The Girl Who Slept with God by Val Brelinski

The Girl Who Slept with God

Val Brelinski

The Girl Who Slept with God is a literary achievement about a family’s desperate need for truth, love, purity, and redemption.

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“Fine, carefully wrought . . . reading this novel [is] a heartening experience.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Brelinski’s page-turning debut is full of humor, insight, and imaginative sympathy. Think of it as the annunciation of a new talent.” The Wall Street Journal

“A revelation.” —Vanity Fair

“[Brelinski] had readers hooked from page 1.” —Elle

For Fans of Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You and Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, an entrancing literary debut about religion, science, secrets, and the power and burden of family from recent Wallace Stegner Fellow Val Brelinski

Set in Arco, Idaho, in 1970, Val Brelinski’s powerfully affecting first novel tells the story of three sisters: young Frances, gregarious and strong-willed Jory, and moral-minded Grace. Their father, Oren, is a respected member of the community and science professor at the local college. Yet their mother’s depression and Grace’s religious fervor threaten the seemingly perfect family, whose world is upended when Grace returns from a missionary trip to Mexico and discovers she’s pregnant with—she believes—the child of God.

Distraught, Oren sends Jory and Grace to an isolated home at the edge of the town. There, they prepare for the much-awaited arrival of the baby while building a makeshift family that includes an elderly eccentric neighbor and a tattooed social outcast who drives an ice cream truck.

The Girl Who Slept with God is a literary achievement about a family’s desperate need for truth, love, purity, and redemption.

Advance Galley Reviews

While I enjoyed Jorie's inquisitiveness, and her rebellion against the standards that were being set for her, the religious aspect of the story was a bit too overwhelming for me at times. I'd recommend this for anyone who enjoys a story dealing with the struggles that come with family relationships, as well as coming-of-age stories.

This was by far one of the most amazing books I ever read. It started out slow then drew me in. The ice cream man comes down the road and little do we know that he will soon set a rift between these two God loving sisters. One who is serving her church and fellow man as a missionary and another whose the rebellious one wanting to challenge everything. When the oldest come backs from Mexico pregnant with a child whom she is convinced God gave her to carry what will this high standing religious family do? The girls are left alone in a home unattended with an elderly neighbor lady near by. She helps the girls but gives the younger sister a chance to be understood. While the older sister starts to plan her get away before giving up her baby which we soon see the sisters being torn apart by their love for this older ice cream man whose won both their hearts. You have to read the story for yourself to get the full impact. You are appalled at how the girls are treated, angered at the parents, want to tell sense into the girls, scream at the ice cream man, cry because you feel their pain. This book is going to be destined for greatness!

The Girl Who Slept with God by Val Brelinski is a solid story with finely etched characters, beautifully written in a style that is both engaging and enjoyable. When I first started, it was without much expectation but as I went deeper and deeper it became more and more absorbing. This story about love, family and redemption is a must-read for those who love a tightly written fiction.

This book was fascinating. Told from the point of view of the fourteen year old daughter Jorie, the plot examines religious values, cultural viewpoints, and emotional events that trigger and affect Jorie and her family. I found the character Grip to be a little puzzling, but his presence did move the plot along. I loved the neighbor Hilda most of all. Without giving anything away (I hope), I found the ending to be so sad, but probably inevitable.

The writing in this book is outstanding. You're solidly in Jory's corner, and the more you read the more you are in Grace's as well. She wrote the parents with a delicate balance. The reader believes they really would make the the choices they do, even though those choices made me livid as I read them. I give it five stars and recommend it to other readers.

I absolutely loved this book. The characters are complicated and believable. I didn't always like their choices, but I enjoyed spending time with them.

Val Brelinski's first novel tries to incorporate a little bit of everything, and mostly succeeds. The novel follows Jory, a middle child in a Christian family. Her father, an astrologist (which, yes, enables the author to explore longish thoughts about humanity's place in the cosmos) is also a particularly tough breed of fundamentalist. When Jory's devout sister Grace returns from a mission trip pregnant, the girls' parents are so gobsmacked that they force both sisters into a form of exile on the other side of town, where they become involved with Grip, a mysterious ice cream man with New Age proclivities. In perhaps the least credible subplot, Rory is moved from her Christian private school into a public high school, where she is shown the ropes by all the types you would recognize if you've seen a John Hughes movie. Brelinski draws her characters with a humanistic touch, and the detail she breathes into the world of the novel is impressive. I was raised in a fundamentalist environment, and Brelinski nails the sense of anxiety it breeds in young people, and young women especially. I was most pleased with the setting of Arco, Idaho, which will seem familiar to anyone with a rural background. (One of the most beautiful and haunting passages involves an encounter with department store security, such as it is.) But sometimes the book seems to struggle to find a balance. There is an essential mystery to Grace's pregnancy (as the title implies, she will only say that the child is God's), but when that plot recedes from view, you begin to feel that it is a rather tenuous foundation for other plots that are frankly more interesting. The book is at its strongest when it embraces ambiguity, but in the few instances it doesn't it errs on the side of sentiment.

