The Gospel of Winter
by Brendan Kiely
Original Publication Date: January 21, 2014
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Obtained Via: Bought
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A fearless debut novel about the restorative power of truth and love after the trauma of abuse.
As sixteen-year-old Aidan Donovan’s fractured family disintegrates around him, he searches for solace in a few bumps of Adderall, his father’s wet bar, and the attentions of his local priest, Father Greg—the only adult who actually listens to him.
When Christmas hits, Aidan’s world collapses in a crisis of trust when he recognizes the darkness of Father Greg’s affections. He turns to a crew of new friends to help make sense of his life: Josie, the girl he just might love; Sophie, who’s a little wild; and Mark, the charismatic swim team captain whose own secret agonies converge with Aidan’s.
The Gospel of Winter maps the ways love can be used as a weapon against the innocent—but can also, in the right hands, restore hope and even faith. Brendan Kiely’s unflinching and courageous debut novel exposes the damage from the secrets we keep and proves that in truth, there is power. And real love.
Note: This book deals with sexual abuse of a minor & will be referenced throughout this review.
Oh, The Gospel of Winter is an important, powerful story, but how it made my heart hurt. It begins with Aidan dulling his life with some pills in his house before his mom’s big Christmas party, and the party that follows. From the beginning, Aidan tries to dull everything and act like it’s fine, but it’s clear it’s not. His inner turmoil does not rest easy, either.
Aidan’s been volunteering at the church, and something’s off. It’s clear to the reader(well, and based on the back-of-the-book summary as well), but not as clear-cut to Aidan. He realizes something isn’t quite all right, but he’s become so entrenched he’s completely confused. As the story continues, the truth comes out and Aidan attempts to deal the best he knows how. He’s kept silent by other priest who don’t want to mess up the “good work” the church is doing in the community. He makes new friends, tries to dull the pain, and hope he can forget he knows that others have suffered similarly.
The Gospel of Winter is a bit of a slow book. There’s several scenes of Aidan just thinking, or of Aidan doing nothing but smoking with his new friends. A journey to healing and knowledge doesn’t typically make for a fast-paced plot. The writing in The Gospel of Winter is a little different than what I was expecting. At first it felt stark and out of place with the story, but by the end I was impressed by how well-written it really was.
Covering a subject like sexual abuse in churches can be a tricky matter. For one, churches tend to be so insular that it can be hard to see how such a situation could even arise from the outside. There are so many factors to church communities that can either be safe havens OR, like in the case of The Gospel of Winter, hide abuse. When you add in abuse done by authority figures, the whole matter gets even more complicated to portray accurately.
Kiely did an excellent job handling this, and I can see The Gospel of Winter being a great conversation starter. There are so many factors at play–the way adults can groom children and teenagers, the rigid structure of religious places that can affect survivors getting help, and the effects this type of abuse has on the survivors themselves. It’s messy and raw and even in fiction, difficult to read. But those are important conversations to have.
Ultimately, there’s not a whole lot left to say about The Gospel of Winter, because it’s about Aidan and the aftermath of abuse. It’s the type of story that can be difficult to define and review in a traditional sense, so I will just say that I thought it was handled well and while enjoy is not the proper term, I thought it was an important and worthy read.
There are many YA books about sexual abuse in general, but few that really look at the church abuse scandal. The Gospel of Winter was a tough read, but one I’m glad to have read. 4/5 cupcakes.