Grace tells the story of her family's escape from a fundamentalist Christian cult in this powerful Young Adult novel from one of Australia's best writers in the field. She is a teenager who has never known anyone outside her church community, because its members are forbidden to speak to the 'unsaved' except with special exemptions. They go to church schools, marry within the church and work in church-owned businesses. They accept the Bible, as interpreted by their Elders, as the ultimate authority on every aspect of their daily lives, and they accept cruel and bizarre punishments meted out by the Elders for any questioning or infringement of the doctrine.

Grace's father has quietly questioned this peculiar way of life and brought up his children to do the same but he has not been quiet enough and, as the book opens, is expelled from the community. That means he automatically loses his job and, worse, is forcibly separated from his wife and children. Grace is distraught but fights back, negotiating the bewildering outside world and the suddenly terrifying community that has turned so violently against the people she loves.

Grace is disturbing, in part, because it is so closely based on actual religious groups here in Australia (the nameless sect has much in common with the secretive 'Exclusive Brethren'). The journey is gruelling for the heroine and for the reader, as much for what is threatened as for what actually happens, but the ending is credible and positive. Grace is a wonderful example of strong, socially relevant story-telling and will resonate with a readership far wider than its YA label suggests.

Viking, August 2009, $19.95

Review originally published Sept 2009
Page created Aug 2010