I want to start by saying that I have never really cared for John Updike, and I have avoided him. Maybe it was because I had to read him in high school and that I just didn't get him then. I can't remember. Besides, I thought he had to be dead or too addle-brained to write by now. But when I saw this on the library shelf, with a 2006 publication date, I had to bite.
It's about a boy who grows up with his Irish-American mother, who has been abandoned by her Egyptian immigrant husband. Perhaps it's an attempt to find an identity with his father, but the youngster embraces Islam at 11, and is a devoted student of a local Imam with Jihadist tendencies. By the time he graduates from high school, he is without dreams of his own, and only wants to please Allah. He is disgusted by the corrupt American culture of sexual immorality, exemplified by his own mother's serial dating and his provocatively dressed schoolmate, Joryleen. Joryleen invites the boy, Ahmad, to her church to hear her sing, and he is no less repulsed by the religious fervor of her African-American congregation of Jesus worshipers.
The author really takes us inside this kid's head, and inside his neighborhood, with believable dialog and characters. I had to wonder to what lengths Mr. Updike had gone for the "flava" in this novel. Maybe he watched BET for a month, but it is a very realistic page-turner, which I didn't expect from this navel-gazing old New Yorker.
It was read by Christopher Lane, and his narration was a first for me. He did a great job. I give this one 4 stars.