That striking title sets the scene for an out-of-the-ordinary coming-of-age novel set in a fundamentalist Christian family in Arco, Idaho in 1970. The Quanbecks renounce dancing, movies, alcohol and everything else that represents regular teenage life for thirteen-year-old Jory. She and her sisters are sheltered from the world within their church and Christian school. That sense of being set apart only grows stronger when seventeen-year-old Grace comes back pregnant from a short mission trip to Mexico. Grace swears it was an immaculate conception and she, like Mary, has been entrusted with carrying God’s child. Is she telling the truth, is she repressing a traumatic event, or is she mentally ill? Val Brelinski keeps that question largely open throughout her strong debut novel. Grace’s actions will have a lasting effect on Jory. The girls’ parents – their father a Harvard-educated astronomer and their mother a virtual shut-in who relies on prescription anxiety pills – decide that Grace will live away from them and the community, and Jory will keep her company. Dr. Quanbeck buys a small house next-door to Hilda Kleinfelter and withdraws both girls from school so word can’t get around. Jory will attend secular Schism High, where she gets an education in teenage socialization that includes the Homecoming dance, liquor and an accidental LSD trip. Hilda becomes a sort of surrogate grandmother to the girls, and Grip, a deadbeat ice cream van driver in his twenties, is their new best friend. Brelinski is sensitive to the ways in which religion and romantic infatuation influence her characters’ choices, and even when things get a little bit uncomfortable – like when Grip and Jory steal a kiss – the plot feels true to life. The choice of close third-person narration from Jory’s perspective, rather than first-person, thankfully keeps the book from resembling a teen diary. This is the best of both worlds: we get Jory’s thoughts, but in more sophisticated literary language. The novel also blends biblical metaphors and Dr. Quanbeck’s astronomical vocabulary to good effect, as in this lovely passage near the end: "The universe had opened up and revealed its own perfectly blank face to [Jory’s] own, returning her gaze with a flattened emptiness that stretched on and on and on—a world so wide and featureless and open, so dark and formless, that light never pierced it: no sun, no moon, no stars. And it now seemed entirely possible that two girls … could stumble mutely on across the face of it forever, seeking a home, and a resting place, and finding none." In a book full of memorable characters, I found Grace and Dr. Quanbeck to be the most compelling ones, mostly for how logic and superstition collide in their thinking. Like the father in A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray, one of my favorite novels from last year, Dr. Quanbeck could almost seem like the villain here for the choices he imposes on his family, but the picture of him is nuanced so that you can see how desperately he loves his family and wants to protect them from worldly pain. Along with Issy Bradley (set in Britain’s Mormon community), the novel reminded me most of We Sinners by Hanna Pylväinen, another picture of family life under strict religious guidelines, and How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer, a love story with astronomical overtones. Much as I liked it, I did think Brelinski’s novel was about a quarter too long; both the middle section – where Jory is negotiating her newfound freedom – and the dénouement felt drawn out. It would be interesting to see Brelinski’s talent for characterization and scene-setting applied to short stories or a much shorter novel. I also thought the initial decision to set the two girls up in their own home felt slightly far-fetched. All the same, I appreciated this balanced picture of family life. The Quanbecks are never just oddities or your stereotypical dysfunctional family, but as idealistic and messed up as all the rest of us. As Mrs. Kleinfelter puts it, “Most [families] are pretty much the same, I think. Good and bad mixed together in a small bag. Or a small house.” My rating: 4 stars This review appeared at my blog:

Thanks to First to Read for early access to the novel in exchange for an honest review! This novel is part coming of age, part exploration of religion and science, and part tragedy. It's clear from the beginning that things won't end necessarily well for the Quanbecks, particularly when it comes to how the parents handle the situation. Their actions seem utterly ridiculous to modern readers, but Brelinski still writes the parents in such a way that you hope they'll come to their senses by the end of the novel. I ended up enjoying this novel more than I thought I would--the premise intrigued me, but I didn't expect to grow so emotionally connected to the characters, particularly with Jory. It's extremely hard to see her try to make the best of her family's actions; Brelinski really captured the tone and essence of a fourteen-year-old. Jory felt like such a real character. I thought Brelinski also captured the time period and atmosphere well. Her writing, while not the best that I've come across, was quite beautiful at times, and executed the story well. I would have really liked alternating perspectives from Grace, too. I think she was an interesting character, and would have loved to have seen some of the events from her point of view. Particularly when it came to the last fifty pages. All in all, I enjoyed this book. I do think it dragged a bit in the middle, and there could have been perhaps one or two events left out, but it's a solid story, with a solid set of characters. And I think that Brelinski handled the tragedy within the story without overt sentimentality. It could have felt a little "Lifetime," but it didn't. I would give the book 3.5 stars. I recommend it to those who are interested in novels that explore family dynamics and problems (I'm a sucker for dysfunctional family stories, and this did not disappoint in that category), novels that explore coming of age characters, and novels that explore religion and its connection to both science and those who believe. There are some poignant questions raised that I think were handled extremely well on the religious front.

