"The Virtue of Sin" follows the stories of Miriam and Caleb, two teenagers living in an isolated religious community in the desert known as New Jerusalem. They live under the teachings and dictum of their leader, a man named Daniel. As the story opens, we find out that a Marriage Ceremony will be taking place soon and Miriam and Caleb are hoping to be joined as man and wife. Miriam tries her best to live in accordance with the rules of their community, where women should be seen and not heard and where the expectation is that women will do whatever is necessary to serve their husbands, fathers, and of course, Daniel's wishes. As the Marriage Ceremony approaches, Miriam has an innocent, but forbidden encounter with a newcomer to the community named Aaron. Miriam follows her gut instead of the teachings and when her life starts falling apart shortly thereafter, she blames herself. Caleb, on the other hand, follows the community's rules to the letter (in fairness, there are fewer restrictions on the boys) with one minor exception when it comes to communicating with Miriam. He is in Daniel's good graces and is looking forward to his life with Miriam. When things don't go according to plan, he is left angrily questioning everything about his life and what it means to serve God and Daniel, and whether it's possible that those two things may be at odds for the first time in his life.
The story is told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of Miriam and Caleb. We learn about others in the community only through their eyes. The story flows well and incorporates all of the plot points that we've come to expect in a novel dealing with a religious cult. It is well-written and gripping and has as much to do with teenagers finding their own voices as it does with a corrupt man claiming to be a prophet. I'm unsure about the 12 & up rating that this one currently has (that could change before it goes to print). I live in the Bible Belt, and some people in my community live a modified version of the restrictions that are in place in this community, so Aaron's observations as an Outsider that these practices are ridiculous might not play so well in my area of the country. To give credit to Shannon Schuren, I think she goes out of her way to try and make this book about more than religious corruption. The majority of the characters are just good people who get a little lost in their belief system. There is some foul language in the dialogue which will get the gander of a few parents, but other than those two things, I think this is a great story. It is both believable and thought-provoking. I made my way through it in about 4 days and was hooked very early on. There are a number of mysteries thrown in throughout that all get resolved in the end and the character's struggles with everything that happens around them are engaging. All in all, a great read for adults, and a good choice for mature teens or maybe those 16 and older. I don't like to restrict anyone's reading ever, but I can already hear the parent complaints if we said this book was recommended for those 12 and up at my library.