I first saw A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet on NPR’s Best Books of 2020. It immediately caught my attention, but then I saw it was a finalist for the National Book Award and was one of the New York Times Best Books of the Year. It felt like fate was telling me to read this book. All I knew going into it was that it was some kind of allegory for climate change.
Evie is our narrator. She’s probably fifteen or sixteen years old. Her parents have gotten together with a number of other families in a “great house” on a lake for summer vacation. All the kids sleep up in the attic and avoid their parents as much as possible. In fact, their parents are so embarrassing that the kids have started a game where they try to avoid anyone else figuring out who their parents are. Evie has a younger brother, Jack, who she looks out for since her parents aren’t paying any attention. I felt an eerie sense of unreality while reading this book. On the one hand, everything that occurs is basically believable, but something also felt off. Why did the parents not care about their children? The disgust the teens felt for their parents felt familiar but also extreme.
The kids head down to the ocean for a camping trip on the beach and meet some incredibly wealthy children staying on a yacht. Shortly after they get back, they are deluged by a terrible storm. A tree falls onto the great house, crashing through the roof and soaking the attic. The parents react by getting high and having an orgy.
Evie’s brother, Jack, is a sweet, sensitive kid. One of the parents gave him a children’s version of the Bible. He’s been reading it and interpreting it on his own. He and his friend, Shel, take it upon themselves to save the animals from the rising floodwater. When one of the older kids tells him that he needs two of every animal, he answers that other people would be saving animals, too.
The kids eventually ditch their useless parents and take off with a groundskeeper, hoping to make it to the safety and comfort of the home of the richest kid in their midst. They are sidetracked by bad roads to a farm where they meet up with four “trail angels” from the Appalachian Trail. A lot more happens to the kids. Their parents get sick, they face some bad guys, and a baby is born. Some of these things seem to come directly from the Bible, but it was hard for me to understand why. A baby is born, tracking the birth of Jesus, but she doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the story. Jack decides that his Bible is in code; that God is actually nature, and Jesus is science. And if we believe in Jesus (science), he (it) will save us.
Eventually the kids and parents reunite at the rich kid’s house. The kids plan for the worst, dragging their parents along with them. Even though the story of Revelation is not in Jack’s Children’s Bible, the older kids understand that’s where they’re heading.
I’m not sure how I feel about this book. It’s a fast read and kept my interest, but it also just felt weird. There were enough odd things going on that this book did not feel like the real world. And the connection with the Bible–besides Jack’s remarkable interpretation–felt somewhat random. Characters weren’t acting as I would expect and they appeared and disappeared without warning. However, when I heard about the snow storms and power outages in Texas, the first thing I thought of was this book. I think it’s one of those that’s going to make more of an impact on me than I initially realized.
You can find all my reviews on my blog.