Hanna Pylväinen’s debut novel is about a family that belongs to the (very conservative) Laestadian Lutheran church.
In a Publishers Weekly interview given at BookExpo in early June, Hanna made it clear that her book is not part of “a national conversation around fundamentalism that skews to sensationalism. It’s too easy to forget these are rational people making choices for very real and important reasons. We Sinners is not an exposé––it does not uncover the secret or sordid hypocrisies of those who claim to be faithful. Its real revelation is people who are rather ordinary, whose faith falters.”
There is another excellent interview up on Fiction Writers Review in which Pylväinen compares the structure of her novel to growing up, and laments how few authors write about religion successfully.
Adult/High School–While focusing on a religion that few have even heard of, this debut novel nevertheless sensitively addresses something that many teens are dealing with: how to incorporate the faith and values of their families into their own belief system, and how that affects their relationships with their parents, siblings, and communities. People at school say that the nine Rovaniemi children are brainwashed. Brita isn’t sure if she wants the boy she likes to ask her to the dance or not, but when he does, she must explain to him about her church: she can’t go to movies, or use nail polish, or listen to music with a beat, for example. Each chapter features a different member of the family figuring out how to fit their Laestadian Lutheranism into modern-day life. The story takes place over a number of years–Brita has several children of her own by the final chapters–as each sibling reaches young adulthood and must decide whether he or she can live within the church and family. As one sister who has left to live with her boyfriend contemplates what it might be like to go back, she realizes that “the two futures were so dissimilar she was sure they did not exist on the same continent.” This is an absorbing piece of fiction that may well find an audience with teens, both those who are going through their own discernment period and those who just like a well-written and intriguing story.–Sarah Flowers, formerly at Santa Clara County Library, CA