Salvation is the sometimes funny, sometimes eerie story of the coming of age of Crane Cavanaugh, a budding scientist. Crane narrates her early life with a rich awareness of the natural world and her own precarious spot in it. Raised below the poverty line in Arnold, Iowa, by depraved adults who’ve given up the life of charlatans on the gospel circuit, Crane’s first-person account traces her experiences from disfiguration in the womb to well-deserved elevation in the halls of academe. Along the way, there are surprises and reversals. Crane is separated from the sister and brother who tried to protect her in infancy and assigned by welfare workers to life in a convent. Here, science is taught directly from the Bible. Crane rebels. Her belligerence causes the nuns to put her up for adoption. Reborn as Princess Hopkins by an adoring, middle-class, adoptive mother, Crane develops a satisfying relationship of admiration and respect with a public school science teacher who becomes her mentor. Princess/Crane inhabits parallel worlds, using her scientific precocity and formidable intellect to juggle sobering deficits in nurture, stunted emotional development, and the inevitable disasters that derive from sadomasochistic sexual imprinting—yet she somehow retains an inner continuity that remains unfazed, unjudgmental, and cheerful. Witty and richly intelligent, arch and earnest, Salvation has a Dickensian narrative reach, an empathetic heart, and a naturalist’s eye for both the vagaries and the logic of human nature.