I think I've mentioned before that one of the best things I got out of being a Cybils judge this year is that I read good books I never would have picked up otherwise. Misfit by Jon Skovron is a prime example of this. It's everything I normally avoid in a book: paranormal, present tense, and...well, that's usually enough. I'm so glad the Cybils were around to change my mind.
Jael's mother - many years dead now - was a demoness. She's known this for years and had to keep it a secret from all the other normal humans. You'd probably expect that being half-demon would mean Jael has all sorts of cool powers, but she doesn't. She just has to move around a lot, thanks to her paranoid father. Then Jael turns 16, her father gives her a shiny necklace that belonged to her mother, and everything changes. Now she has those cool powers, but it's brought her to the attention of some very dangerous types. Jael must learn how to harness these powers so she can fight off the bad guys. She has the help of her mother's brother (a demon himself) and her unwilling father, but really, is that enough when all of Hell wants you dead?
There's more to it than that. Skovron has created a wonderfully rich mythology, weaving together elements of Christianity with almost every other religion (living or dead) you could think of. And he's given us a terrific love story between Jael's parents, which is swoony and romantic and dangerous and badass and completely outshines the love story between Jael and her skater crush.
I've mentioned about a hundred thousand times before how important Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy was to me as a tween/teen. Aside from being beautifully written, fantastic stories, I loved how incredibly daring those books were. I don't mean daring by employing foul language or sex or putting its characters in risky situations or supporting an unpopular social or political stance. I mean daring in its treatment of Christianity. Pullman took one of the most enduring stories of our culture and completely turned it on its head. He plumbed the religion's richness and color to create a hell of a good story.
Misfit doesn't go as far as Pullman's books do. Skovron isn't trying to re-write the Bible or impart any atheistic message (Pullman certainly was imparting this message, at least in part, and those who deny it cheapen the books, in my opinion). What he does is similar to what Pullman did, though, and that is to use these incredibly powerful stories in a new and interesting way. I think that novelists as a whole tend to stay away from using Christianity as a fictional tool because it might lead their readers to think they believe Christianity is a fiction. (I should point out that there is a big difference between what Skovron does here and what "Christian fiction" writers do.) But there is so much material for really, really good stories there, and Misfit proves that.
I could be all wrong about why we see so few novels that twist Christianity in a really obvious way, but the fact remains that I'm glad to see it when it does appear. Not because of any disrespect towards the religion, but because the religion as a whole really does have so many good stories. Yes, there are books about angels everywhere now, but it's just not the same as what Skovron has done with Misfit. He's taken Christianity and treated it all - not just the angels or the demons or one other single aspect - as a mythology to be worked with, just as Riordan does with his books. True, millions of people believe in Christianity and very, very few believe in Zeus. What makes Misfit daring is that Skovron weaves in elements of Christianity with Greek mythology, and so many other religions, past and present, putting them on the same footing. So in that way, he treats them all as equally mythological.
So, I appreciated that Misfit was a little bit daring in this way. (Look out for a review of Pete Hautman's The Obsidian Blade in a couple months. Daring is an understatement for that title.) I also appreciated Jael's parents' story, which we get in past-tense flashbacks and is frequently more engrossing than Jael's. Other hallmarks of a good book are here too: a protagonist who grows believably over the course of the story; fascinating ancillary characters; an action-packed, albeit brief and a bit slapdash, climax.
Obviously, I was impressed. I'll be looking for the sequel. There's no news of one that I could find yet, and the book does have a firm ending (thanks Jon Skovron!), but it's open enough for many more books. Here's hoping.