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*Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature* by Robin Brande - young adult book review

Also by Robin Brande:

Fat Cat
Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature
by Robin Brande
Ages 12+ 272 pages Knopf January 2009 Paperback    

You’d probably think that being called a “freak of nature” would be an insult to anyone; in general, you’d be right. But in Robin Brande’s latest novel, Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature, high school student Mena Reece learns that it can be a good thing. Single-handedly responsible for getting her church, her pastor, and her former friends and parents sued for millions of dollars, she hopes that her first day of high school will bring about a change for the better, but her life seems - at least for awhile - to be worse than ever before.

The only bright spot at first is her science teacher, Ms. Shepherd, who helps change Mena’s life for the better. This book handles the controversial topic of evolution intelligently, and the author manages to pull off the delicate task of reconciling religious views with the scientific theory of evolution. Brande’s book definitely deals with issues to which people relate strongly, but it is very well-written with a sensitive touch and would be an excellent addition to school and personal libraries.

For a lab partner, Ms. Shepherd pairs Mena up with super-smart Casey Connor, who becomes another bright spot in her life, along with his older sister, Kayla. Casey, being highly competitive, wants his and Mena’s names included on Ms. Shepherd’s web site as are his sister’s and her lab partner’s for doing well on the annual science project. There are a few problems with this, though; Mena’s parents are conservative Christians who don’t want their daughter to date or have much exposure in almost any way to boys. Also, they don’t believe in evolution, and Mena’s sure they wouldn’t approve of the types of movies Casey talks to her about, like The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

If she tells them the truth about the situation, she thinks there’s no way they’d allow her to do a science project with Casey - which would be the case, if they thought Casey was a boy - but they assume he’s a girl, since that name can be either a boy’s or girl’s name. Mena loves Casey’s house and his mom (his dad, a famous science fiction writer - the author of Red Horizon - died when he was in the sixth grade), and his sister. Their project’s subjects are the newest litter of puppies the Connor family’s pet dog, Abbey, has whelped, and the experiments they do and behavior they observe of the puppies gives them insights into what types of behavior might be beneficial for the survival of the species.

Mena’s old friends treat her terribly because of a letter she wrote to right an injustice done to Denny Pierce, a member of the youth group at the church they all went to, who was accused of being gay (and possibly was). They prayed for his salvation, and some of the boys picked on him to the point Denny made a suicide attempt and wound up in a hospital. Understandably upset and angered at the treatment of their son, Denny’s parents decided to sue for damages. Her old friends’ parents blame Mena for stirring up trouble and think of her as a Judas. Her parents, who have relied on the money they made selling insurance to members of the church, are afraid with policies being canceled right and left that it will be difficult to make ends met. They are also angry with her for writing the letter without telling them or thinking of the possible consequences.

What would YOU do in a similar situation? It’s bad enough that her old friends do their best to make her life miserable, but when they go after Ms. Shepherd when she begins a unit on evolution by turning their backs to her and becoming known as the “Back Turners,” it’s a different matter. Mena joins forces with Kayla, the editor of the school newspaper and has her own blog. But can even “Bible Grrrrl,” Mena’s pseudonym for the column she writes for the site, save the day?

Whatever your religious or scientific beliefs, Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature is a novel you’ll enjoy reading, thinking about, and possibly discussing with your parents/kids/friends. Never preachy, but with much to say about important issues that affect us all, I hope that this novel gets a wide audience of readers. I highly recommend it, with the caveat that if you are very conservative in your beliefs as a Christian, you might be offended by some of the issues dealt with by the author. Still, whether you believe in evolution or not, or believe that it’s real but extremely random, or that some supreme deity was responsible for it, there’s much food for thought in Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature that should be of interest to everyone.

Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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