Title: The God Box
Author: Alex Sanchez
Publsiher: Simon Pulse
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age Level: 8th-12th Grade
Paul is a high school senior in a small Texas town. He and his girlfriend Angie have been together since middle school, and they enjoy the same things-listening to their favorite Christian rock CDs, singing in the church choir, and being members of their school's Bible study club. Paul tried not to worry about the fact that while he loves Angie, he does not feel the same attraction for her that most boys describe feeling for girls. He prays on it most nights-prays that he will lose the "unnatural" feelings he has towards boys so he can be a good Christian. Enter Manuel, new to school and the first openly gay teen Paul or his friends have ever known. Manuel is also devoutly Christian, and Paul is thrown into turmoil. Is it possible to be Christian and gay? Slowly Manuel opens his eyes to new interpretations of the Bible passages that get trotted out to "prove" God's hatred of homosexuals, but it is not until one terrifying night that Paul decides that being true to himself as one of God's creations is the best way to honor his creator.
I loved this book, and I'm not even going to try to find some cute, book-reviewer way to say it. I think that this book should be required reading in every Christian school/Sunday school/Bible study in the country. If you looked up the definition of "Christian" in the dictionary, Paul's picture would be there. He loved the Lord, and strove every day to live up to Jesus's standards. He was kind, and compassionate, and actively engaged in his faith. But he had been taught that his attraction for men negated all of the prayer and good deeds he's ever done. Manuel slowly, one Biblical argument at a time, dismantles all of the dogma Paul had been taught. Their Bible discussions are thoughtful and thought-provoking. Manuel is not written as some raging queer radical-he's just an average kid, same as the rest, only comfortable enough with himself to live openly as gay. Even in the face of taunts and danger (sounds a little bit like Christ himself, doesn't it?), he stays true to who he believes God wants him to be. I really believe that this book put in the hands of the right child at the right time could literally save lives.
Searching the web I found no lesson plans or discussion questions for this book, which I think is a shame. I did find a whole host of gay-affirming Christian website, however, and was pleasantly surprised. I also found a website called Beyond Ex-Gay that tells the stories of survivors of what they call religious abuse-that is, using religion as a cudgel to (sometimes literally) beat the gay out of you and make you heterosexual so you can be right with God. Really fascinating stuff, though not terribly helpful for teachers except as background knowledge. I think that this book could be taught in high school English classes, but I think that perhaps more importantly I think that it should be openly, easily available in any high school library for teens who are struggling with their faith and their orientation to find.