BAR HARBOR — Beckie Weinheimer, author of the young adult novel “Converting Kate” and a summer resident of Mount Desert Island, will speak at Jesup Memorial Library on Saturday, July 11, at 4 p.m.
“Converting Kate,” the author’s first novel, is set in a coastal village near Acadia National Park.
While generally one thinks of “converting” as meaning “bringing an individual into a particular religious congregation,” Ms. Weinheimer uses “converting” to show how Kate moves from the constraints and rigid thought of the conservative Holy Divine Church to her emergence by the end of the novel as a thoughtful, somewhat irreligious 16-year-old. And the transition for Kate is not an easy one.
Her mother, who is managing her paternal aunt’s inn in a coastal village, is not only a zealous missionary of the Holy Divine Church but also a religious bigot who constantly admonishes Kate for wearing running shorts instead of below-the-knee skirts, for running on Sunday, for not fasting, for reading novels such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” which is banned by the Holy Divine Church.
Despite her mother’s constant criticism and obvious displeasure, Kate transitions well and gracefully into a rural high school after moving from Phoenix near the beginning of her sophomore year. Kate’s father, a freethinker and avid reader, had died a year earlier of a heart attack after running. Kate inherited her father’s books – none of which her mother approves – and his ashes which she picked up herself from a crematorium because her mother would not. It seems the Holy Divine Church condemns cremation.
With the help and love of her great-Aunt Katherine, her friend Jamie and Pastor Browning, the rector of Aunt Katherine’s church, Kate not only recognizes the hypocrisy of some allegedly religious people but also takes positive steps to help others deal with adversity and discrimination. She organizes a group to help a friend lobster in the morning before school when his grandfather gets sick; she supports Pastor Browning after his ouster because he admitted to being a homosexual; she confronts her mother for believing that only those who belong to the Holy Divine Church will be saved; she grapples with religious beliefs that do not recognize the intrinsic goodness of those who belong to other Christian churches or are Jewish or Islamic.
In a note at the end of the novel, Ms. Weinheimer says “that Kate’s fictional story is dear to my heart, because like her, I [as an adult] broke away from a church that dictated what I thought, drank, wore, read, and saw.”
“Converting Kate” was one of the American Library Association’s best books for 2008 and was chosen by the New York Public Library as a starred book for teenagers.