Last Updated on February 17, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1172
Before her mother came to stay, an embarrassed Gifty bought a Bible. Her mother has never looked at it, but Gifty develops the habit of sitting with her and reading the Bible to herself. As a child, she memorized many Bible verses; as a college student, she wished she could forget them to make space for her studies. While reading as an adult, Gifty appreciates the language of the Bible, which she never paid attention to when she was younger. Because of the Bible verse “the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” young Gifty thought that her diary entries, written to God, were holy. When she learned that this was an inaccurate translation, she began to question other parts of the Bible, too. In college, Gifty remembers, she attended a sermon on biblical literalism. The female pastor’s compassion and thoughtfulness made her think about how differently her life would have been if she had grown up in this person’s church.
When Gifty was a child, Pastor John encouraged his congregation to push back against progressivism by taking the Bible literally. But when his own daughter became pregnant, he chose different Bible verses and preached about forgiveness instead of punishment. This change confirmed for young Gifty that people read the Bible the way they want to read it. At that point, her diary entries became lists of her questions and uncertainties about the world. Learning about biblical translation also motivated her to pay closer attention to her multilingual mother. The adult Gifty concludes that her mother never really learned to be herself in English.
In addition to the pastor’s daughter, several other girls in Gifty’s childhood church became pregnant around the same time. The church hauled the preteen girls into a meeting in a former abortion clinic, at which they were told that their virginity was part of a covenant with their future husband. A fearful Gifty, who had never received practical sex education from school or her mother, took in this conversation with deep seriousness. She did not have sex or even understand the physiology of genitalia until college. The narration returns to just after the conversation in which she defended religion to her college classmates. One of them, Anne, apologized for her response and asked Gifty to hang out. They became friends, and Gifty began to feel like she might belong at Harvard. Even so, Anne criticized her for being too strict with herself about her behavior. Gifty’s narration of the memory ends with a moment when Anne seemed to be about to kiss her.
As Nana became more and more serious about basketball, even attracting college recruiters, Gifty began attending adult church services with her mother to make her feel better about Nana’s avoiding them. In each service, Pastor John did an “altar call,” in which he invited anyone who wanted to be saved to come down to the altar. Gifty’s mother wanted her to respond, but Gifty was too attached to her childhood freedom at first. At a basketball game around this time, Nana broke his ankle. The doctor prescribed him opioids. Adult Gifty reflects on that day as the last ordinary one before their real troubles began.
Gifty decides to try some Ensure, the substance the mice are addicted to. After buying it, she speeds home, thinking about how her Stanford Medical School bumper sticker makes the police let her out of tickets because they assume she is a brilliant doctor. She talks Han into trying the Ensure with her. The experience turns out to be upsetting, and it makes her admit to Han that her brother died of an overdose. After Nana became addicted to opioids, Gifty remembers, it took her a little while to figure out what was going on when he was high. Later, she asked Nana what it felt like to be high. He struggled to describe it but eventually told her that it emptied his mind “in a good way.”
After Nana was injured in the basketball game and before his family knew he was abusing his pain medication, Gifty asked her mother to take her to church. When she heard the altar call, she was overcome with the feeling that she wanted to be saved. Adult Gifty questions what happened, but she knows that her feelings were real at the time. Young Gifty went down to the altar, inspiring great excitement as the adults prayed and praised God for her salvation. She believed, with no doubt whatsoever, that God was present in that moment.
Once she was saved, Gifty at first felt special, until she learned that children she thought weren’t “good” had been saved as well. She tried to keep the special feeling of being saved with her by serving the church. While she was volunteering at the church’s fireworks stand, Ryan, a teammate of her brother’s whom she didn’t realize was a drug dealer, asked when Nana was coming back to play basketball. Nana had already begun abusing his painkillers, so Gifty had to tell him that she did not know. Then Ryan began harassing Gifty about her habit of reading books. The next Sunday in church, she saw Ryan worshipping enthusiastically. She did not understand how the two of them could both be allowed into heaven.
Religion is central to this section. Young Gifty sought to understand her life through religion, but she encountered many difficulties. The slipperiness of biblical meaning, as well as the inclusion among the saved of young people she considered “bad,” made it hard for her to feel secure in her Christian belief. The author sets Gifty up for the loss of her faith by locating her one moment of religious certainty, her experience of salvation, right before the beginning of Nana’s opioid addiction. As an adult, Gifty is uncertain about what she really experienced during that moment at the altar. Whatever it may have been, she lost it in the wake of Nana’s suffering and death.
Belonging, both inside and outside religious communities, returns as a major theme in this part of the book. Gifty questions how both she and Ryan can both belong in their community of saved Christians. As we know, she later ends up opting out of Christianity to the extent that adult Gifty feels embarrassed buying a Bible. In college, by contrast, her friendship with Anne helps her feel that she might belong in a secular intellectual community. As a scientist who works in a prestigious program, she has now achieved a level of belonging. She avoids being given speeding tickets, despite being Black, because her Stanford Medical School bumper sticker leads the police to assume that she is intelligent and therefore worthy of respect. Once again, the book portrays excellence as the one effective way to cope with racism. Only by gaining recognition for her brilliant work can Gifty make people believe that she truly belongs.
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