Friday, January 31, 2014

Book Review: "The Gospel of Winter" by Brendan Kiely

Wow. This is a powerful, emotionally moving, and fantastic book.

Sixteen-year-old Aidan Donovan has always existed on the fringes of things. A loner more content to snort Adderall and read by himself, as his wealthy parents' marriage disintegrates, he's more comfortable with Elena, their housekeeper, than his parents or friends his own age. He doesn't have any patience for the dishonesty or non-genuineness of the community where he lives.

"Nobody ever said I don't know or I'm afraid, and they acted like the masks they wore were their real faces and that they could sustain themselves forever on their own self-assurance—like they really believed they didn't need anybody else. What was that John Donne poem we read in Weinstein's class, 'No Man Is An Island'? Not here. We were a goddamn social archipelago that called itself a community. Why did I feel like I was the only one who lived in a nightmare? What was worse was that I knew people did have fears."

The only place Aidan truly feels comfortable is at his church, Most Precious Blood, as Father Greg, the local priest, is the only person who seems to care about or listen to him. As he starts making friends with a trio of his classmates—Josie, the charismatic girl on whom he's had a crush for some time; Sophie, the wild but friendly girl with a reputation; and Mark, the swim team captain with issues of his own which mirror Aidan's in more ways than he knows—Aidan starts to feel a little more comfortable in his own skin.

As Aidan balances the comfort of his new friends with his discomfort about his home life, he starts to realize that Father Greg's affections are not just directed at him alone, and while he mourns the feeling that he is no longer special, he also grapples with the reality of what the priest has done. What does that make him? Would telling people, admitting what has happened, make those in his community blame and think less of him, as the priests have led him to believe? Can he just pretend that nothing happened?

Aidan's community—and the nation—begin confronting the revelations about sexual abuse by priests, and people want to know if Aidan was affected, what he knew, but he'd rather ignore the whole thing, despite the toll it takes on his own psyche and those around him. Only as he realizes the true consequences, and what could lie ahead for him depending on the path he chooses, does he realize that there are other people who care about and love him.

"I thought about how people like Old Donovan and Father Greg and teachers and even Mother and Elena tried to give me advice about who I was supposed to be and what kind of person I was supposed to become, but looking at Josie, I wondered if it didn't all come down to something simpler: Are you the kind of person who is there for people when they need you, or not? Isn't it in those moments when you have to work harder than you thought you could to reach out to another person, and you do, that you finally find the you who's been hiding behind the mask all that time? Is it there, finally truly naked, and reaching for one another, that we create the chance to hold one another again? And what about the chance to love again? Do we get to create that possibility too?"

This was a phenomenal book. Its subject matter was difficult, but Brendan Kiely's use of language and his storytelling ability captivated me completely. I loved Aidan's character and felt so much pain and hope for him. I could definitely identify with some of his thoughts and fears and hopes, as I remember feeling similarly as a teenager. I devoured this book, reading nearly the entire thing in one day. It was just such a beautiful, powerful, painful yet hopeful story, and I hope this gets the attention—and the readership—it so truly deserves.

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