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Review: Immaculate

Review: Immaculate

Title: Immaculate
Author: Katelyn Detweiler
Published: 2015
Length: 449 pages

My star rating: ★ ★ ★

After an unsettling encounter at work, star student Mina Dietrich discovers that she is pregnant. However, despite being in a long-term relationship, Mina has never had sex. Pregnancy also threatens everything Mina has planned and worked for: her reputation, becoming valedictorian, and going on to an Ivy League education. When she sticks to her story and insists on keeping her baby, many people turn their backs on her, including her heartbroken boyfriend and her outraged father. Soon, however, family drama and high school bullying gets out-of-hand and Mina’s pregnancy becomes national news–and not everyone who hears about it wants to live and let live.

Maybe being raised Catholic piqued my interest in a book centered around a virginal pregnancy/birth. Other than Mina’s trials and tribulations and her personal journey, there isn’t much plot to Immaculate. It’s more about the nature of miracles and of faith, especially in a modern age where we (think we) know that something like an immaculate conception and/or virgin birth is all but impossible. That didn’t bother me much, though. I am a sucker for a good character study.

The thing is, Immaculate doesn’t really succeed as a character study.

None of the characters have staying power, not even Mina, who takes nearly everything in stride even when the reader feels sure she ought to be falling apart. That’s not to say she has no personality (or that she doesn’t ever struggle), but at the same time, she’s exactly what you would expect: not just smart but gifted and hard-working; a good friend, a loving girlfriend, an obedient daughter, a reliable employee… Mina is so perfect that the later hostility towards her seems paradoxically both implausible and reasonable, at least on the part of some of her jealous classmates. I did feel for her, because if the book does have a plot, it’s Everyone Gangs Up on Mina and Bullies/Harasses Her. But that doesn’t make her less of a Mary Sue.

I admit, I’m a fan of the CW show Jane the Virgin, and that might also have influenced my decision to read this book. While Jane is more of a parody and a comedy than this book is, and Jane herself isn’t a teenager (her pregnancy isn’t miraculous, either), I noticed some big similarities between the two MCs. Both of them are stellar students with seemingly-perfect boyfriends, both Goody Two-Shoes types, both waitresses, and both have the same dream: to become professional writers. If the uncommon premise was not so similar, I wouldn’t bat an eye…but I don’t believe in coincidences. Jane came out in 2014, and this book was published a year later.

Katelyn Detweiler could’ve tried harder in the character-development department is all I’m saying.

And even though I don’t love Jane from JTV, she does make impressions on me; I have opinions of her. She may be self-righteous and stubborn, but she has flaws, which is the point. They make her more interesting as a heroine. Mina lacks most of that. She’s sort of a place holder.

None of the other characters felt fully fleshed-out or real, either. Mina’s coworker Jesse and her best friend Hannah come closest, but they all fall short. I can’t think of a single memorable thing to say about any of them. The good, righteous characters like Jesse and Hannah also lack any real flaws, while the characters who are critical of or cruel to Mina lack depth and believable motivations. (High school bullying is one thing, but some of what happens in this book is way, way over-the-top…all, supposedly, just because Mina claims to be a virgin.) And then there’s Mina’s seven-year-old sister who talks like she’s way older.

I think something about Immaculate just doesn’t quite work, but I’m not sure what that something is. I kept flipping pages, but the ending left me unfulfilled, and I’m having trouble even writing a coherent review because other than the premise, nothing about it is memorable. Well, maybe the last thirty pages–but only because of their sheer absurdity. Maybe absurdity is better than predictability, though. By predictability, I mostly mean that Joseph Jesse becomes the close friend and guardian of Mary Mina, the pregnant virgin. Just throwing it out there.

The writing is nothing spectacular, either; it’s serviceable. I guess that’s a good way to describe the whole book. The idea is compelling. (It has, after all, been compelling many different human civilizations for thousands of years.) Everything else just…is what it is. Not terrible, not great, just fine.  The characters and ending left something to be desired, but not enough that I feel all that inspired to pick up a sequel should one be published.

So to wrap up, I wouldn’t recommend Immaculate, even if you’re an ardent Jane the Virgin fan. But I wouldn’t discourage anyone who wanted to give it a try, either. Solidly three stars.

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