I want to say right at the beginning that Evil?, by Timothy Carter (Flux, 2009, 256pp, YA, coming Aug. 1st), is a very funny book, and I enjoyed it lots. The description that follows mightn't make it clear, but it's important to keep in mind that this is an over-the-top story bordering on farce.
Stuart was surprised by the attitude of his small and intensely religious community when he came out. Instead of hatred and contempt, the news that he was gay was taken in stride.
But then came Masturbation.
Overnight, the Sin of Onan (biblical spiller of seed) became a big deal. And Stuart had just been caught by his little brother committing it in the shower. Now a self confessed "spiller," Stuart is facing an intensity of loathing he'd never expected. The new obsession means that every kid has to keep their hands on their desks, in plain sight, but only Stuart is required to have a teacher go into the toilet stall with him.
The fanatical hatred of the townsfolk grows exponentially, until Stuart and a few other kids who've come under suspicion must flee from the church, where they've taken refugee, as the angry mob outside howls for their blood with fearsome cries for the "spillers" to come forth.
Why the insanity? A fallen angel is to blame, one that grew so obsessed with this particular sin that he could no longer function angelically, and now has taken up a crusade against it in Stuart's town.
A fallen angel can be pretty convincing, putting thoughts in the heads of otherwise normal people that drive them to great excess of zeal. But Stuart has a little bit of supernatural help of his own. His hobby happens to be raising demons, with all the proper safety mechanisms in place. Fon Pyre, his demonic acquaintance, might have what it takes to rid the town of the masturbation hating angel. The only problem with this is that Fen Pyre also has rending and other nastiness in mind when he looks at Stuart....
Carter has taken fanaticism to ridiculous extremes. Stuart's lightly delivered narrative ("There are few things I hate more than tomatoes, but burning to death is one of them." p 153), and the fast-paced and tense story, make Evil? hands down (pun intended) an enthralling read. The demonic Fen Pyre is a fine addition to the cast of characters, nicely removing the story from the real world and adding comic relief. I don't usually pass the YA books I read on to my husband, but I gave him this one to read, and he too enjoyed it very much.
Yet, without ever betraying the farcical elements of the book, Carter makes thought-provoking points about tolerance and the dangers of over literal, de-contextualized, biblical interpretation. It is most emphatically not an antireligious book, but it is one that might well make the reader question the definition of "sin."
Here's another review, at Boy With Books.
(Disclosure: copy received from the publisher)