Book: The Poisonwood Bible
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Published: 1998 (Harper)
Take a raging evangelist, his fading wife, and their four distinctive girls from Georgia, airlift them into the middle of the Congo, and leave them at the mercy of the natives, fire ants, and wet/dry seasons as a revolution is brewing while they're just trying to survive. See if you're surprised too when only one of them dies.
But mine was a happy surprise, as I loved how all of these characters showed their pasts and their futures in pretty much everything they did or said, and gained the consequences. The oldest girl comes in bossy and oblivious and doesn't learn anything except how to hustle men to get back to civilization; the tomboy twin tries to use her toughness to keep herself endeared to her father and in his scorn turns outward to survive and ends up becoming part of what she learned to fight; the crippled twin, always a step behind, keeps her mind flourishing in secret until she can use it for escape and distant study of what they escaped; and the youngest girl's gritty curiosity makes her an all-too-easy target of the unsettlement and unease the rest of her family brings to the jungle by just existing.
The story is told through their rotating points of view, and that gives multifaceted details to this strange journey their parents (well, really just parent) drag them on. It's got all the adolescent drama of the older girl tempered with the twin's duality of sense and intellectual probing and the littlest one's straightforward learning.
The mother also has sections, but they're all from years later and basically just mourning what happened in (very poetic) daydreams. I kind of wanted a section from the dad preacher's point of view because he was clearly crazy and determined to make noticeable impact even when that obviously riled everyone up at exactly the wrong time, but I didn't feel like I missed anything without it and the girls had a better view of him in context anyway.
So, definitely bookshelf. For sure. I got a copy of this in one of my original bookstore stashes but lent it to a friend and then last summer finally gave in and grabbed my own copy and I'm very glad I did.