By Jeff Walsh
"Dear Lord, please take away these feelings. You know which ones. In Jesus' name I ask you. Thank You. Amen."
Paul writes these words on a slip of paper, folds it, and puts it into his God Box. The maple box has the Serenity Prayer carved into its top, and a place into which you slide your prayers, giving them up to the Lord.
In Alex Sanchez's new novel, "The God Box," Paul is a Christian high school senior trying to avoid confronting his sexuality. He has a long-time girlfriend, belongs to Bible Club at school, and wears a red "What Would Jesus Do?" rubber wristband at all times. When he wakes up from a sex dream, presumably about a boy, he pulls back the band and snaps it against his flesh.
When he sees Manuel for the first time in homeroom, it's no surprise that Paul is going to have a sore wrist in no time. The new kid in school, Manuel has both his ears and his left eyebrow pierced and, over lunch with Paul and his friends, casually asks if this school has a GSA. When they ask if he's gay, he just says "Yep."
The book covers the unending sexuality-spirituality debate by giving us two good kids trying to navigate their belief systems to allow them to get together. Paul is aware of his desire for Manuel, but unable to act on it. Manuel plays the martyr role, waiting until Paul will be ready to accept himself.
Sanchez always writes sweet page-turners about gay characters, and The God Box is no exception. He doesn't cheapen the experience by making the religious side a simple caricature, acknowledging that religion and spirituality are sources of hope and comfort for many people. He shows that it can also be used as a crutch to avoid thinking.
The book lives in the details, such as Paul's inner turmoil at sharing an armrest at a movie theater with Manuel, although they have girls sitting next to them. The story is Paul's journey as he confronts everything he's been taught to believe when it clashes with everything he feels to be true.
It's a journey worth taking with him.