Religion can be a touchy subject in fiction, but it’s also one of my favorites to read about, and when I spotted Quiver by Julia Watts on another blog (whose name I neglected to write down, I’m sorry! If I freaked out about this book in the comments of your review, let me know it was you and I’ll credit you here!!! I really need to start writing this stuff down!), not only did I immediately know what it would be about based on the title, I checked right away to see how quickly I could grab a copy. A local library branch had it in stock and I had to fight to not jump in the car at that moment. (I waited two days, until we were there anyway. Is that not some serious self-control???) I may have done a happy dance when this was finally in my hands.
Libby (short for Liberty) is the oldest of six- soon to be seven!- homeschooled kids. Her fundamentalist Christian family is reminiscent of some of those famous mega-huge religious families, where the men work to support the family and the women stay home and give birth to as many babies as
biology God allows. Libby and her siblings are extremely isolated; they have no friends outside their own family unit (friends at church are never mentioned), they live far out in the country, and the only time they ever seem to leave their house is to go to church. Even Mama doesn’t go to the doctor, though this pregnancy seems to be wearing harder on her than any other; Daddy catches all her babies at home, and there’s no need for outside medical care. It’s not always easy for Libby to submit and obey, but she’s doing her best to be the kind of daughter her parents demand.
Enter Zo, the gender-fluid David Bowie superfan daughter of the family who moves in next door to Libby. Zo’s homeschooled this year as well. Along with her little brother Owen, she befriends Libby and her siblings, and the two mothers forge a tentative friendship as well. It’s only when the dads get involved that things go awry, forcing the new friends apart. But when an emergency happens, true friendship comes through, and some characters will have to examine everything they thought they knew about life.
Quiver is a fabulous dual narrative YA that will make you think and will infuriate you in times. Straightaway, I was grinding my teeth when Libby, who is 16, began a game of Scrabble with her 14 year-old brother and thinks, ‘…I know that since he’s a boy I should never make him feel like he’s not strong or in charge.’ Dude, younger brother. Win on your own merits or get out of the game. And when Zo’s family moves in, Libby’s mother doesn’t just go over to say hello, she asks her husband for permission first. EW EW EW. The thought of being married to someone who acts as my prison warden is nauseating at best.
There’s a really lovely scene where the mothers are chatting about crafting and children and the school system that drives home the point that families like Libby’s and Zo’s have so much more in common than not, a point that’s also brought up in Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity (which is SUCH a fabulous book). The women are able to look past their differences and see only what unites them, but enter the men and suddenly everything’s a theological pissing contest, and it’s all downhill from there.
Over on Goodreads, I gave this four out of five stars. While nearly every scene rings true to everything I’ve read and noted about patriarchal, quiverfull families (the clothing, the strict routines, the financial struggles, the physical discipline, the single-minded adherence to the more legalistic aspects of religion as a self-identifier above everything else), the final scene with Libby’s father seemed a bit over the top and forced. While I do think there was plenty of room for him to act unreasonably, the extent of his actions were a bit too much for me without evidence of that kind of behavior towards his wife beforehand (the children, yes; the wife, no, and we never had the chance to see how he treated people outside his family other than Zo’s parents, never anyone with authority over him). That was the only scene that I felt rang a tad bit hollow; otherwise, this was fantastic. Ms. Watts gives a balanced look at the realities of growing up in a family with more children than money, one whose tight confines might not always be a good fit, and Zo’s confidence and determination to both be and celebrate every aspect of herself provide both a wonderful contrast and a deeply necessary breath of fresh air.
I very much enjoyed this and am looking forward to checking out more of Ms. Watts’s books. Have you read this? I’d love to hear your thoughts if you did.