What I liked:
I liked that Rice gave voice to things I had wondered about regarding the virgin birth. For example, in the novel, it WAS a scandal, people DIDN'T believe Mary. When she returns to Nazareth with Jesus, he is almost denied admittance to the school to learn from the rabbis, because he is thought to be a child conceived in sin. All of this is only alluded to, no one ever comes out and says that people assumed Mary had had sex with someone and become pregnant, but everyone thinks it.
I liked Mary's brother, Jesus's Uncle Cleopas. He's a lot like me in that he was continually amused by people not just saying what they mean. Everyone danced around what they knew, and refused to just come out with it, but Cleopas thought that was ridiculous. The only reason he stayed silent was because he promised Joseph.
I liked that Jesus was portrayed as a real kid, one that liked to run and play, though he was obviously wise beyond his years. It was through play that he realized he had "powers" that others did not - the power to kill, the power to give life. He desires things, as children do, but his desires actually happen. When he wishes for snow, it unexpectedly snows. The wise beyond his years part was what kept him in check. If my almost seven-year-old discovered that whatever she wished for happened, my house would be full of Webkins, and we would eat every meal at Chuck E. Cheese's. But Jesus realizes what is happening and decides to only pray for things that are God's will.
I liked the sibling rivalry. That James, Joseph's older son, could envy and at times even hate Jesus, knowing he was the son of God, was a true testament to the intensity of sibling rivalry.
I liked Jesus's reaction when he finally put together the story of his birth and realized what had happened because of it. Not that it was a happy part of the book. I liked it because Jesus had a very human reaction. We'd probably call it a nervous breakdown. This was the only part of the book that elicited an emotional response from me.
What I didn't like:
There wasn't really anything in particular I didn't like. It was a bit of a slow read, and seemed to drag in places.
One thing I didn't like, because it just wasn't mentioned at all, was that while Mary was 13, Joseph was 60 or thereabouts (right?). And they were betrothed. Pedophilia anyone? Now I know things were different back then, but today Joseph would be in jail, so I thought maybe it deserved a mention and some sort of rationalization.
Overall, it was an interesting novel that I'm glad to have read. It was nice to read some speculation, particularly well-researched speculation, on Jesus at ages that aren't mentioned in the Bible. I think in the Bible we see his birth, he pops up around the age of 12, and then we see him as a man. But what of the child? I'm glad Anne Rice addressed this. BUT... I would have liked to see a more mischievous child-Jesus. I would've liked to see Jesus play some practical jokes with his powers. Something that would have made me able to relate him to my nephews at that age. Maybe next Rice will speculate on a teenage Jesus, call it 'God's Rebellion' or something.
As a side note, the 'Author's Note' at the end of the novel was really worth reading. Rice gives her religious history, details the research involved in writing this novel, and wonders about the various ways to portray Jesus.