What I read:
Aaron Hartzler grew up gay in a home where he was taught that at any moment Jesus might come down in the twinkling of an eye, and scoop his whole family up to Heaven. As a kid, Aaron was thrilled by the idea that each day might be his last one on planet Earth. He couldn’t wait to blastoff and join Jesus in the sky!
But as he turns sixteen, Aaron finds himself more and more attached to his life on Earth, and curious about all the things his family forsakes for the Lord. He begins to realize he doesn’t want the Rapture to happen, just yet; not before he sees his first movie, stars in the school play, or has his first kiss. Before long, Aaron makes the plunge from conflicted do-gooder to full-fledged teen rebel
What I envy:
“I feel a split down the middle. Part of me wants to run to my dad and beg him not to cry. I want to tell him that it’s ok, that I’m sorry I lied, that I’m sorry I’m lying now. I want to bury my face in his neck the way I used to when I was little…The other part of me knows there’s no way to make this better for Dad, and hot tears of frustration well up in my eyes. I don’t see anything wrong with this movie, or movies in general. I don’t think God does, either.”
I had heard a lot about this book before I stared reading it. I heard that, though it was about a gay teen with homophobic parents, it was not about “coming out”. I had heard that it was an honest exploration of faith and family and community.
But to me, more than anything, this book captured the helplessness of being a teenager who thinks.
The inner turmoil that Aaron experiences as time after time he has to listen to parents preach about ideas with which he fundamentally disagrees, the torture of having unexpressed opinions locked within your chest, the pain of spitting your personality into fractions in order to protect the people who love you: all of this was so vivid it woke memories that had long been dormant in my own past.
I had a great teenager-hood. I did not go through nearly the amount of pain that Aaron did as I grew into my own personality. But there were times I was told I was wrong for being who I was. There were times I didn’t know whether to believe the adult in my life or my own gut. I had all-but-forgotten that torment before reading this book.
I think I forget about those feelings because adults in my life were not possessive monsters. And neither are the adults in this book. Mr. Hartzler does a fabulous job of showing the immense love Aaron’s parents have for him. In fact, their love is part of what traps him.
One of my favorite moments is when Aaron’s father tells him “I’m so proud of you. You have so many talents. If you don’t want to play basketball, you don’t have to…Spend your time practicing the piano.” It’s a moment in which his father understands him completely. And that only makes it more painful in the moments when he doesn’t.
As YA writers, we tend to think of teenagers as adults who happen to be young. We know that they can do anything adults can do: fall in love, create art, change the world, destroy each other. But teens are not always treated like real people by the adults in their lives. If you need a reminder of how that felt, this beautiful memoir is just the thing.
Photo credit: Amazon, dreamthink