutely not about the actual apocalypse, so if you think this is going to be an end of the world, survival, zombie infestation type book...it's not, BUT this book was a pleasant change from zombies, vampires, werewolves and everything else supernatural. We follow the main character, Phillip Flowers, as he attempts to figure out who he is and what his beliefs are. Told in first person view (my personal fav, as you all know), Klauss has incorporated humour into a novel that deals with issues that have plagued many teens, whether it be religion, or relationships with family and friends. Klauss¿ writing style made me feel like the character was really talking to me, confiding in me¿even opening up to me. I really enjoyed his telling of this story in a teen¿s perspective. Klauss did a fantastic job of writing how Phillip, a male teen, expresses his feelings and thoughts. For example, it was interesting to see Phillips point of view when it came to asking out girls, and with dealing with his emotions. One of my favorite aspects of the novel was how some of the chapters Klauss writes were lengthy and detailed with events and conversations, where other chapters are very short and to the point, but was written with so much emotion.
Klauss introduces us to a cast of unforgettable characters, and allows the reader to experience the emotional ups and downs of friendship and love. You can see that Klauss has put in so much personality into these characters, that there is no way that they cannot make an impact on the reader. We are lucky to experience Phillip¿s first kiss, his inner conflict with religion, how and where he draws his strength to continue on the path he chooses, and how he deals with the many revelations revealed to him along the way. You can feel the emotion and confusion and pain Phillip goes through when the ones he trusted the most, betray him.
I felt that Klauss wrote with so much raw emotion, that I could not put this book down. There were points in the novel where I would put the book down, look back on my life¿back to when I was a teenager, and reflect on the decisions I had made, and what the consequences were. But on the flip side, as a parent, I also reflected on the decision I make now with my kids, and how that will influence them when they grow up. I found that it was the littlest details that kept me intrigued. You are told in the synopsis that Philip¿s mother is dead, but Klauss allows the reader the tiniest of teases throughout the book without revealing how it happened until the end.
Not necessarily my type of book, but I do recommend this to anyone who enjoys contemporary YA novels, who enjoy a good coming of age story mixed in with a little humour, and a lot of heart.
Posted February 9, 2012
No text was provided for this review.