I recently picked up an unlikely book at Barnes and Noble and read a 3rd of it before they closed. It was an unlikely book because it does not fall easily into my usual choices. It was a real story written by a young journalist hopeful. There are no wizards, vampires, zombies or epic sword fights. Instead there is one person's journey into an unknown and bizarre world. The world of the Evangelist college student, a place where few non-Evangelists enter. Anyway I read a third of it before Barnes and Noble announced that the impending closing time had arrived. Fueled by impulse, I walked the book to the counter and bought it. That way I could bring you my rambling review of The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose.
Kevin Roose is still in college, at least he was when this book was published. He was a senior at Brown. At the beginning of the book he is attending Browne as well but had been captivated by Liberty University on an excursion with his employer. His employer, A.J. Jacobs, wrote the book The Year of Living Biblically and had taken Kevin along to Jerry Falwell's church Thomas Road. At Thomas Road he had an awkward conversation with a couple college aged church goers. They were attending Liberty University and by extension attended Thomas Road church every Sunday. Liberty University was started by Reverend Jerry Falwell and Thomas Road is on one end of the campus making for easy access. The school has a strict set of rules built around keeping the students from the evils of secular colleges (you know... all the fun stuff). The more Kevin reflected on his awkward conversation the more he began to be interested in the vast divide between Evangelists and most of American society. Suddenly he felt the urge to experience Liberty first hand and enrolls in the school. He had to pave the way for this move with Brown University, his Quaker parents and a group of family and friends that think he might be making the biggest mistake of his life.
Luckily for us, Kevin eventually got everything set up to go to Liberty for a semester. He decided that he needed to be undercover for the assignment to work and he concocted a story about recently becoming an Evangelist. With the help of a friend, who had been raised in an Evangelist household, he prepped as much as possible for his adventure. It was a good thing he had thought about it ahead of time because almost immediately people asked about his religious beliefs and if he had been saved. Expecting the worst stereotypes to be made flesh, Kevin is surprised at the warm welcome he receives. He actively pursues the lifestyle he is trying to investigate. In doing so, he says yes to prayer groups, bible studies, mentor meetings with a pastor, and even becomes part of the Thomas Road choir. Along the way he makes friends, meets a fun and enticing girl, attends a group for men that encourages them to battle against masturbation, goes to Panama Beach during spring break with a group determined to proselytize to the drunken debaucherous masses and gets the last print interview with Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Of course not all is fun and light at this university. Immediately he runs into homophobic slurs and attitudes. He witnesses a racial divide when a black friend begins dating a white girl. He has a roommate who starts to intensely dislike him; to the point where I began to wonder if he was safe sharing a room with the guy. Worst of all he begins to have severe guilt about lying to all these people he is growing closer to. Not to mention a severely worried family and an intense questioning of his spiritual beliefs. Add all that together and you have a big stress cloud hovering over Kevin.
All of these interesting little twists and turns makes for a good read and Kevin Roose is a great narrator and guide. His introspection and quest for understanding really help you see the complexity of the situation he finds himself in. I definitely recommend this book and can loan it to the next person who asks because I have a copy sitting right next to me.