High school senior Paul has dated Angie since middle school, and they're good together. They have a lot of the same interests, like singing in their church choir and being active in Bible club. But when Manuel transfers to their school, Paul has to rethink his life. Manuel is the first openly gay teen anyone in their small town has ever met, and yet he says he's also a committed Christian. Talking to Manuel makes Paul reconsider thoughts he has kept hidden, and listening to Manuel's interpretation of Biblical passages on homosexuality causes Paul to reevaluate everything he believed. Manuel's outspokenness triggers dramatic consequences at school, culminating in a terrifying situation that leads Paul to take a stand.
This is the third book I've read by Alex Sanchez. I already own Rainbow Boys and Rainbow High, and enjoyed them both. The God Box is, in some ways, fairly similar. All are about gay teenagers either coming to accept their identities or struggling against homophobia. In The God Box, however, there's an added religious element.
This is essentially a romance, so I'll focus on that first. I enjoyed the developing relationship between Paul and Manuel: there were no big flashy moments of epiphany, just Paul's initial denial then slow realisation that, actually, he was gay. It was slow and sweet, and I found it very believable. There might have been attraction at first sight, but it wasn't love. Both of them were struggling with their own issues (Paul moreso than Manuel) which got in the way of them getting together. In the end, it took a suitably dramatic event for Paul to let go of everything he'd believed growing up - and snog Manuel!
The religious element also played a large role. Here I should probably point out that I'm not religious, my family isn't religious, and I don't live in an overly religious society (unless you count the football!). So I did struggle with the idea that teenagers - popular teenagers, even jocks - would go to a Bible club and discuss scripture. But I'll trust Alex Sanchez if he says that they do. Sometimes, I found it dragged a little. The problem was that I'd heard all these interpretations of the Bible before - both the homophobic and non-homophobic ones, so there was a lot of dialogue where characters were repeating what I already knew. But if you've not read much about the Bible and homosexuality, you'll doubtless find it more interesting. Paul's religion meant a lot to him on a personal level, and I think it's nice that Sanchez showed the positive side of religion as well as the negative - the friendly minister as well as the homophobic one, the support Paul's dad recieved.
As you may have guessed, this isn't a book that shys away from tackling homophobic. It's realistic about it, as well. There's no happy sparkly moment where everyone realises how wrong they were and that gay people are actually beautiful. They keep on hating.
But there were also characters, and not just Manuel, prepared to stand up against it, something I liked. Manuel himself sometimes seemed a little too good - he always had a perfect response, stayed brave, and forgave his enemies. I found Paul more realistic, struggling with his beliefs and his fears. I did like Manuel, however, simply because I sometimes wish I could be like that!
I'd recommend The God Box to anyone interested in the issues mentioned - or anyone who simply wants a YA gay romance with some deeper issues thrown in!