Hidden Things: A #FSYALit discussion of the book CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert, a guest post by Ally Watkins
Please Note: Some Very Slight Spoilers for CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert appear below. Consider yourself spoiler warned.
Today, as part of our ongoing Faith and Spirituality in YA Literature discussion (#FSYALit), Ally Watkins and I are talking about the book CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers … And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” – From Acts 2
This is an oft-cited passage in evangelical churches, and it describes the very beginning of the Christian church. It describes an almost utopian society of believers living and working together and taking care of each other.
(Don’t worry, the rest of the New Testament totally dispels the idea that any of these people or churches were perfect. Paul (and later John)’s letters can be difficult to read at times because of their many rebukes of the various churches’ missteps.)
My point is, the church was founded as a place where people who believe the same thing can come together and receive support and friendship. To “do life together.” (Thanks, Laura Turner. You’re the best.)
The church was started as an institution where people who believe the same things could come together, share things, and support each other. In a safe environment.
Everyone hides things. I think we all know that.
Unfortunately, especially in light of the historical information I just shared, the modern Christian church has become one of the most prevalent hiding places of our time.
Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert is about many things: it’s about an accusation of murder, it’s about brotherhood, it’s about baseball. It touches on gourmet food culture, on adoption, on identity. It talks about sexuality and relationships and longing. It deals with different kinds of abuse. Retaliation. Painful, gut-wrenching decisions.
Gilbert is really skillful with reveals. She reveals things so slowly that you almost don’t know what’s happening. Braden almost doesn’t know what’s happening.
So really, I think this is a book about secrets. About hiding things. And hiding yourself. And about being hidden.
Braden Raynor is involved in his church. He goes to youth group. He respects his youth pastor. He has dinner with his pastor’s family. He thinks about God a lot. He prays.
But he is, for the most part, completely alone in this story. He has friends. He plays around with the idea of a romance. He works on his pitching. But inside, he is in agony. And his church isn’t there for him. Even though they think they are. Even though he thinks they are.
I think this is really important. This part of the story really spoke to me.
All of these characters–Braden, Maddie, Kevin, Braden’s dad–they’re all hiding. They’re hiding sitting right in the pews of their church.
This. Breaks. My. Heart. Because it rings so true. As a collective church, the loudest voices are telling teenagers that they can’t come and be themselves. That they certainly can come to church and participate, but they have to hide themselves because they’re not good enough. For church. For God.
And that’s NONSENSE. All of it. It’s hypocritical and downright gross. It has no basis in scripture or reality. And Gilbert slyly subverts it. She lets Braden feel the injustice of it. She shows how he is wallowing in his hurt and his loneliness and isolation. In the agony of the choices he must make.
And in light of recent events, it would be irresponsible not to mention that sometimes the church helps people hide that shouldn’t. That’s represented in this book, too. Not only are people hiding in our churches, they’re being hidden. The church can be complicit in darkness in a lot of ways. It’s composed of imperfect people and people love power and they abuse that power.
We have to be better than this. The evangelical church can’t sing “Come Just as You Are” at an altar call and then let people–especially children and teens–suffer like this. We have to do better. We have to support people better. We can’t just decide which parts of biblical teachings we want to adopt. As a Christian, I’m fully aware of what the bible says about accepting people perceived as outcasts and lesser and other. I know what it says for caring for the downtrodden. And it doesn’t say to let people come if they cover up the parts of themselves that we don’t like. And it certainly doesn’t say that the church should protect people that abuse or hurt others, especially the vulnerable.
We don’t get to pick and choose. Because then we’re not a community of faith. We’re not breaking bread together or finding common ground. Then we’re just hateful, angry, exclusive people who are willing to die on a hill of unfounded uniformity.
Conviction is a thoughtful, measured look at a group of people trying to figure out where faith fits into their lives. Highly recommended.
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)
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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