A small book, independently published by two former pastors, The Shack by William P. Young, has turned into a surprise bestseller–even though the author views God as an African-American woman.

The novel, about a grieving father who meets God in the form of a jolly black woman, made its debut at No. 1 on the New York Times trade paperback fiction bestseller list in June–and has remained there.

Of course, depicting God as black and female has come with its set of friction. The Reverend R. Albert Mohler Jr, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called The Shack “deeply troubling,” saying it undermined orthodox Christianity.

But it’s the novel’s word-of-mouth power that has propelled it onto the bestsellers list. “Everybody that I know has bought at least 10 copies,” Caleb Nowak, who bought the book in March, said. “There’s definitely something about the book that makes people want to share it.”

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