Converting Kate is an excellent book about a girl’s discovery of a wider world than the one she’s known. Kate grew up in Idaho and Arizona, her life revolving around her mother’s church: praying each morning, adhering to strict rules of dress and behavior, learning a very circumscribed, religious-based homeschool curriculum, and fasting every Sunday for her nonbelieving father in the hope that he would be saved.
Now Kate is fifteen. Her father’s been dead for a year, she hasn’t been to church in nearly as long (Kate’s near-catatonic depression and grief helped her mother accept this; she wasn’t doing much of anything), she’s started reading her father’s worldly books, and has just moved with her mother to Maine, where they’re helping her father’s aunt run a bed and breakfast in a seacoast town. She’s going to the local public school and joining the track team and making friends who don’t go to her mother’s church. She has already lost her faith in her mother’s church; the book isn’t about her crisis of faith, it’s about what happens after, when she has to figure out how she wants to live her life without the strict guidelines of the church.
In an afterword, the author speaks of her own experience, much later in life, of leaving a highly restrictive church, which she does not name, and mentions that the Church of the Holy Divine, Kate’s mother’s church, is fictional. I can understand and appreciate this decision; it could add to the universality and lessen the risk of backlash from a specifically named church. At the same time, however, I found it frustrating; I found myself frequently distracted by the bits of theology and practice, because I was mentally matching them to religions I know, and being curious when pieces didn’t match my prior knowledge. Likewise, Kate spends some time attending a different, more liberal church, which is also unnamed, and again I was mentally solving a jigsaw of religion, without having enough pieces to finish the puzzle.
Of course, I also got distracted by her use of a translation I don’t like for a Biblical verse which is central to Kate’s religious journey,¹ so maybe I’m just a big religion nerd. Wait, did I say maybe?
Anyway, it’s an excellent book. Which may or may not leave you wanting to have a nice long chat about religion with the author.
¹ She uses the King James Version for 1 Corinthians 13. Every time they say “charity,” substitute “love.” The Greek word being translated is agape, and yes, I checked my Greek/English interlinear translation to make sure. It means love, with lots of spiritual connotations.
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