At the beginning of this novel, it is 1999 and the last day of Mercy Louis’s sophomore year in high school. The novel is set in the downtrodden refinery city of Port Sabine, Texas. Mercy lives with Maw Maw, her grandmother, a woman who combines a background of Cajun superstition with strict fundamentalism. Maw Maw has visions and believes that the End of Days will arrive at the end of the year.
Mercy is focused on the thing she finds most important—basketball. She follows her coach’s rigid routines and diet, and she doesn’t drink or get involved with boys. Her best friend and teammate Annie isn’t so careful, though, about parties or boys.
Troubles for the town begin when an employee of a convenience store finds the body of a fetus in the dumpster. National attention falls on the town, fundamentalists demonstrate against the evils of baby killing, and attention soon turns on the town’s teenage girls. As one of them remarks, it’s as if suddenly it’s a sin to be a girl.
Mercy feels pressure from other sources, too. She has had a fit or a vision at church. She has received a letter from her mother, who left her when she was a baby. She also has a boyfriend for the first time, Travis, a boy from an artistic, liberal background. And she’s started having trouble controlling one of her arms.
The other major character is Illa Stark, a misfit girl who has only one friend, Lennox, who works with her on the school paper. She has a crush on Lennox, but he is dating the formidable Annie. Illa also has a fascination with Mercy, the star of the girls’ basketball team.
Illa’s mother is wheelchair bound after a huge refinery accident several years ago. Now she hardly ever goes out. Illa doesn’t get out much either except as manager of the basketball team and in pursuit of her interest in photography.
Although this novel is a coming of age story, it is more about the pressures of religious fundamentalism on girls. Mercy tries to cope with the natural desires of teenage years to date and have fun, both of which she has been brought up to believe are evil.
I did care about these characters, but I felt that in some ways, although the novel doesn’t tie up all the threads, it comes to some easy solutions of the characters’ problems. I also found the writing—which is overloaded with similes and metaphors—to be irritating at times. So, I had a mixed reaction to this novel.