Book Review: A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet

A Children’s Bible – Lydia Millet (W.W. Norton, 2020)

This is a weird little book. Part coming-of-age, part apocalypse story, full of Biblical references, told in something of a first person plural narrative. I actually picked it up from the library because I read a negative review of it on Instagram. The things this reviewer disliked about A Children’s Bible all intrigued me and I wanted to find out for myself what the book contained. After reading it for myself I can say I enjoyed it but I can see why other readers would not.

The book is narrated by Evie who speaks primarily to the reader in a first person plural “we”. The “we” is a rough assembly of 12 teenagers, brought together for the summer in a large rental house. Their parents are a group of university friends who haven’t seen each other in years but have opted to gather for an extended holiday. (No, this doesn’t really make sense but I was able to go with it for the sake of the story.) The parents have immediately lapsed into an immature and hedonistic lifestyle, drinking all day and essentially ignoring their children. In fact, the kids make a game of trying to keep which adults they belong to a secret. They exist unsupervised, disdainful of the adults. A storm wreaks havoc on the house and the surrounding area and when the children rescue a local caretaker from a boat, he tells them a plague is coming. Unable to convince their parents to leave the house, the teens, their younger siblings, and Burl the caretaker take off to seek safety. Evie’s younger brother Jack has become obsessed with a children’s Bible given to him by one of the mothers and insists on bringing along a menagerie of animals he has “saved” from the storm.

The group takes shelter on a well-stocked property that Burl knows of and from here the story takes on much more of an apocalyptic feel with roaming gangs, plagues, and the birth of a baby with obvious parallels to the birth of Jesus Christ. There’s a frustratingly deus ex machina-style rescue but even that doesn’t solve all of these kids’ problems and the story continues in a new location, the group adapting to a post-storm world where lines of communication and supplies have been drastically reduced.

The book was an easy and simple read, engaging enough although there were some parts that required a major suspension of belief. Evie makes a fine narrator, giving us some glimpse into her own mind but mostly acting as a voice for the entire group of teenagers. They are a believable group with a plausible dynamic. They are mature in many ways and naive in many others, just as real teenagers are. The Biblical references felt heavy-handed to me though perhaps would feel less so to a reader not as familiar with the Bible.

To me, this was a story of burgeoning adulthood. The realization that we all go through that our parents are human beings, that they have flaws, that they feel fear. Millet captured many of these feelings well but I thought where she truly excelled was in depicting the anger of these young people. They are angry that they are being passed down a planet that is falling apart. They are angry that their parents have wasted opportunities, that they will receive very little of what they were once promised and instead are left to survive, to pick up the pieces of a crumbling society. In this, I think Millet captures the very real fears and angers of many young adults today.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet”

  1. Great review! The premise is interesting, especially the idea that the parents would fall back into their old student ways while around their friends – that at least sounds plausible even if the rest of it stretches credulity.

  2. This is one of those books that I don’t want to read because too much suspension of disbelief feels silly to me, and I grow weary of silliness quite quickly. But, I’m happy to read reviews of this kind of book because readers are likely to get different things from their experience, and I like coming to “know” a book through others.

    1. For the most part, the events of the novel felt realistic enough, it was more the actions of the characters that didn’t seem convincing. I get what you’re saying about “knowing” books through others though!

    2. Every once in a while a truly popular book sweeps through the blogging community, and I’ll end up reading half a dozen reviews of the same title. Each review teaches me something different, and I love that. I almost wonder if it pushes the button in me of being a teacher….the same topic but different minds across all the essays they turned in.

    3. Yes, that can be really interesting, seeing what different reviewers choose to focus on or how they read the book.

  3. The plot of this book actually really interest me. The anger of young people is justified in many ways, and although our kids haven’t reached that age yet, I am sort of readying myself for it too. I’ve just started going to a zero-waste container store for bulk items, so I can point to that as me trying to help with the climate crisis, but I do hope we begin to see bigger changes in our future, and I think kids/youth will be the leaders in that.

    1. That was something I found interesting too. The narrator feels the need to tell her little brother the truth about the future and climate change and she’s angry that she has to do so. All of the kids are dismissive of their parents partly because the world is burning and they are doing nothing. We talk quite a bit about the environment in our house and why we make certain choices but I know one day my kids will want more answers. I just hope there are better global solutions then. And yes, I hope the anger of these kids is translated into leadership.

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