Detweiler, Katelyn. Immaculate. New York: Viking for Young Readers, 2015. Print.
I love a good allusion. Just ask my students.
Maybe that’s why I felt compelled to read Immaculate. I first saw the book’s cover on the Penguin Teen Facebook Page—an artistic photograph of a young girl lying down, her arms wrapped around her midsection. The description mentioned a seventeen-year-old pregnant virgin protagonist, an allusion to the Virgin Mary. It was obvious click bait, but it worked on me. Within minutes, I downloaded the book to my Kindle app.
Seventeen-year-old Mina (aka Menius) is an academic, ambitious, and relatively innocent high school student. The course of her life is altered during a late night waitressing shift at the local pizzeria. A mysterious elderly customer tells Mina:
“It’s time. We’ve decided that you’re ready, that everyone’s ready. The longer we wait, the more trouble we’ll see, and I think that the world has seen enough trouble, don’t you?”
Understandably freaked out, Mina makes a quick exit. Months later, she begins to feel ill: extreme fatigue, nausea, and aches and pains. The positive pregnancy test comes as a surprise since Mina has never had sex. After a doctor confirms the diagnosis, she must tell her parents, friends, and boyfriend and deal with their varying levels of disbelief and anger.
Mina’s pregnancy and claims of virginity make her the target of mean-spirited jokes at school. The creation of a gossipy website chronicling her ordeal—appropriately named The Virgin Mina—allows news of the alleged miracle to trickle throughout the country and world, resulting in Mina receiving mail from as far away as Indonesia. As Mina’s story continues to spread, two specific camps begin to emerge. One group vehemently believes that Mina’s claims are blasphemous; another sees her as a saintly figure who can cure diseases with her touch and personal belongings. Both groups cause Mina to fear for her safety and that of her unborn child. As her due date looms closer, Mina realizes she must make some tough decisions.
Perhaps it is the English teacher in me, but the parts of the novel I found especially poignant occurred when Mina was alluding to the most famous pregnant virgin. Some examples: the pizzeria where Mina works is decorated in statues of the Virgin Mary. Teasing classmates sing “We Three Kings” to Mina in the cafeteria. And, in a particularly moving scene, Mina breaks down while viewing a life size, handmade nativity in a Sunday school class. The connection is pretty blatant, but not enough to make the reader roll their eyes.
I did feel as though the narration was bogged down with unnecessary details. I lost track of the number of times Mina mentioned her blue eyes or that her father and sister had blue eyes, too. The nickname “Meen”, which appears several times in dialogue, always made me wince. And many supporting characters felt flat to me: Mina’s best friends Izzy and Hannah; Arielle, the creator of The Virgin Mina website; even Mina’s eventual love interest, Jesse. Spacey and sometimes humorously naive, a bit of Jesse’s back story would have really strengthened the book.
That being said, would I recommend Immaculate to my students? Yes, with some reservations. It’s a bit far-fetched but still makes some interesting commentary on societal cynicism. The book raises questions worth debating: When did we stop believing in miracles? Why do we demand proof before we’ll believe anything that goes against our knowledge of science and reason? Overall, I felt Immaculate had an intriguing premise, and the thematic ideas of ostracism and bullying are relatable to teens and adults alike.