The God Box
by Alex Sanchez
YA fiction. 248 pp.
Simon & Schuster. 2007.
I've noticed that it's books that merge with some kind of political or other type of fallout that stall me in my reviews. I read this book back in October. Just after I finished reading it, I saw the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So. I had originally intended to merge reviews of the two pieces into one, since they deal with the same subject matter. But I could just never get it to gel. Obviously I'll never be Frank Rich.
The flap copy:
High school senior Paul has dated Angie since middle school, and they're good together. They have a lot of the same interests, like singing in their church choir and being active in Bible club. But when Manuel transfers to their school, Paul has to rethink his life. Manuel is the first openly gay teen anyone in their small town has ever met, and yet he also says he's a committed Christian. Talking to Manuel makes Paul reconsider thoughts he has kept hidden, and listening to Manuel's interpretation of Biblical passages on homosexuality causes Paul to reevaluate everything he believed. Manuel's outspokenness triggers dramatic consequences at school, culminating in a terrifying situation that leads Paul to take a stand.I'm finally starting to like Sanchez as an author. That has more to do with the improvement in his writing than anything else. He's often focused on Latino gays, which he does here as well, making him unique among YA authors who write about sexuality. What I'm liking is that his didacticism is merging much better with the actual story. The lessons come more from dialogue as opposed to monologue in this book. Sure, the last chapter, which may as well be an epilogue (and we all know how I feel about those), smacks of didacticism, but overall, this is good for Sanchez.
I like that Manuel is an openly gay Christian who is comfortable with himself. Too often our culture automatically casts gays over to the Secular Outcast Heathen Hellbent on Destroying Everything Good and Holy side of things. I like that he is one of the most Christlike characters in the book. (There is a girl in the Bible club who figures that since Jesus said to love everyone, there is no reason why she can't eat lunch with and become friends with Manuel. And not with that ulterior friendship motive to call him to repentance like one of the other girls in the book.) I like that he doesn't shy away from debate. I like that he's patient with Paul as Paul deals with his own issues.
Paul is a more interesting character than just the closeted teen coming to terms with himself, and this is an aspect that I like as well. Paul is also dealing with the loss of his mother and the chasm that's opened between him and his father. Paul is also dealing with his personal eradication and denial of his Latino heritage, which I found to be an interesting mirror to how he deals with his sexuality.
Overall, the book has compelling characters who work through the complications of where sexuality and religion meet in contemporary culture. I wish there were more books like this. I'd like to think that such books would improve the rampant self-destruction—alcohol and drug abuse, unsafe sex practices, suicide—that seems to be overly present in gay communities that overlap with religious communities.