Well-written, especially the manner in which the author depicts the thoughts and feelings of a young teenager chafing against the boundaries of her isolating religious and family life. Interesting premise and well-executed.

While the premise of the book sounds interesting, it was poorly executed. The characters were never introduced making it difficult to follow the story. As the relationships did emerge, the plot seemed contrived. Try as I might to read the book, I gave up after 70 pages. The book just didn't offer anything in terms of storytelling or solid writing to make me want to spend anymore time on it.

This book captured my interest from the beginning and held it all the way to the end. I really cared about Jory and wanted to know what would happen to her. It was hard to watch her struggle to make her way despite the lack of care from her parents, and the constant admonitions of her older sister, Grace. I loved the character of Mrs. Klinefelter who stepped in to help Grace and Jory and was a sane, stable influence in their lives. Throughout the book, I held more sympathy for one of Jory's parents. The ending caused me to shift that sympathy as it appeared that the other parent may have been more responsible for the family dysfunction than it seemed in the rest of the book. Although the ending was not the complete redemption that I had hoped for, I felt confident that Jory would continue to grow and overcome her family.

What do you do with a 17 year-old devout Christian who returns from her missionary trip impregnated by God? Apparently in Idaho in 1970, you took her and her 13 year-old sister and moved them to a house at the edge of town to fend for themselves until the baby is born and can be forcibly given up for adoption. No problem, right? Admittedly, the father did try to keep everything together. While taking care of his chronically "migrained" wife, he still manages frequent visits to the daughters to bring them food and correspondence school work for Grace, the eldest. Meanwhile, the girls, against the wishes of their father, make friends with the elderly neighbor (who was probably my favorite character) and a questionable ice cream truck driver. No surprise that things do not go the way the father planned. The surprise, from summaries of the book, is that the 13 year-old is the main character. Seeing the story progress through her eyes gives us an intimate and emotional but less subjective view of the situation. At the same time, mirroring the pregnancy and forced isolation with Jory's freshman year at a public high school after attending Christian schools added to the unbalanced nature of the storyline. And if nothing else, the fact that they lived near Chicken Dinner Road was enough to hook me. Yes, it really exists in Idaho. I know because I have taken a picture of the street sign. It probably looks very similar now to what it did back in 1970. Overall, it was a touching but emotional book.

Thank you to Penguin publishers for the opportunity to read and review this book. The book is set in the late 1960's and/or early 1970's and follows a family as they deal with a crisis in the family. It focuses on the middle of 3 daughters, Jory, but also goes into some of the other characters thoughts and actions as seen from Jory's point of view. The book is both heartbreaking and enlightening as it follows the family through mental disorders, social taboos and strict religious adherence, heartbreak and lessons in life that mold the family unit, both tearing them apart and mending them back together again. The story is very powerful and kept me interested, although it is not normally the type of book that I would read.

The Girl Who Slept with God is beautiful story about the Quanbecks, a Christian family torn apart when Grace, the eldest daughter, returns from a missionary trip to Mexico impregnated by an “angel.” The father, an astronomer at the local college, decides the best thing to do is send 17-year-old Grace and her 14-year-old sister, Jory, to live alone on a farm with an elderly neighbor looking in on them, while he stays at home with his youngest daughter and his tranquilizer-taking wife to keep up appearances in their religious community. The relationships between the characters are excellently portrayed, particularly that of Grace and Jory, theirs is a strong, unique and oftentimes conflicted bond. Adding to this family drama is the time period, the 70s, the world outside the protected home of the Quanbeck’s, which reaches the sisters in their secluded farmhouse. I loved this book. The characters, with all of their flaws, are all too human and Val Brelinski writes so beautifully you accept them.

