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Pulling Back the Veil, a #FSYALit discussion of CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert, part II

Earlier today Ally Watkins discussed the concept of Hidden Things in her brilliant and slightly spoilery post on CONVICTION. I am going to discuss the book some more in a HUGELY INCREDIBLY SPOILERY POST SO IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT YET GO READ IT AND THEN COME BACK.

I’m serious: A huge major spoiler will occur because this is not a book review but a book discussion.

***Seriously. Spoilers. Read at Your Own Risk***

convictionAs Ally mentioned, CONVICTION is a pretty brilliant book about hidden things. It is, more specifically, a book about how some people hide behind their faith, pretending to be righteous people to hide the wicked that they are doing in their daily lives.

Although one of the main characters of this book happens to be a Christian hiding behind his Christian faith, the truth is that people of any faith and even of no faith do it.

Sometimes they know about this wickedness. Sometimes they lack the self awareness to really understand that their actions are indeed wicked.

We see examples of this in the current news when we read about what happened in secret in the Duggar home. Or in a Dallas megachurch. Or in the Catholic church, which we read about (brilliantly) in The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely.

Conviction is not about sexual abuse, but it does end up being about abuse, which I was not expecting. You see, Gilbert does something incredibly genius with her writing here in that in the beginning you the reader do not recognize that our main character, Braden, is a victim of physical and emotional abuse by his father because Braden the character does not recognize that he is a victim of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father. Which is something that is often true for many victims of abuse, which is why CONVICTION is a brilliant and expertly crafted book.

CONVICTION is a book about being deceived, and about deceiving ourselves.

Sometimes self deception is about self preservation. Braden needs to believe in his family because he needs his family to survive. He needs to believe in his faith because he needs his faith and his church to survive, it is part of the core of his identity. It is the ritual and routine of his life as much as baseball is.

CONVICTION moved me in part because along with the slow reveal that Braden is a victim of abuse, I felt that Gilbert authentically captures some of the truths about parental abuse. It’s not black and white, it’s complicated. The abused want – in fact they often need – to redefine and excuse what is happening to them because this is the only family they will ever have. And because the moments in between abuse are full of love and support and caring.

Along with the abusive relationship depicted in BRUTAL YOUTH by Anthony Breznican, I thought CONVICTION was one of the best depictions of the emotional complexity that comes with being a child in an abusive home. In BRUTAL YOUTH, we see a character lovingly pull a blanket over the mother who has just abused her and then go and clean up the broken glass that was just thrown at her. It’s heartbreaking because it is real.

“Warning signs of emotional abuse in children

  • Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
  • Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive).
  • Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
  • Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums).

Warning signs of physical abuse in children

  • Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts.
  • Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen.
  • Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt.
  • Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home.
  • Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days.” – from HelpGuide.org

For many kids in abusive homes, there are no easy answers and there is no easy way out. They do still love their parents and either lie to themselves or others to cover up the abuse at home. Part of it is to protect themselves emotionally, denial can be a great coping mechanism until it isn’t. But part of it is to protect themselves from becoming a part of the system because no matter how bad things may be at home, it can often be less scary then becoming a part of the child protective services system.

CONVICTION is about Braden, but it is also about many of the teens we work with in our libraries every day. Sometimes we will never know about what is hidden in their homes. Sometimes they tell us. But it’s always important for us to remember that are tweens and teens are often dealing with things that are unimaginable and extend them a bit of grace, recognizing that the library may be their safe space, that you may be the only adult who says a kind, caring word to them on that day.

Reading books is, I feel, a window into other lives. Part of our goal is to read stories about people like us and find hope and healing and have our stories affirmed. Part of our goal is to read stories about people different than us to learn more about our fellow human beings, to grow in wisdom and compassion, and to understand the challenges that those around us may be facing. Whatever your reason may be for reading CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert, I think she really captures a wide variety of heartbreaking truths about the human spirit and condition, whether you are a person of faith or not, and it is well worth reading. I know it has really stuck with me.

About CONVICTION:

“Ten years ago, God gave Braden a sign, a promise that his family wouldn’t fall apart the way he feared.

But Braden got it wrong: his older brother, Trey, has been estranged from the family for almost as long, and his father, the only parent Braden has ever known, has been accused of murder. The arrest of Braden’s father, a well-known Christian radio host, has sparked national media attention. His fate lies in his son’s hands; Braden is the key witness in the upcoming trial.

Braden has always measured himself through baseball. He is the star pitcher in his small town of Ornette, and his ninety-four-mile-per-hour pitch al- ready has minor league scouts buzzing in his junior year. Now the rules of the sport that has always been Braden’s saving grace are blurred in ways he never realized, and the prospect of playing against Alex Reyes, the nephew of the police officer his father is accused of killing, is haunting his every pitch.

Braden faces an impossible choice, one that will define him for the rest of his life, in this brutally honest debut novel about family, faith, and the ultimate test of conviction.” (Publisher’s Book Description. Published May, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion)

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