Grace and her family belong to a very strict church who believe that only they are going to heaven and that they must keep themselves away from the world to avoid "catching sin"; Grace herself is an engaging narrator, trying to do the right thing but often committing the sin of thinking for herself and asking questions. Gleitzman captures the atmosphere of a very tight-knit, controlling community, while managing to keep his protagonists from appearing monsters, through Grace we see that the people who are hurting her family have been hurt in their turn. The church has a very Old Testament focus, presenting God as demanding above all obedience, but I found it notable that in this Old Testament world, Grace's parents, the (comparatively) free thinking rebels, had given their children names with a more New Testament flavour.
Ultimately Gleitzman does bring a sense of hope and redemption out of these apparently unpromising beginnings. Reading it from the point of view of a member of a church the book, while it could have been incredibly negative about religion, in fact felt positive and affirming and spoke about what church should and should not be like. We need to think for ourselves and encourage and enable our young people to think for themselves: Christianity at its roots is a thinking, reasoning, questioning faith. Exploring the Bible you can see many people grappling with God, with who He is, questioning Him, thinking, considering, from Jacob and Job, right through to Paul. So we need to be able to take our faith beyond obedience and conformity, faith and reason do not have to be mutually exclusive.
If you want to get a flavour of the book you can read the first chapter on the author's website here, while in this interview he discusses the background to writing Grace. I think I will be revisiting some of his books, I think adults can learn a lot from children's and young adults' books.
You can see the other entries for August in The Year in Books here