This book was a well-written and somewhat painful story of a teenager girls coming of age in 1969. Jory and Grace's parents are very devout and strict, and their upbringing is very sheltered. Grace is determined to be more religious than even her parents. Jory is more given to doubts and questioning. Then Grace heads off to Mexico as a missionary and comes back pregnant with a child she believes was fathered by God; whether this is due to delusion or insanity is not clear. Their father decides to deal with the situation by a rather extreme measure to hide the family's problems from the public eye. He isolates Grace and Jory together in a house away from town, and sends Jory to a public school very different from the religious school she is used to. Jory's sheltered upbringing gives her little help dealing with the pressures of being a teenager, especially not during the turmoil of the 60s. Both girls are also dealing with the attentions of Grip, who seems caring on the surface but has his own issues and clearly is not the sort to be left alone with underage girls. I was appalled by the poor judgement shown by all the characters in this novel, with only their neighbor Hilda Kleinfelter showing any kind of sense at all. I kept reading, though, because I was engaged and was hopeful that there would eventually be some kind of happy resolution. Not an easy book to read, but definitely a powerful novel with well-developed and realistic characters and strong messages.

I found the The Girl Who Slept With God to be a well written book and an enjoyable read. However, I thought the plot meandered around a little too much and I found some parts unbelievable, in particular the character of Grip and his relationship to the sisters. What I loved about this book was the way it treated aspects of religion in the community and the family. It looked at the complexities and contradictions of coming to age in a fundamentalist religious family and how those issues are addressed as one grows up. The point of view of Jory was excellent in this regard, reflecting the innocence and ignorance of someone with that kind of sheltered upbringing and the difficulties of facing new information and realities. There are far too few good books that deal this sensitively with religion in peoples lives without resorting to mockery or stereotypes. This book does it marvelously and for that I fully recommend this book.

Trying to read this book was a challange. It didn't flow well and all the information of the younger sister seemed irrelevant when you get to the part where you learn the pregnant girl is the other/older sister. I had to stop reading at that point, I just couldn't get past that point. So I failed to finish it and would only give it two stars.

I received this book as an advanced readers edition through Penguin's First Read program. Thank you Penguin. What amazing character development. a story of growing up, learning about the world, questioning beliefs held all your life, mental health issues, and the power of family love. I couldn't put this book down because every time I did I just wanted to continue reading to find out what happens next to the characters. I love the strength of Jory and seeing her grow throughout the story. She starts out as a sheltered young girl who believes she is not brave and emerges into a strong woman in just a years time. She weathers through everything life throws at her and just comes out stronger at then end, even helping save her father. If that's not brave, I don't know what is. A remarkable book. Would definitely recommend.

The author has told a tale with such finely developed characters and details that it is like unwrapping onion skin to find the core of the novel. The book takes place in 1970 in rural Idaho, but the family at the center of the story are really existing out of their time, since 1970 was a time of great upheaval and change, even in rural Idaho. The family in question still maintains a bomb shelter, lives a very sheltered conservative religious life that prevents most modern entertainment or interaction, and is struggling within itself to remain functional. The mother is often bedridden, the eldest daughter believes she is chosen by God to be a missionary, the father is an acclaimed scientist whose religious beliefs have kept him out of mainstream academia, the youngest daughter is sheltered from everything and our protagonist at 14, is the center of our story. This is her coming of age story. And it is beautiful, sad, painful, wonderous, amazing, and awful all at once. It is both a story of its time, 1970, and of its community: aspects of the story seem shocking by today's standards. The book is compelling and fascinating and impossible to stop reading. It is one of a kind and not easily forgotten. It is a gem.

The story is told from the point of view of the 13-year old Dory, the middle sister, in a family of three daughters. She is brought by her father to live in an old house with her pregnant 17-year old sister, Grace, outside of the town where her family lives so that no one will know about the pregnancy. Grace became pregnant while on a missionary trip to Mexico. She is very religious and insists that the child is from God. Dory has a hard time adjusting to a new school and is befriended by a man who drives an ice cream truck and an elderly neighbor. The relationship of Dory and her father evolves over the course of the story and issues of love and control are developed.

I read a lot of books, and if the writing is poor or the plot predictable, I don't finish them. I couldn't put this one down. At first I wondered if it were a coming-of-age novel. But no. It is so much more in its jaw-doing unpredictability. Who saves whom, I kept wondering. It was particularly fun to watch the evolution of the character Grip. Read it to find out who the real heroes are.

An excellent book about family and the bonding between family members. The author has shown redemption in a little different way. I loved the book.

A Good book about family, love and lots more. Its a book about everything good and bad a family can face in this world. I recommend this book for all. A great and compelling read.

Compelling read from the first chapter till the end. Jory is learning about life "the hard way" as the guitarist at Homecoming says. And it's true. There is nothing in this story that could not happen in real life and that is what draws the reader in. Religion, God, power, family - all these central themes resonate with the reader and call into thought similarities with one's own life, even if the story isn't the same. The idea that stands out most is how little we actually really know about each other; and even sometimes ourselves. Great read. Sad, but honest. Would highly recommend.


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