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The Gospel of Winter Hardcover – January 21, 2014
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*Starred Review* Kiely’s gutsy debut addresses abuse in the Catholic Church. The year is 2001, the events of 9/11 are only two months old, and 16-year-old Aidan’s family is falling apart. His father, Old Donovan, is holed up in Europe with his mistress, while his mother is mainly concerned with throwing the perfect party in their affluent Connecticut town. Aidan finds comfort in snorting lines of Adderall, swiping drinks from his father’s wet bar, and forming a friendship with Father Greg of Most Precious Blood, the town’s Catholic church. Father Greg uses words like love and faith and virtue like they mean something, and for a long time, Aidan trusts him completely. But when he realizes that Father Greg’s affections are sickening, and damaging other boys, he is left reeling. A crew of three friends—Josie, whom Aidan is attracted to; fun-loving Sophie; and Mark, whose secrets dovetail with Aidan’s—are the only people he can count on. The scandal among the Boston archdiocese in early 2002 gets Aidan’s town’s attention, and when it does, Aidan’s feelings of rage and denial and fear come to a head. This is challenging, thought-provoking material, presented in beautiful prose that explores the ways in which acts rendered in the name of love can both destroy and heal. Grades 9-12. --Ann Kelley
"'We live in a world of consequence and effect,' says the 16-year-old narrator of The Gospel of Winter, a book that will be as satisfying to literary readers as it will to young adults. This is a novel that captures the pulse of a contemporary wound, a truth that needs to be told about the shameful issue of abuse within our society. It is also a novel that examines the faultlines of love, family, adolesence, faith and belonging. Brendan Kiely has written a novel that is both unflinching and redemptive." (Colum McCann, NYT Bestselling author and National Book Award winner for Let the Great World Spin)
"Brendan Kiely's finely tuned debut accomplishes something rare--it pulls you into its main character's pain and truth without letting you forget how beautiful the world, and people, can really be. An emotional coming of age story that you won't soon forget." (John Corey Whaley, Printz and Morris Award-winning author of Where Things Come Back)
"The Gospel of Winter marks Brendan Kiely’s auspicious debut as a novelist. Kiely deftly captures the difficulty of becoming oneself in a world filled with contradictions and mixed messages, artfully drawing us into the complex story of a young man’s search for identity, for comfort, for faith. Aidan Donovan's struggle to find truth lives in all of us—his pain and hope are both resonant and transformative." (A.M. Homes, author of May We Be Forgiven, winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction)
"The Gospel of Winter comes to us in full flower, a rich, complex, wise, beautifully written novel and a compelling read." (Frederic Tuten, author of Tintin in the New World)
* "Kiely’s impressive debut takes a controversial topic—sexual abuse in the Catholic Church—and addresses it head-on with sensitivity and finesse....Kiely hits his mark with a sickening portrayal of Father Greg and those who let his behavior continue. But it’s the combination of Aidan’s vulnerability, denial, and silent rage that makes the novel so distressingly vivid and real." (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
* "In a lyrical and hard-hitting exploration of betrayal and healing, the son of a Connecticut socialite comes to terms with his abuse at the hands of a beloved priest. Each of Aidan’s relationships is carefully and subtly drawn, revealed slowly through Aidan’s elegant, pained and often circumspect narration. Often bleak, eventually hopeful and beautifully told." (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
* "Kiely’s gutsy debut addresses abuse in the Catholic Church. This is challenging, thought-provoking material, presented in beautiful prose, which explores the ways in which acts rendered in the name of love can both destroy and heal." (Booklist (starred review))
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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.
Story aside - the writing is lovely. The dialogue was extremely real and not as clean as I've come to expect in fiction - I don't mean the use of foul language, but rather the chaotic way in which real people in real life often talk to each other without the benefit of an editor. I appreciated this real-to-life delivery and it made Aidan's ordeal all the more visceral.
Kiely is an author on my radar. His style reminds me of Bret Easton Ellis, a compassionate Bret Easton Ellis as Kiely is able to write about controversial subject material with sensitivity instead of apathy.
A brilliant debut from an author I wish had another ten books published already!
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The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely
The first 50 pages of this book sucked me right in...Read more