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on June 10, 2014
This book should get 2 1/2 stars: there is nothing objectionable enough for me to say 'I hate' it, so it gets a 3 star rating.

My reaction can be summed up in one word: MEH. It's sad that a young person would waste his or her time reading this book when library bookshelves OVERFLOW with meaningful, exciting, transformative and enlightening books, both fiction and non-fiction. Life is short, time is valuable, and what you read (or otherwise focus your attention upon) shapes you as a person. So: choose to spend your reading time wisely. MY time was wasted reading this book, but if my review helps you decide to pass it by, then I can salvage at least SOME purpose for the time spent.

Author Rebecca Rupp has a Ph.D. in cell biology yet makes her heroine Octavia sound like a scientific moron by having her think she can use her science fair project to destroy her mother's interest in fundamentalist religious beliefs. Octavia believes she is doing actual scientific research when she asks different people to pray, meditate and/or engage in feng shui over bean plants to influence their growth rate. When there is no obvious difference between the control plants and the plants subjected to "spiritual practices," Octavia is crushed and moans, "I'd been so sure that I would be able to prove that prayer doesn't work and that, therefore, there is no God."

Give me a break that any teenager with half a brain would seriously think he or she could so easily "prove" there is no God. Rupp takes a situation which COULD have led to thought-provoking dialogue and a realistic story and simply makes it an asinine joke. First, I think most teens would recognize the obvious flaw that if you do not believe in God, then your mumbling some words out into the void does not constitute "prayer," and, second, if the existence of God could be proven or disproven so easily it would have been done long, long, ago, honey. Even a moron can reach that conclusion without much effort.

Rupp is a proponent of homeschooling (as I generally am, though I also believe we will need good schools and homeschooling is not appropriate for everyone) and she no doubt wrote this book, in part, as a protest against the conservative "Bible-believing, Jesus freak" mentality which pervades so much of the American homeschooling subculture. I just don't see how this book does anything to change that mentality or, really, to challenge it in any meaningful way. Certainly Octavia's parents (Boone and Ray) are just as dysfunctional in their own way as the fundamentalists Rupp portrays. If a young girl reads this book hoping to find some guidance for how to live her life, what will she learn, really? Not much.

If you want a good story about a girl who stands strong against the misguided beliefs of fundamentalists, read Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Or, for that matter, provoke your thinking with the real life hardships confronted (and surmounted) by an intelligent and amazing man born unjustly into slavery: 'The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.' Now THESE books are 'thought-provoking.'
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on April 21, 2011
Seventh-grade Octavia's mother becomes involved with a fundamentalist group, which results in her leaving her husband, child and home. Octavia's happy life is disrupted as she is shunted between her parents, having no say in the matter. She also must attend religious training which she despises and previously has nothing in common with. Octavia had Big Questions before her life was shaken up, but she expands to ask others what their Big Questions are. There is a bias towards the religious group, but it is fair questioning from the protagonist (who narrates her own story). For this reason I recommend this book to students ages 12 and up, who are likely able to form their own opinions and have knowledge of the world outside of their parents' codifying influences. It's wickedly funny-- caustic, even, and if you are a parent who monitors your child's reading, don't pick this book up.
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