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Who’s Down With G-O-D?

Alix reviews Rapture Practice, Aaron Hartzler's memoir about growing up as a fundamentalist Christian.

Who’s Down With G-O-D?

BOOK REPORT for Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler

Cover Story: Marry Me
BFF Charm: Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: 2
Talky Talk: Jesus Camp meets 17 Again
Bonus Factors: Memoir, Losing My Religion
Relationship Status: Church Drinking Buddy

Cover Story: Marry Me

NOW WE’RE TALKING, cover designers! This is the kind of cover that makes me read a book, full stop, without even checking the back cover for red flags like love triangles, trilogies, or positive blurbs from Twilight Moms. And the yellow ticket stub is really important to the story! Well played, Little, Brown. Well played.

The Deal:

Young Aaron Hartzler has grown up knowing that Jesus is returning. Maybe it is tomorrow, or maybe it’s next week, or maybe it’s five years from now, but the Rapture is coming as surely as Pauly Shore movies will continue to lack in meaning. The result is that Aaron lives in state of constant fear and guilt--what if he disobeys his parents and goes to the movies? What if he kisses that girl? What if he listens to Amy Grant?* Will Jesus come back and leave him behind?

As Aaron grows older, he realizes that he doesn’t always agree with his parents, and that maybe seeing ET in the theater or listening to the Pretty Woman soundtrack doesn’t damn you to hell. Based on Hartzler’s own teenage years, this coming-of-age memoir chronicles Aaron’s attempts to reconcile his own beliefs and aspirations against those with which he was raised.

*Yes, according to Aaron’s parents, Amy Grant songs are the devil’s music because she likes to drink wine in the bathtub.

BFF Charm: Yay!

Yay Aaron! Let’s be friends. Especially since you need a better balance of friends, as a lot of yours seem to be either SUPER JESUSY or drunk and irresponsible. You could do with an inbetweener, like me--very mildly Jesusy and only a little drunk.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2

This is not a kissing book. I mean, Aaron definitely has some sexy times that SHOULD be more swoony, given how illicit they are in his uber-fundamentalist Christian high school. But any kissing is offset by Aaron’s analytical approach of every romantic situation, like an actor taking direction from an invisible overseer on the stage of teen romance. Oh, and the fact that Aaron totally likes dudes and doesn’t realize it yet.

I mean, sure! He can like girls, too. I’m not here to put him in a box. But he definitely is going to be into dudes at some point, so it’s kind of hard for me to swoon over him getting it on with the bitchy cheerleader when I’m far more interested in him calling up that cute guy from the skating rink. I mean really, Aaron. He is so cute! Call him. CALL HIM NOW. You don’t even have to kiss him or hold hands or anything. I just want you to at least acknowledge that you might not be ONLY interested in girls before I can be in any way invested in your current ladyfriend.

That, and she’s kind of a bitch. Please dump her.

Talky Talk: Jesus Camp meets 17 Again

Did y’all ever watch Jesus Camp? I did, but only after my sister recommended I not watch it before bed because it would give me nightmares. Reading this book is a bit like watching that movie. You know what’s going to happen, and you don’t like it, and you know that there’s nothing you can do to stop Wee Rachael from evangelizing at the bowling alley or crying because she wants to read Harry Potter and therefore is going to hell. Uh, I mean Aaron. We’re talking about Aaron here.

Hartzler packs up the DeLorean and sends us back to his teenage years, painting a fairly vivid, sometimes funny, often sad, and VERY STRESSFUL FOR ME AS A READER picture of his youth. But also, there’s the rub. I got the sense that Future Aaron had traveled back in time WITH us and was just narrating as if he were Teenage Aaron. The voice felt too old, too sage, and maybe I’m just projecting, but waaaaayyy too tolerant for a seventeen year old. I guess that’s an inherent problem with memoirs--it’s nearly impossible to examine something in the past without the hindsight of the future. Unfortunately, it also took me out of the story, making Teenage Aaron feel like a bit of a retcon.

Bonus Factor: Memoir

Ok, I guess it’s kind of weird that I’m using this as a bonus factor after I just complained about that aspect of the narrative voice, but still. I love me some memoirs! They’re like regular books, but REAL LIFE, which means you get to feel extra voyeuristic and creepy. It’s like finding out that person you have been friend-crushing has an open Facebook profile and scrolling through the past five years of their pictures.

Uh, not that I would know anything about that.

Bonus Factor: Losing My Religion

This is maybe not a bonus factor for everyone, but I always find religion--and specifically, teenagers questioning their religion--to be an compelling backdrop for a book. I enjoyed watching Aaron reconcile his own beliefs and view of Christianity, rather than just accepting the ones his parents had given him or rejecting religion entirely.

Casting Call:

Hey! It’s my go-to sweet-but-angsty-and-confused teenager!

Sad Logan Lerman as Aaron

Relationship Status: Church Drinking Buddy

I don’t go to church anymore, because I’m lazy and also because Church of Scotland kiiiinda wigs me out. Back when I lived in DC, I also didn’t go to church, but I did go to a bar once a week with people who went to the church I never attended. We’d talk about deep, theological issues like debts vs. trespasses and how St. Augustine was a sex addict who maybe tried to blame his sex addiction on original sin. And also we would drink beer. Beer is the best! Anyway, I miss that group a lot, so maybe you and I can head out to a pub, have a pint, and get our theology on.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Little, Brown. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Rapture Practice is available now.

Alix West's photo About the Author: Alix is an impoverished writer and illustrator living in Scotland. When she is not out on the wild, windy moors, she dreams of warmer weather, Park Sheridan, and days when she could still afford to buy champagne.
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