Often, the best humor is found in tales with a real world basis, which is what you find in Dodging Satan by Kathleen Zamboni McCormick. Even though I’m not Catholic, I did attend a Lutheran school for much of my childhood and some of the events in the school scenes in the book rang all too true. (The scene where Bridget is given a guilt complex over eating too slow really did ring a bell.) Of course, school isn’t the focus of the book, Bridget is. Dodging Satan is a fictionalized autobiography that follows Bridget from about age 5 to about age 14. The book doesn’t follow a strict chronological flow, but uses short stories to tell Bridget’s tale (a format I really liked). Many of the stories started in the real world, but the author has changed names, embroidered the information a bit, and added the pizzazz that makes this book such a good read. Some things, like a time traveling St. Mary, really were part of the author’s life, but she tells the tale with humor, slightly askew of the real world events.
I’ve read many treatise on what makes for a good childhood—everything from upbringing to environment to recognizing a child’s gifts. However, Dodging Satan possibly brings up the most important element of all—a child’s imagination (although I doubt that it’s the author’s main goal to create a tale of child raising either). The book is funny because Bridget sees the world from a perspective that only a child who is trying to make sense of all of the conflicting inputs she’s receiving could possibly have. Trying to figure out how riding a bicycle can make one pregnant is just one of many conundrums that Bridget faces. There were times when I had tears rolling down my cheeks, such as when Bridget discovers the holy in the holy water. As you read the book, you see Bridget pondering various elements of Catholicism and I felt for her because I pondered at least a few of those same things as a Lutheran. (A fear that Satan was going to reach out and grab me was just one commonality.) It’s interesting to find that children commonly use all sorts of sources (religion in this case), often distorted, to explain the unexplained events in their lives.
The book does touch on a number of issues that were most definitely not talked about during my childhood, including abuse of various sorts and sexuality that we’re only now coming to grips with (for one thing, two of the aunts turned out to be lesbians). Some of these sections will most definitely make people uncomfortable, despite being told a bit tongue-in-cheek and with an eye toward a skewed version of the truth. It won’t surprise many people who grew up in poorer neighborhoods that abuse was, and still is, rampant. Bridget ends up coming to terms with these negatives in her life by inventing views that make them all seem plausible, if not entirely appropriate. The child view of these things is expertly written—in fact, this bit of writing is possibly the most fascinating part of the book because it really does present a significantly different perspective of events that shapes individuals and our country as a whole during the 60s and 70s (the book does avoid the use of dates because many of these issues are still taking place now). Bridget shows herself to be an amazing young lady because she does accept her lesbian aunts and comes to realize that they have a significant role to play in helping her come to terms with her own blossoming sexuality (not that Bridget becomes a lesbian, but I don’t want to give away the plot of the book either).
Is this a good book? Yes, I’m really glad I read it, but unlike many book covers, this one undersells the content. You will laugh, but you’ll also cry with Bridget a little and you’ll find yourself thinking about the odd events in your own childhood. In order to really get anything out of this book, you must be willing to step back and think about Bridget’s musings from an adult perspective. You see yourself when you were young from the perspective of having learned that the world really doesn’t involve things like time travel and no amount of imagination will make some things right. In short, if you’re looking for a good laugh and nothing else, then you probably won’t enjoy this book, but if you’re willing to give things a bit of thought, you’ll probably end up with more than you expected. Dodging Satan promises to be one of those books that will change you in ways you’ll never forget.