I’m not one to shy away from tough subject matter; some of my favorite books prominently feature violence or drug use as main themes. However, something about Young God, the debut novel by Katherine Faw Morris, resonated with me in a way that left me feeling kind of sick.
As someone who calls Bret Easton Ellis her favorite author, I’m used to sex, violence, and drug use in a story. I can tolerate and even appreciate these themes and plot lines if I feel they advance the story as a whole, or further explain the characters and their motives.
Nikki, aged thirteen, is the protagonist of Young God. After her mother slips off a cliff at a swimming hole (did she jump? was she pushed?), Nikki descends into a life of prostitution, murder, and drug peddling. Nikki is determined to hide from child protective services. As she lives with her father (a pimp), she begins to learn the ins-and-outs of the prostitution and drug dealing businesses. She is determined to make a name for herself; she does not want to become a victim.
I was so intrigued by this storyline, but something didn’t work for me. Perhaps it was Nikki’s age that got in the way? I just could not fathom a thirteen-year-old girl falling so easily into this life. Perhaps it was because I didn’t feel a connection to Nikki from the beginning; the action of the story picks up very quickly, and Nikki seemed like a faceless character with no real personality. Because of this, it was hard to identify with her or understand her.
Reviews have likened Morris’s storytelling to my aforementioned favorite author, calling Young God “stripped down and stylized” like Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis. I certainly understand the influence, and I found a lot of the descriptions in Young God to be beautiful and stark.
Nikki accepts her fate easily. The nonchalance with which she experiences sex, prostitution, drug dealing, and drug use is startling. And maybe that’s the point. It’s supposed to be startling. Some of the reviews have deemed Young God a “rural noir.” A noir novel generally features crimes and their victims, and the protagonist also showcases destructive qualities. Keeping these ideas in mind, it’s easier for me to understand and accept what Morris wanted to achieve with Young God.
I really did love the imagery in Young God, specifically the backdrop of the woods, the long interstate roads, and the dirty trailers where the characters lived. I found the secondary characters to be intriguing. Angel, a young prostitute living with Nikki’s father, is both helpless and vicious. She often looks “mature” to Nikki, but certain details make her look young and messy. If the novel was longer, I’d love to see more development of the main characters, so they could become as dynamic as the secondary characters.
Young God is a quick read for anyone looking for something different and challenging. If anyone else has read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.
Published: May 6, 2014
Received: Netgalley ARC