Emma wants to study journalism at a secular college. Her parents, both pastors at their evangelical church, have saved to give her a Christian education that won’t expose her to heretical ideas, like the theory of evolution.

The protagonist of Donut Days, Lara Zielin’s debut novel for young adults, wonders what’s wrong with her. Emma never has visions and doesn’t speak in tongues. She’s at odds with her best friend, and she messed up her relationship with the boy who matters. Teens will connect to the struggles of this imperfect heroine, who wishes she sparkled more, like the younger sister her mother favors. Still, Emma, who reads the newspaper more than the Bible, writes stories for her high school paper that impress everyone but her parents. And when her local paper announces it will award a college scholarship for the best essay on the “donut camp” setting up in town to promote a new franchise of “Crispy Dream Donuts,” Emma sees reporting as a means to her goal as well as its end.

As Emma pursues her dream in this crisp novel, Zielin takes us inside the daily life of a Minnesota church that’s in as much turmoil as the young protagonist. A parishioner determines to remove her mother from the pulpit because, he says, women in the church are “out of balance.” But things are rarely what they seem in this fast-paced story that turns prejudices topsy-turvy.

At the camp, Emma encounters a group of intimidating tattooed bikers who surprise her. “I knew lots of people at Living Word Redeemer who said they were saved but acted like complete jerks, and lots of people who didn’t profess to believe in God but acted like angels,” she reflects.

Will she escape her narrow surroundings? Discover what is really going on behind closed doors at the church? Reunite with her best friend? And will Jake, the boy who has become “smokin’ hot,” still love her?

In the end, a mystery is solved, relationships resolved. And this book from the editor of the U-M LSAmagazine proves to be less about religion than about intellectual honesty and diversity. “I think I’d have precious few friends if I only befriended people who thought the same way I did about everything,” Emma’s father tells her.

While Emma searches the donut camp for a story “with characters and obstacles,” readers will find one in Zielin’s compelling narrative.

Zielin celebrates the August 6 book release with a reading and writing workshop for teens at the AADL Mallets Creek Branch followed by a reading and signing at Nicola’s Books.