One reviewer called Gwen Chavarria’s first novel, the futuristic Residuals Squared, a “Baha’i pamphlet in disguise”–in other words, a religious tract beautified by a bit of narrative. Her new novel, PEACE REDEMPTION doesn’t go quite that far. Set in the 1960s, it is the story of eleven-year-old Ann, her parents, and her teenage siblings, Randy and Peggy. They are members of the Peace Redemption Church, which Ann’s father helped start. Her parents are good people, faith-driven but not fanatical. When Randy and Peggy stray from the straight and narrow, the family is challenged like never before.
It doesn’t take long for Christianity to make its first appearance. On page 11, a five-year-old Ann is lying in the grass, watching a caterpillar. She muses on the fact that being alone means being alone with God. “My relationship,” she says, “is with Him alone and I feel good about myself in that light.” Pretty insightful for a kindergartner. There are lots of passages like this, giving the novel the feel of a memoir. Ann takes us on a tour of her life, telling us this and that, whatever wanders into her mind. For that reason, a lot of readers might give up on this book. Yet one person’s narrative slow-walking is another person’s foreshadowing. Take, for instance, an early story about Peggy and her friend Valerie fooling around with a Ouija board. Ann walks in on them doing it, which causes Peggy to erupt. “Sorry,” Ann says. Then: “I wasn’t really sorry. I was glad I caught them doing something weird.” Later, when Peggy skims some hair from another girl’s sweater and uses it to make a voodoo doll to punish the girl for “stealing” a guy Peggy likes, the scene is funny but disturbing, the perfect narrative escalation. Also perfect is Chavarria’s tone. Ann doesn’t sound precocious like, say, Harry Potter and his mates. “I was glad I caught them doing something weird” is exactly how a child would think. The reader is also treated to gorgeous images like the “rock chip in the upper corner of the windshield that looked like a full moon”.
Though a bit heavy at times on the religiosity, Gwen Chavarria’s PEACE REDEMPTION is a funny, mesmerizing and down-to-earth coming-of-age tale.
~Anthony Aycock for IndieReader