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Grace – Morris Gleitzman

October 18, 2016

graceGrace has been brought up in a religious sect and has to obey the strict rules set by the church elders. She must keep her hair long and tied up, she must never talk to anyone who isn’t a part of her community and she must never question the elders.

Her parents, especially her father, have always encouraged her to ask questions but this causes problems with the elders and leads to her father being expelled from the church.

I’ve heard of strict religions that conduct a funeral service for someone who has deserted but this spells out the implications.

The twins smiting unbeliever with plastic swords was a bit far fetched.

The ending is rather abrupt and leaves some questions unanswered.

Grace is a gem of a character, one that only comes along every now and then. She’s compassionate to everyone and everything, even though most of the people around her, including church elders, are the exact opposite. She’s forward thinking and inquisitive which, in her situation, causes nothing but trouble. Her parents have raised her to ask questions and learn, and to always treat others with respect. Time and time again she goes against her church’s beliefs, and shows her inspiring strength of character. Even when faced with outsiders, she treats them as she’d treat anyone else – as if they’re normal people deserving of everyday courtesy.

The author: Writing a story about fundamentalist religion wasn’t my original plan, but once I started to research that world I quickly realised it was the ideal background for the tale I wanted to tell.

I wanted Grace to be a story about a particular universal experience – one we adults have all had regardless of our religious or cultural backgrounds, and one young readers will be grappling with now, or soon. A story about that exhilarating scary childhood moment when we begin to question adult attitudes and beliefs.

It can be a complex time for families when young people start to develop the capacity for independent thought. Sometimes grown-ups encourage them and sometimes not. In Grace I wanted to explore how adults respond when kids start questioning the status quo, how children feel about these responses, and the impact it all has on family relationships.

Part of my interest grew out of an intriguing contradiction. In most parts of the world there are legal limits to how parents can physically treat their children. Lock a kid in a cupboard for a few years and you go to jail. But there are very few prohibitions when it comes to dealing with young minds. Lock a child in a mental cupboard and that’s your inalienable right as a parent, particularly if you invoke religious freedom.

Which led me inevitably to children growing up in fundamentalist religious communities. In that world, I imagined, the cupboards would be seen more as lifts, destined to elevate their occupants to a higher place with sublime and eternal benefits. What loving parent wouldn’t want that for their children? But how sad to see, as the result of parental love, a child’s natural inclination to think for himself or herself stifled and in some cases brutally crushed.

Grace, the main character in my book, is more fortunate than many. Her parents, despite being part of a separatist and very fundamentalist Christian community, have secretly nurtured autonomous thinking in themselves and their daughter. This leads to big conflicts in Grace’s world, conflicts that threaten to break up her family. Grace is desperate to prevent this. Among the huge challenges she faces is her church elders’ warning that if she disobeys them, God will abandon her.

The big challenge for me was to write about a character whose religious faith I don’t share. I was helped in this by having people in my life who do share it. I feel great gratitude to the people who enriched my childhood with their loving and compassionate Christianity. Although I don’t share their religious beliefs these days, I will always cherish their values.

Without this background to draw on, I don’t think I could have written Grace. It certainly helped me stay clear-sighted about my resolve that this story should never attack religious belief, only examine some of the human power structures built around it. And equally importantly, that Grace’s faith in a loving God should remain a central part of her life beyond the end of the book.

The community in the story isn’t based on any one real-life fundamentalist Christian group. I researched many, some to be found in the suburbs of Australia, others hidden away in remote desert compounds in the US and elsewhere. A few of them with large numbers of disturbingly young mothers in spiritual thrall to much smaller numbers of distressingly ancient husbands.

Keen observers of worshipful polygamy might find the elders in my imaginary suburban sect a bit tame, despite their spirited and ruthless assault on Grace and her family. This was a conscious decision on my part. I’ll be grateful if people of all ages take Grace into their hearts, but most of all I want young readers to have access to the story.

What Grace goes through is an extreme example of what we all go through at her age. If we’re lucky we emerge at the other end in possession of our true selves. Every young person has the right to strive for this, and I hope at least some of them find inspiration and encouragement in Grace’s story.

OK, there is one autobiographical element. I’ve always wanted to walk through a carwash.

grace-2Quotations:

In the beginning there was me and Mum and Dad and the twins. And talk about happy families, we were bountiful. But it came to pass that I started doing sins.

And lo, that when all our problems began.

I’d touched an outsider. We’d been told millions of times never to do that. You could catch demons. Sin could flow into you like molten burning fat. You could end up defiled.

The other kids were all staring at me as I climbed into the minibus. In the back seat, Liam and Delilah made room for me. A lot of room. As I sat down they made sure they didn’t touch any part of me.

I understood why.

`You are so defiled; said Delilah.

`You’re gunna get crucified when Mr Reece hear:, about this said Liam.

I didn’t feel defiled. Dad and me chatted with our neighbours all the time. Dad reckoned catching_ sin and demons from unsaved people was nonsense and there wasn’t any scientific evidence for it.

 

`What if I said, ‘this was God’s way of giving us the chance to make friends with outsiders?’

Delilah and Liam stared at me, horrified. I’d been trying to help Delilah get better at discussions, but it wasn’t easy because she got shocked so easily.

`You are so going to be smitten by wrath; she said.

Mr Gosper revved the minibus and steered around the tow truck and headed towards school.

I looked out the window. The boy was watching us drive away. He gave a little wave. I waved back. He seemed like a nice person. It made me sad to think that most of the people in my church would think he was an ungodly sinner.

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