While a cross-country family road-trip is the stuff of nightmares for most teenagers, Jess Metcalf has more reasons for dread than any other teen: her religious fanatic father, her spineless mother, and her secretly-pregnant older sister are traveling to California where their father hopes to be for the impending (impending as in just a few days) Rapture he is convinced is upon them.
The journey, of course, is the story. Told from Jess' perspective - one very caustic and witty narrator if ever there was one - Miller pulls out all the stops here, wrestling with religion (Jess is doubtful at best), parental authority (the faster the Rapture approaches the less Jess respects this), with serious undertones of abuse (which comes in many forms) throughout the entire novel. In addition to all of this, we have Jess' own teen angst: body issues, lack of friends, losing her virginity. Heavy stuff.
And while the narrative is indeed witty and at times insightful, the powerful themes at work here are never examined too closely. Jess' father is an excellent example. Clearly presented as a hypocritical religious fundamentalist, he is in every way a despicable human being throughout the novel. Spouting Bible verses while stopping at casinos on the way to gamble, his family engagement is superficial at best given that he ignores his daughters, bullies his wife, has lost his job and can not even provide for his brood. Yet his character - and the damage he has done to his family - never quite emerges from this two dimensional caricature. Likewise for other family members.
I did enjoy some laugh-out-loud moments in the book, as well as some good insightful moments for Jess, but I wish this coming of age tale could have tackled fewer issues with greater depth. Perhaps then the entire book would have had more meaning.