If you've been reading my book reviews for any length of time, you're probably aware that I love a book about a main character dealing with a kooky religion, even more so if that kooky religion is my ex-religion. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that I keep my finger firmly pressed on the pulse of this genre so that I always know when something new and interesting is coming out. Because of that, I had been trying to get Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk for months now, but for whatever reason could never get it through my (normally awesome) library system. Finally I broke down and ordered it through Half.com, setting myself back a mere $4. Why didn't I buy this sooner?
Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk is a novel loosely based on the life of the author, Tony DuShane, who spent his entire childhood as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. We first meet the main character, Gabe, as a middle schooler and the book covers his life through the high school years. As if the adolescent years aren't torturous enough, Gabe has to get through them while being one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Which means no birthday parties, no after school extracurricular activities, no dating, and a lot of preaching from door to door. So he's basically a social freak. He and his pals, Peter and Jin, make it through the school day by laying low, even though the other Witness kids at his high school want to do things like set up a booth outside the cafeteria where they can preach about the Bible to non-Witness kids.
As Gabe and his friends grow up, they begin to do their own research and question the belief system they've had their whole life. In the end, all three come to very different conclusions.
Okay, of course I LOVED THIS BOOK. But, admittedly, I'm biased. This genre holds such appeal to me because I immediately feel the connection with the author. As much as I talk and share about my past here in this space, it isn't the same as discussing it with someone else who has been through it. For instance, early in the story, Gabe says this about preaching from door to door, "I'd perfected the mediocre knock over my years in service. I knocked softly enough for no one to hear me inside the house, but loudly enough not to raise suspicion that I really wanted to avoid talking to people about the Bible on some mornings, especially when I preached in an area where I knew a few of my school friends lived." Of course I know exactly what the author is talking about.
Because the story is told from the perspective of an adolescent boy, there's a lot of talk about masturbation and sex, both very taboo, unsavory subjects among Witnesses. As I was reading this I was reminded of a lot of the guys I grew up with. I have to believe that because they weren't allowed to talk about sex in any kind of a normal manner, that their relationship with the idea of it probably bordered on near obsession.
This story is mostly lighthearted, although the last two or three chapters take a surprisingly sad, darker turn. Not in an unrealistic way, just in an unexpected way.
Three Reasons You Should Read This Book
*Although the book itself is fiction, it's a very realistic, matter of fact telling of what it's like growing up as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. Almost every time I write about my past here, I get at least one hateful comment or email from some anonymous Jehovah's Witness who feels it's their Christian duty to come to the defense of the religion and call me a liar. I try really hard to be honest about my history but those little comments still get under my skin and make me doubt myself a bit. So when I read something like Jesus Jerk, I definitely feel validated. So if you're looking for another source to back up my tale, this is a good place to start.
*Because Tony DuShane's book is written in such a pragmatic way, he never really comes right out and bashes the religion he grew up in. I think this has such a better effect for the reader -especially those only mildly familiar with Witnesses-than if he were to come from a place of hate or anger. (DuShane talks more about this in an interview in The Portland Mercury. You can read it here.)
*Like a lot of the books I've been reading lately, this was a really good story about finding your true self, which is so hard when you grow up in a religion (cult) that forces a personality on you.