I can’t remember where I learned about God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney (William Morrow, 2021), but the premise intrigued me immediately. I’m fascinated by religion, and even fiction with religious twists or drama is enough to pull me in. Usually I swing more towards cults or cult-like settings, but I’m not picky; I’ll take average, everyday religious drama!
Abigail and Caroline are daughters of a famous megachurch pastor, Luke Nolan, who rose to fame years ago after a sermon on purity went viral. Now, Abigail is getting married, Caroline is about to head off to college, and it’s come to light that Luke has been having an affair for over a year. This is major news, bound to affect everyone affiliated with The Hope, Luke’s church, and Abigail and Caroline are directly in the path of the fallout.
Taking refuge at the ranch they inherited from their deceased grandmother, the sisters grow close for the first time as they spend their days trying to understand what happened, how they got here, what exactly growing up with Luke Nolan as a father has done to both of them. More secrets are revealed, and Caroline’s desperation increases as the summer nears an end and Abigail’s wedding inches closer.
I really wanted to love this book, and it was okay. Luke Nolan obviously has some major skeletons in the closet, and both he and his wife, Abigail and Caroline’s mother, were extremely well-written and true to character, easily recognizable if you have even the slightest bit of knowledge or interest in what American evangelical megachurches have looked like over the past twenty or thirty years. Luke is the narcissistic pastor determined to remain in the limelight; his wife, ever-adoring, keeps a smile plastered on her face at all times, despite what it costs her.
Abigail is the quintessential eldest daughter, solid, hard-working, always keeping up appearances like she’s learned from her mother. Caroline, the younger, more forgotten child, has space to wonder, to question, to doubt, and to forge her own path; no one is as dependent on her as they are on Abigail, which is both good and hurtful.
The characters were all well-developed; the plot, or lack thereof at times, was where the book lost me a bit. Drama would build up, and then…nothing. Not much of anything would happen. Any kind of action was sacrificed on the altar of Caroline’s (the narrator’s) inner turmoil (which is likely true to real life, but in fiction, I expect a little more action, you know?). I kept waiting for more things to happen to advance the plot forward, for the realizations the daughters came to to move things along, but it never really happened, and at least one of the daughters is arguably worse off at the end than at the beginning. Not much at all changes, and that just kind of left me feeling flat and uninspired at the end. I didn’t fully dislike this one; I just felt as though it lacked any real purpose at its conclusion. Interesting, yes, but it didn’t follow through enough on its initial promise of drama for me.
Visit Kelsey McKinney’s website here.
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