I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds, I’m just going to go ahead and tell you that now. In certain aspects this book reminds me of non-fiction books about the FLDS(Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints) that I have read. Over all it’s an interesting story. Let’s get to the summary before I do anymore explaining about the book.
Our main character is a girl named Ninah. She lives in a very close-knit community. This community is a religious community composed mainly of extended family members. The man in charge of this community is her grandfather. He is the overseer and preacher of the The Church of Fire and Brimstone and God’s Almighty Baptizing Wind. Yes, that’s really what it is called. We see examples of this man being both incredibly strict, but also incredibly loving.
Ninah is very close to her grandmother Leilah. It’s common knowledge that Leilah’s mother had an affair and shot her husband, Leilah’s father, then got Leilah to lie to a judge about the whole thing. This is common knowledge because every Sunday or every opportunity Ninah’s grandfather gets he preaches about how evil it was for Leilah to have harbored a murderer. As if things weren’t hard enough for a woman who had to go through that sort of thing. Despite all of this Leilah still loves her husband and dotes heavily on all her children and grandchildren in the community, Ninah just happens to be a particular favorite.
Ninah like for Leilah to tell her stories. These stories are generally about Leilah’s past. This is how Ninah learns that her grandfather wasn’t always the man he was. This is how she learns what circumstances led the church into being. This is how she learns of the secret hurts her grandmother endures on a daily basis.
Ninah is a young teenager, in the seventh or eighth grade when we meet her. Her world does not seem very modern, but it’s more modern than we get a scope of early on in the book. Children ride the bus to school. There is a K-mart. People know how to use telephones and so forth. At first glance, you think the community is set in earlier times, but it really isn’t. Ninah takes a particular interest in a boy named James. He is technically her step-nephew, but that doesn’t stop him from being interesting. When Leilah hears about her granddaughter’s interest in this boy she tries to make it alright. There are strict punishments in the community for various crimes, or rather, sins. One man, Ben is made to sleep in a grave over night. Another time, he is locked in a cellar for forty days. Children often sleeps on thorns and burrs in their beds.
Ninah and James are paired up as prayer partners. Each evening they get together and pray for everyone in the community. For a while, that is all their prayers are about. Eventually, they develop something much more than friendship. Then it evolves even more after that. Eventually, Ninah finds herself pregnant. She fears the worst. She fears her grandfather will have her killed. She fears all sorts of things. When she tells James he is quite distraught. Word finally gets out and Ninah has to face the fall out of her sins and her grandfather’s punishment, but a strange turn of events make things not as bad as Ninah had imagined.
What I liked
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, this book reminds me of non-fiction books I have read about the FLDS. Their way of living is similar to Ninah’s way of living. There are strict rules and dress codes. People are expected to behave a certain way. Many of the teachings might seem silly and have no basis in reality. I say silly to illustrate the absurdity of the situation not to be insulting. Everyone is entitled to their brand of religion. Sheri, obviously, gets this strict brand of religion. She gets this whole strict religious community thing. She illustrates it beautifully.
I was quite amazed with Sheri’s ability to write out guilts people in the community would have over tiny transgressions. It’s all spot on as far as I can concerned. She presented the alternatives as well. In the book we don’t only see the strict religious community, but we also see the outside world. We see how people struggle to come into the community. We see people who have no interest in the community or any god at all. We see people who believe in different gods. We also see people who believe in the same god, but do it in a slightly different manner.
This book takes place in the South, somewhere, I’m not sure where. The mention of kudzu pretty much gives it away as being a southern thing. In the south, if you didn’t know, there are lots and lots of little churches. I know I’ve mentioned this before and probably sound like a broken record, but if you read books set in the south you have to know this fact. These little churches have all split off of one another. Their teachings may be similar, but they are not the same church. You cannot attend one Sunday at the Baptist church on the corner and then go to the Baptist church down the road the next Sunday thinking you’re going to be getting the same doctrine. You’re just not going to get the same thing because they’re branches off of something else. Those little disagreements created entirely different religions. This is how The Church of Fire and Brimstone and God’s Almighty Baptizing Wind comes to exist. I happen to think Sheri does a wonderful job of explaining this in her book.
Ninah is sorely naive. I’ve known or known of girls with Ninah’s same naiveté due to religious backgrounds. They act like Ninah does. They look at the world like Ninah does. They can’t understand the real world, just like Ninah can’t understand the real world. I’ve known a few girls who are naive because of religion A, B, or C and I want to shake them and say, “You can be religious and all, but you have to take some interest in where you’re headed. You can’t go through the world without knowing anything about it.” I have heard some rather silly thoughts as I have known people over the years. It’s definitely a quandary that women still find themselves in today and even still in the United States. If these women ever leave their communities they get a whole world of culture shock. Years ago, I remember watching a Dateline special or a 20/20 special about this young Amish woman. Her brother had been raping her, but she was so naive that she didn’t have a word to explain what was going on. She didn’t have enough education to explain what was going on. She could only tell her family that her brother was being bad to her and that meant a whole host of things. She was finally able to get out from under the situation, but she had a hard time adjusting to the real world. Sheri does a very good job with Ninah’s character.
Ninah’s grandfather was not an entirely bad man. He had a sweetness about him that balanced out the strictness within him. There were times in the book where you wanted to hate the man, but you could never fully hate him because of the sweet moments he had. Again, Sheri did a good job creating this very human character.
What I didn’t like
I can’t say there is a lot I didn’t like. I don’t like that Ninah’s grandfather is kind of a jerk sometimes. I don’t like Ninah’s mother is a ninny. The woman doesn’t know how to be her own person. It’s because of her that Ninah doesn’t know how to be her own person.
This book is definitely a book you should read. It’s good. I know that’s not a lot of description, but it’s a captivating story and you should just go ahead and read it.