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Book Review: The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely

In 2002, the media began reporting on various allegations that the Catholic church was involved in a large sexual abuse scandal.  Many young people, prominently boys, came forward and revealed that they had been sexually violated by priests in the church and the church had gone to great lengths to cover that abuse up.  According to some sources, the scandal may have involved around 3,000 priests and may go back 50 years or more.  It is one of the largest crimes against our children and teens in the contemporary era and that is the topic of The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely.

In The Gospel of Winter, we meet Aidan Donovan.  Aidan is the son of a rich and powerful man who has just left the family for his career and mistress.  He lives in a world with high expectations and doesn’t fit in.  His only solace has been the volunteer work at the Catholic church and he family housekeeper/nanny. And then there is Father Greg, who wants to make sure that Aidan understands the power of God’s restorative love for him.

Soon Aidan is forming a friendship with 3 peers from school – two girls and a guy – and he is overwhelmed by self doubt and feelings of confusion and violation.  The guy, Mark, also goes to the local Catholic church, and he one day tries to talk to Aidan about the things that Father Greg has done to them.  But Aidan is trying to wear denial as his armor and her refuses to acknowledge anything.  This results in some serious repercussions for Mark.

Soon the story break nationwide and Aidan must decide whether or not he will come forward and speak about what happened to him.

The Gospel of Winter is an important book.  It is not an easy read, but it is a necessary one.  All of us, regardless of our age, need to understand what happened and see this glimpse into how it may have happened for some of these children.  Kiely does a profound job of showing the various and complex emotions involved.  Kiely also provides a realistic and deeply disturbing look at the ways that adults can manipulate the young people in their lives.  And the reaction of various adults is shocking, enlightening and heartbreaking.  Kiely manages to depict the intense nature of the abuse and the emotional consequences without being overly graphic on the actual details.  There is also a look at how teens will uses drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate their pain.

The Gospel of Winter is a light shining bright on a shamefully dark part of our psyche and history.  It is horrifically uncomfortable to read, emotionally draining and disconcerting, but it ends on a redemptive note as the teens involved make life changing decisions to help themselves and each other. Profound, revealing, and expertly told, The Gospel of Winter is a must read for all.

The Gospel of Winter has received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publisher’s Weekly – and me.  Publishes January 21, 2014 from Margaret K. McElderry Books.  ISBN:  9781442484894.  Please note, I received a copy of an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Sexual Violence in the Lives of Teens and YA Lit:
This year, we are dedicating TLT to focusing on several issues in the lives of teens, one of which is sexual abuse and violence. We’re going to Google Hangout and do a “virtual discussion panel” with authors Carrie Mesrobian (Sex & Violence), Christa Desir (Fault Line) and Trish Doller (Where the Stars Still Shine) on Wednesday, January 29th at Noon Eastern to discuss Sexual Violence in the lives of teens and YA lit.  You can join us for our virtual panel.  We will also be attempting to record it so you can view it later.  Some of the questions we will be discussing include how writers go about making realistic representations to raise awareness and give teen survivors a voice. These are all good books with some good discussion and I recommend reading them.  In fact, read them before January 29th and join us.

More About Sexual Violence in YA Lit on TLT:
What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
Should there be sex in YA books? 
Plan B: What Youth Advocates Need to Know 
Because No Always Mean No, a list of books dealing with sexual assault
Who Will Save You? Boundaries, Rescue and the Role of Adults in YA Lit.  A look at consent and respecting boundaries in relationships outside of just sex. 
Incest, the last taboo 
This is What Consent Looks Like
Street Harassment
That Time Matt Smith Perpetuated Street Harassment Culture at Comic Con
An Anonymous Letter to Those Who Would Ban Eleanor and Park
Take 5: Difficult books on an important topic (sexual violence) 

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