Yes, it’s here! YA for atheist kids! Unfortunately, it’s not so good. My review of three new novels in the Times Book Review can be found here.
After it ran, I got a thoughtful note, which the author is allowing me to reprint here.
Dear Professor Oppenheimer,
I read your review of "Misdirected" in the New York Times Book review and felt the need to write you. Twenty years ago, when I was fourteen, I tried to quietly refuse Confirmation at Blessed Sacrament School in Springfield, Illinois. I offered in a letter to the theology teacher to attend, be photographed with the class, but to sit in the back and not go up for the bishop's blessing. I had been an atheist since the age of seven, and could not in good conscience lie to a church full of my family, friends and community about my intention to live as a Catholic. The expression on Mrs. S.'s face as she read my letter was pure horror, and she never looked me in the eye again.
I was called into meetings with priests and teachers who at turns tried to convince me I was confused and that plenty of good Catholics were also scientists (I knew), or that I was going to hell (and were not amused when I said I didn't believe in that, either). One priest told my best friend she should stop hanging out with me because people like me "become people like Hitler." Luckily she thought that was ridiculous and asked, "Have you ever met her?" My parents pleaded with me not to ruin my younger siblings. It took years for my grandparents to forgive me. Last year, I spoke with my father about it for the first time, and he was horrified all over again, because he thought it was just a rebellious phase.
I do not know Ali Berman, or the authors of the other young adult novels. They might not be great writers, but the experiences of their characters ring true to me.
Homophobia was also tolerated and expressed to varying degrees in the Catholic highschool I attended. I heard students say that gays and atheists should die out loud in theology class. Those teachers were more kind to me personally, but let the remarks stand.
The behavior of that priest and some of my some of my fellow students seems "stock," but only because homophobia and whatever its equivalent against atheists are sad ritualistic expressions of dominance over a persecuted and misunderstood minority. They would have preferred me silent, and for people like me not to exist at all.
I believe culture has moved forward in its acceptance of diversity, but the cruelty that I experienced is still around, and in a religious school has more cover. I am not angry with the religion I was born into. I think my familiarity with the Bible and my being "out" has helped my Christian friends understand a person can be good without God. I have also been able to help my non religious friends see and understand the humanity of my deeply religious and wonderful family. My adult self has compassion for the clumsy handling of my fourteen year old self. Those teachers and priests had never met someone who was openly atheist, only heard how dangerous and misinformed they were. I see why those teacher characters look so ridiculous. I couldn't believe that grownups were making such a big deal about one kid, but there I was, the target of some pretty hateful language. As you began your review, atheists are among the most reviled group, and it stands to reason that these attitudes will manifest themselves in real and hurtful ways. Please don't let an unconvincing character fool you into thinking otherwise.