Theo is fourteen and dying of some unknown disease; his aunt takes him on a journey around the world to learn about its religions. Her friends in various countries and of various faiths explain to Theo what they believe and why. (And nobody has read Elisabeth Kübler-Ross on denial; Theo's understandable preoccupation with what dying might be like is continually brushed aside by the adults, with no recognition of the idea that this might not be a positive approach.)
An ambitious project: to give in five hundred pages a representative sample of the world's religions. It does its best, but for me failed to reach its mark. One can't really do even one religion satisfactorily in five hundred pages, and this fictional journey was a repetitive and irritating format.
Let's start with the positive: the facts, so far as I can tell, are there; common misunderstandings are cleared up and, where there are controversies, they are presented in a balanced matter. I'm not sure, however, how much is going to have stuck in my mind a month from now, because it all felt very same-y. The representative characters were not well distinguished from one another, and it's therefore difficult to keep track of who said what.
What I will remember is how utterly obnoxious both Theo and his Aunt Martha are - both to each other and to their long-suffering hosts. I was unable to believe that any of Martha's friends actually liked her, given how rude she was about deeply-held beliefs and history. And Theo was a brat of the first order. One has to remember the rules of hospitality in many world religions, of course, but these two would try my charity sorely.http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9897011