Saturday, January 01, 2022

Fiction Review: A Children's Bible

The novel, A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet, has an unusual name, but I asked for it as a gift because I'd read good reviews of it--I probably initially heard about it from another book blogger! I also noticed it was nominated for the 2020 National Book Award for fiction and that the author was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Since it's a short novel, I was able to fit it in during the last, hectic week of the year, and I'm so glad I did. It's a unique novel (to match its unique title), but it was engrossing, funny, and thought-provoking.

Evie, a teen girl, and her little brother, Jack (who is about ten), are stuck hanging out with a bunch of strangers for the summer. Their parents have gotten together with their old college friends, renting a big house on a lake together, so all the kids and teens also have to spend the summer together, all sleeping in a large attic room. The two groups mostly stay away from each other, with the parents drinking heavily every day, beginning with their morning Bloody Marys and moving onto beers with lunch until it is finally 4 pm, "drinking and talking time." The teens have no desire to be in any way connected with their parents, so they decide to play a game for the summer, trying to keep their parents' identities secret from the other kids. This actually works pretty easily, since their parents mostly ignore them all summer. The kids hang out in the lake and up in the cool treehouses in the surrounding woods. They even spend a few days camping on the nearby beach, reached by taking canoes across the lake and down a stream to the ocean. There are hints that disaster is coming, though, as in this passage from Evie:

"At that time in my personal life, I was coming to grips with the end of the world. The familiar world, anyway. Many of us were.

Scientists said it was ending now, philosophers said it had always been ending.

Historians said there'd been dark ages before. It all came out in the wash, because eventually, if you were patient, enlightenment arrived and then a wide array of Apple devices.

Politicians claimed everything would be fine. Adjustments were being made. Much as our human ingenuity had got us into this fine mess, so would it neatly get us out. Maybe more cars would switch to electric.

That was how we could tell it was serious. Because they were obviously lying.

We knew who was responsible, of course: it had been a done deal before we were born."

During that summer at the lake house, disaster finally does strike. As might be expected, the parents are completely useless in a crisis. Worse, really, because they don't actually do anything, except drink more and start taking drugs to escape. So, the kids leave the house, which has been badly damaged and flooded in the devastating storm. They take some of their parents' cars and head out to find safety. A man named Burl--the sole adult in their party--was the caretaker of the property, so he comes with them and guides them to a farm in rural Pennsylvania when their first plan fails. There, they create a safe haven for themselves, though they still have plenty of challenges ahead.

The writing style in this novel is somewhat unique. Evie is the narrator, but she often speaks as "we" and "our," representing the whole group of young people (listen to the audio sample below to hear the writing style). The book is sometimes quite funny (I love that line about Apple devices in the above passage), but it turns serious. Though I wrote a fairly detailed plot summary here, that's still only about the first half of the book: so much more happens after the disaster, which turns out to be truly apocalyptic, with services out, supplies unavailable, and looting and violence rampant. Parts of the novel are even suspenseful, as the kids tackle one crisis after another. Underlying this engaging story, of course, is a cautionary tale, but it never felt preachy. In fact, it was quite entertaining and even amusing at times. This is a completely original and thought-provoking novel that I think will stay with me, as I am still thinking about Evie and Jack and the other kids, five days after finishing the book. I can see why it was a finalist for the National Book Award.

224 pages, W.W. Norton & Company

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, a passage from the beginning of the book describing the house, the kids, and their neglectful parents, and/or download it from Audible. The audio sounds great!


You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)--the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!


Or you can order A Children's Bible from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.



  1. I can't quite wrap my head around this book, I think it's because the title doesn't seem to fit the summary for someone who hasn't (yet) read it.

    1. I considered telling where the title comes from, but I was delighted by that moment in the book! I did, however, explain it in my Friday Reads video 12-31-21.

  2. I had wanted to read this book when I saw it on all those lists you mentioned, but now I'm not sure. I am pretty sure it is still on my TBR so I may turn my attention to it in 2022. We'll see.

    1. I really enjoyed it, Anne - and it's a quickie!