Before we get started, let me clarify the two-star rating….Salvation City is not poorly written, has believable characters in believable situations, and is an interesting way to spend several hours. But ultimately — and given the way Goodreads’ ratings criteria are defined — two stars and “it was okay” is all the enthusiasm I can muster. I’d read a three-star “I liked it” book again. I have no desire to read this one again.
In the near future, 12-year-old Cole Vining has been orphaned by a flu pandemic more devastating than the 1918 outbreak. After a stint in the hellhole of a public orphanage, he is taken in by Pastor Wyatt and his wife Tracy and brought back to Salvation City, Kentucky, the small evangelical Christian enclave where they live. The overt religiosity of his new surroundings is completely foreign to Cole: his father was an atheist and his mother was a non-practicing Jew; as a result, Cole has had no religious training whatsoever. Emotionally fragile after his own illness and loss, in this new atmosphere, Cole questions everything his parents had ever taught him about the world.
Cole suffered memory loss as a result of his illness and, as his memories gradually return, he wrestles with a multitude of overwhelming emotions: loss, anger, bewilderment, confusion…but chiefly guilt. He feels guilty he survived, guilty he can’t return the obvious love Pastor Wyatt and Tracy express for him, guilty and disloyal at feeling any kind of affection for them, guilty for wondering if his parents went to Hell as his new knowledge of religion teaches. On top of all this, he has entered puberty with its attendant urges and feelings, and he develops an unrequited crush on his erstwhile cousin Starlyn. Cole’s journey through this morass of guilt and emotion to arrive at a peaceful self-understanding and sense of place is well-drawn and satisfying.
Again, this is not a bad book, and not a waste of time. The pacing is leisurely, almost majestic. It’s beautifully written, with a spare elegance and delicate touch. Nunez portrays the fundamentalist Christian community with grace and compassion, seeing it almost entirely through Cole’s adolescent eyes. I enjoyed reading it, but not enough to keep it around for a re-read.
Many thanks to Goodreads Giveaway Program for the opportunity to read this book.