jacket image for The Explanation for EverythingThe Explanation for Everything by Lauren Grodstein
Published by Algonquin Books
Review copy provided by NetGalley

From the publisher:

For college biology professor Andy Waite, Darwinian evolution is the explanation for everything. But the unpredictable force of a charismatic evangelical student—a young woman determined to prove the existence of intelligent design—threatens to undermine more than just his faith in science. As she did in the bestselling novel A Friend of the Family, author Lauren Grodstein has written a taut, provocative morality tale centered on one of the most polarizing issues of our time. By dissecting the permeable line between faith and doubt, Grodstein creates a fiercely intelligent story about the lies we tell ourselves, the deceptions we sustain with others, and how violated boundaries—between students and teachers, believers and nonbelievers—can have devastating consequences.

This book really piqued my interest because of the way I personally came to the Christian faith. I was mostly apathetic about religion overall before I married my husband, but he asked me to please at least give his church a try, and he gave me a bunch of books on Christianity because he knew me well enough to understand that the best way for me to believe in something is for me to read about it, study it, become convinced of its truth. I say this because I felt that Andy’s journey throughout the course of the novel was strikingly similar to my own. He, too, didn’t believe, but was provided with rational arguments and just enough doubt about his way of thinking to open up his mind to the possibility that God just may exist – which is exactly what happened with me, and while I took my journey quite a bit further, I was extremely interested to see this play out over the course of the novel.

I think my personal connection to the subject matter in this novel is the main reason why I did enjoy it, because looking back on it, I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters. Andy is a character I certainly felt for – his wife died in a shocking car accident, leaving him to raise two young daughters alone – but nothing in this book caused me to really like him in any way. And Melissa wasn’t interesting to me in any way, didn’t surprise me at all, and I didn’t connect with her either.

I suppose I was just looking for more in the way of story and characters, so that was disappointing, but I did get an incredibly thoughtful novel about a topic that is extremely near to my heart and very personal to me. I connected with the ideas in the book more than any specific character, so in that sense this novel was a success for me and was a great reading experience. I’m just not sure how that would translate for readers not in the same boat as me, spiritually speaking. But the writing is excellent and there’s plenty Grodstein offers for the reader to think about, so if you like these kinds of thinky, ideas-based novels, give The Explanation for Everything a try.