Posted by Venus on Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 9, 2013
When Aaron Hartzler was little, he couldn't wait for the The Rapture in which Jesus would come down from the clouds and whisk he and his family up to heaven. However, as he grows older Aaron finds himself questioning a lot of what his family believes and why. He begins to realize that although his parents have a disdain for television and movies, alcohol, premarital sex, and rebellion, his view of the world isn't exactly lining up with theirs. Whether he's sneaking out, making out, or playing hymns with a hangover, Aaron learns some lessons that aren't found in the Bible and the weird thing about believing is that no one can do it for you.
As I begin this review let me first tell you what this book isn't. This isn't a coming out story. Aaron Hartzler did not come out as gay until he was in college, a good two years past the last events in this book. This is not a book written as a vendetta against his family either. Although he clearly doesn't and didn't agree with some of their parenting methods, Aaron is very respectful of both them and their beliefs. This is simply a coming of age story, one that I think some people can relate to. The subtitle is a little misleading in my opinion, because it suggests that he was living as a gay teen, where it seemed to me like that wasn't even something he considered until he was almost out of high school, mostly because he was just trying to survive and understand this family he was in. I am sure it was a part of him, even then, but he doesn't really appear to dwell on it, not with all these other doubts and feelings swirling through his brain.
This story really resonated with me on a very deep and emotional level. Without getting too personal, there were a lot of elements to this story that were very similar to the way I grew up and raised. Aaron grew up without a television and was taught that things with witches or wizards was evil. I grew up without a television and wasn't allowed to watch Smurfs because it had a sorcerer in it. His mother ran a Bible study for the kids in the neighborhood, they attended church three times a week, Bible studies were done after dinner every night, he attended private Christian schools, he belonged to a "more Christian" version of Boy Scouts, (mine was called Missionettes), and his parents put great emphasis on virgin until married. The biggest differences were that my parents mellowed out over the years and eventually did buy a television. They also allowed me to question, doubt, discuss, and comment on my faith and the things in my life. If I didn't want a promise ring, I didn't have to wear one.
Part of me does not want to recommend this book. I already have to deal with people who have a very negative image of Evangelical Christians and they have very strong opinions concerning the way I was raised. Part of me wants to protect myself and others, to tell my readers that only those who grew up like this will truly understand. However, I also think that Aaron does such a spectacular job of portraying his parents, despite their strictness, as nothing but loving and caring, that people should walk away with an expanded mind rather than added bias. I also think that anyone who has lived with parents who are strict in any sense of the word, or found themselves questioning their faith (even if their parents weren't Evangelical Christians), stumbling around in the world of mixed up emotions, and desperately grasping at their sexual identity will find a kindred spirit in the pages of this book.
Thus, I do recommend it. I recommend it because I know it is an important conversation, one that some teens simply aren't having (or can't have) with their parents and parents aren't having with their kids. It is part of a reality that is sometimes confusing and for some, all too familiar.