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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-06-11
- Reviewer: Staff
Pylväinen’s debut novel paints a sensitive portrait of a large Christian fundamentalist family in smalltown Michigan and beautifully depicts domestic life through minutiae: the spats between siblings, the mess of so many people living in close quarters, and the concessions a mother makes to her children. Warren and Pirjo Rovaniemi have nine children—each with their own growing pains and struggles with faith. The novel spans time and perspective; the family is shown from many angles, the point of view shifting from child to parent to child. The Rovaniemis are bound together by their beliefs and sheer numbers, nesting them in a shared understanding, but aside from religion, there are the usual problems of identity, sibling rivalry, and love. They are forbidden movies, dancing, television, birth control; one daughter, Tina, rebels, but wonders if she is leaving the church for herself or her boyfriend. Brita, the eldest, grapples with the emotional and physical task of raising her own children. The family is polarized when Simon, Tiina, and Julia leave the church, proving that their faith has as much to do with each other as it does with God. Pylväinen treats both parts of the conversation with understanding in simple prose that does not take sides. The story is not so much about religion itself, but about how it unites, separates, and directs each relationship in this family’s life. (Aug.)
The effects of extreme faith
The Rovaniemis are an unusual family. That’s obvious at first glance; modern-day American families rarely include nine children. But the family’s membership in an incredibly conservative branch of the Lutheran church makes it clear that they’re to be in the world, but not of it. They aren’t allowed to listen to music with a beat, though the children each play orchestral instruments. Dancing is forbidden. Movies are off limits.
So the children walk a fine line as they try to fit in at school and at work while respecting their church’s rules—or, in the case of three of the Rovaniemis, as they attempt to leave the church’s influence behind. The eldest, Brita, follows in the family’s footsteps as she gives birth to seven children. Others rebel as they leave for college, but later settle into a church-approved life. Paula deals with the difficulty of being the awkward daughter among beauties. The younger children face the burden of their older siblings’ choices, and sometimes find themselves lost in a family of so many.
A compelling first novel explores how extreme faith is challenged by the modern world.
In We Sinners, author Hanna Pylväinen’s debut novel, a different, distinctive Rovaniemi voice takes the lead in each chapter, creating a novel that reads almost like a series of connected short stories. These powerful vignettes reveal the faith’s influence on the family’s relationships. Pylväinen’s own background—she grew up in, and left, just such a church—lends an expert voice to each character’s compelling perspective. The children who leave the church realize that freedom comes at a price, and those who remain face the constraints their faith places on relationships. But despite the family’s differing views on faith and life, they are brought together through shared blood and experience.
Pylväinen’s straightforward but gripping storytelling and fully developed characters make it clear that this new voice in literature is one to watch.