Book Review: ‘The Gospel of Winter’ by Brendan Kiely

The gospel of winter

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.

The Gospel of Winter is one of those novels you know is going to pull at your heartstrings. Just by the synopsis alone, it’s very easy to tell that this book is no walk in the park. It’s a very serious novel talking about a very serious and important issue. Because of this, it sometimes becomes hard to review such novels. So I’ll do my best to talk more about the way the author treats the issues and prose in the novel than the issue itself.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the novel. It’s a very raw, poignant view of a teenage boy’s survival of sexual abuse. I found it to be very startling, intuitive, and very sad. I thought the author treated the issue very realistically. There was so much anger, sadness, and guilt surrounding Aidan’s story. I did find, however, that at points the novel just seemed a bit weary. Without the issue at hand, some of its purposes didn’t seem very clear to me. A lot of the time I felt sort of confused or rushed. The prose seemed rushed, especially in certain parts, and I couldn’t tell if that had to do with the way that Aidan had coped with his abuse and had eventually adapted to cope with life that way as well. There were also scenes that appeared and lingered but then didn’t seem to matter much later in the story. Which didn’t bug me much when reading, but did when I was done, when I realized there was still so much of the story left that I began to get a bit frustrated. The ending was rushed, and as a reader, you’ve been waiting for this moment the whole time, this moment in which Aidan will tell of the secret of his abuse. And he does, but not to whom exactly you want him to. Not the way you really want him to. And really, there was just so much left to say that the other things in the novel–party scenes especially–seemed kind of like a waste of space. A space that should not have been wasted at all.

But I’m sort of being nit-picky, to be honest. The novel is very well-rounded. I mean, sure, it took me a really long time to realize that the novel took place over ten years ago: the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002. I’m guessing the use of time period had to do with the fact that maybe, to teenagers, living in a crazy elaborate universe can feel like it’s the end of the world. Like everything is corrupted and it’s so hard to feel like there is any good in the universe. But there is; it’s out there somewhere. And although the synopsis makes the novel sound like it will be more heartwarming (it’s not), you still get a sense that we can right wrongs, even if it is not our fault. Aidan’s story wasn’t hopeless, even though as a reader, you feel it at times. It’s a heavy issue to talk about, so to deal with it? Much heavier. But not hopeless. Nothing is ever hopeless, especially in Brendan Kiely’s novel. It’s a harsh and hard-hitting debut, ones that fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower can relate with and open up their hearts to.

Rating: 9/10



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