The Rovaniemis are an unusual family. That’s obvious at first glance; modern-day American families rarely include nine children. But the family’s membership in an incredibly conservative branch of the Lutheran church makes it clear that they’re to be in the world, but not of it. They aren’t allowed to listen to music with a beat, though the children each play orchestral instruments. Dancing is forbidden. Movies are off limits.

So the children walk a fine line as they try to fit in at school and at work while respecting their church’s rules—or, in the case of three of the Rovaniemis, as they attempt to leave the church’s influence behind. The eldest, Brita, follows in the family’s footsteps as she gives birth to seven children. Others rebel as they leave for college, but later settle into a church-approved life. Paula deals with the difficulty of being the awkward daughter among beauties. The younger children face the burden of their older siblings’ choices, and sometimes find themselves lost in a family of so many.

A compelling first novel explores how extreme faith is challenged by the modern world.

In We Sinners, author Hanna Pylväinen’s debut novel, a different, distinctive Rovaniemi voice takes the lead in each chapter, creating a novel that reads almost like a series of connected short stories. These powerful vignettes reveal the faith’s influence on the family’s relationships. Pylväinen’s own background—she grew up in, and left, just such a church—lends an expert voice to each character’s compelling perspective. The children who leave the church realize that freedom comes at a price, and those who remain face the constraints their faith places on relationships. But despite the family’s differing views on faith and life, they are brought together through shared blood and experience.

Pylväinen’s straightforward but gripping storytelling and fully developed characters make it clear that this new voice in literature is one to watch.

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