The devil has come to Devil Springs. 

Except he hasn't. Not at all. But try and tell that to Mayor Avis Kneller.

This is not the senior year Mesa Merritt pictured. She’s already suffered through her grandmother Avis’s restrictive dress code and no boy rule. Now Avis ratchets up her expectations and declares spiritual warfare on behalf of the town's teens. (Stupid skinny dipping cheerleaders and their stupid Facebook posts.)

Mesa is sick of being bullied into fake piety, but standing up to Avis will mean losing the small freedoms she does have including her spot on the cross country team. Most unfortunate since she’s started training with the yummiest possible running partner, Cody Howard. But when she won’t get baptized as Avis mandates, her alienation begins. (Public schoolers sneaking alcohol into the pastor’s daughter’s party--so not helping.)

The devil may not have come to Devil Springs, but judgement has. Mesa is left hopeless in its wake until a storm rolls in on top of Avis’s devil-banning march. Mesa’s neighbor with autism goes missing during the chaos, and Mesa needs a swell of faith, as least in herself, to find him.

DEVIL SPRINGS (69,000) is a contemporary young adult novel. It features the emotions of a doubting teen such as in Sara Zarr’s Once Was Lost set in the southern grit of a Flannery O’Connor landscape


I suppose normal people love their own family. At a minimum, with a blood-is-thicker, loyal type of love. When it comes to my grandmother Avis, we’re well past normal. At least my resentment has ebbed into tolerance. Mostly.

    So when Avis cries out in the kitchen, I hesitate to see if I’m really needed. My grandmother likes to holler, and I’ve grown immune.

    “Mesa! Get in here!”

    I toss my book aside and move toward the sharp scent of ammonia that lingers from Avis’s post-breakfast mopping. It’s easier to put up with Avis now that senior year is about to begin and the end of my time with her is in sight. She stands at the sink, blood dripping from her finger onto the glossy linoleum. I’m curious what she did but not exactly moved to sympathy.

    “Get this out of the way.” She shoves a colander filled with strawberries toward me and lifts her hand in the air. I grab the bowl as blood runs down her wrist and seeps into the cuff of her blouse, crimson blooming in white threads.   

    “The devil attacked me.” Her voice is sharp, hissing. Her revelation vibrates between us.

    That’s so Avis. Brimming with melodrama and crap. She cut herself, the paring knife she’d been using to hull the berries slipping as knives sometimes do, but I nod. Kenzi and her mom will be here in ten minutes to pick me up for our senior picture appointment; Now’s the time for placating.

    “He’s in this town. Staked his claim into its very name.”

    Her favorite topic. Avis has been trying to get the town name changed from Devil Springs to Life Springs for as long as I can remember. I return the strawberries to the fridge, consider popping one in my mouth, but decide against it. It’s hard to tell if they suffered any blood splash.

    “I’ll get the Band-Aids,” I offer.

    Instead of acknowledging me, Avis starts to pray. I can hear her even from the hall bathroom as I fetch the first aid trappings from under the sink. 

    “He can cut me and bruise me limb by limb, but I will not be broken. As for me and my house and my town, we will serve the Lord.” 

    Avis praying out loud never stops being weird. 

    “Grandma, I have the box.” I interrupt because I can tell it will be awhile before she stops on her own. “Do you want a Band-Aid or some gauze to wrap it?”

    The doorbell rings, and I freeze. I don’t want Avis to continue this rant to Kenzi and her mom. Avis thinks she’s got a kindred spirit in Mrs. Shepherd because she’s the pastor’s wife. 

    “Leave it on the counter, and go on. I know you have plans. I do too.”

    I set the box on the yellow laminate counter and pop off the lid. Her plans will include more praying, quoting Bible verses, and possibly another attempt to rally the town council. Avis is town mayor. As she nears the end of her six-year term, she grows more determined, praying every night against the devil, against Councilman Lamar Gady who’s most against her. Pleas that carry through the house. 

    And I don’t care. For none of the above. Not one iota of interest. 

    In two seconds I’m out the door.