*Leap of Faith is a 2007 Cybils Middle Grade Fiction nominee*
LEAP OF FAITH is about Abby, a girl who gets sent to Catholic school after being expelled from her public school for assault. She stabbed a boy with a pocketknife. But only because no one would listen to her about what he was doing to her, and she had no more options. His father was the principal! Her own parents are always busy, always working, and don’t seem to have time to listen to their daughter.
At her new school, she finds friends, real friends, begins to do well in school, and even gets involved with the drama department, an elective she only signed up for in the first place because it didn’t seem academic. Of course, as the title suggests, much of this book is about religion. Abby has been raised without one, and her parents, at least her father, seem to be pretty strongly not religious. And nobody at school pressures Abby to become Catholic, but she begins to look more closely at faith, at her own faith, despite the way that upsets her father. She wonders if maybe religion’s not as bad as her father seems to think, and even signs up for classes in preparation to become Catholic. Still, though, she definitely questions it. Is she really going to go through with it, to be Catholic, to have faith, or is she just in it because she feels like it’ll help her out, socially?
I’m not religious, and I also would have hated it if I’d been sent to a religious school, but this book, well, wow. One thing I noticed was how different it is from most books I’ve read about young people and religion. Most of these books (except the ones written specifically with the purpose of advocating a specific religion, which I don’t feel this was) are about people questioning the strong beliefs they’ve been raised with–Evolution, Me, And Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande and Converting Kate by Becky Weinheimer come to mind–and for some reason that seems more acceptable in literature (again, excluding books written to advocate a specific religion) than what Bradley did here; she took a risk in writing this, as did the mainstream publisher in publishing it, but it worked.
I’m going to borrow a phrase from my review of Converting Kate to talk about this one:
“This crisis of faith idea, the idea of learning to think for oneself, is certainly not new in adolescent literature. It’s definitely relevant, too; so many children have grown up with their parents’ beliefs, never realizing that perhaps that’s not the only way to think until they’re older – say, teenagers. These are important books to have, important issues to write about as questioning of faith, regardless of how one answers those questions, is part of the human (and teenage) experience.”
That’s what this book is about, too, but it’s unique in that the main character finds faith, questioning her parents’ lack of it, and yet I feel it will appeal to readers of all religious beliefs. Catholics, atheists, Presbyterians, whatever. That is pretty remarkable.
Aside from that religious aspect and the fact that this book does deal with heavy topics (religion, sexual harassment) remarkably well (and appropriately, being a middle grade book), it’s also very well written. I loved the characters, Abby and her friend Chris in particular. I highly recommend this book for anyone, really, of any age, despite its being a middle grade book.