Pros and Cons / The Gospel of Winter

Hi!Pros and ConsLong time, no see, my friends! Thank you for sticking with me during my brief hiatus; it was just what I needed as I finished out the trimester. I return to school today with an all-academic schedule to look forward to {I swap out yearbook for pre-calculus}, but after a leisurely, decidedly springy weekend, I can’t complain: homework was light, warm weather was in abundance, and new books were aplenty! I have a number of library check-outs to attend to, but, in the meantime, I thought I’d kick off the week with a review of Brendan Kiely’s The Gospel of Winter. What are you currently reading? How was your weekend?

The Gospel of Winter

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. {Goodreads}

+ Gripping, relevant story on a topic not often seen in YA The movie Spotlight recently snagged the Best Picture award at this year’s Oscars ceremony. The title was well-deserved, as the acting was phenomenal, the directing superb, and the story both true and engrossing. When I picked up The Gospel of Winter, I hadn’t realized that it focused on the same event, the Catholic church sexual abuse scandal first reported in Boston, but a few chapters in and I was immersed in the emotional, saddening storyline, just as I was with the film. Abuse, loss of innocence, and secrecy are not unknown topics in young adult literature – in fact, I’d argue they’re common elements in gritty contemporary novels – but I’ve yet to see them threaded in the same setting as Kiely’s debut. Snaps there.

Gut-wrenching and fully developed themes In a similar vein, Kiely doesn’t lose the importance of exploring various themes throughout the novel as he crafts a disheartening atmosphere. The Gospel of Winter is very much a literary novel, that is, prose and messages are emphasized over the action of the plot; read a passage, and you’ll come to the same conclusion. It’s a novel that deserves to be read twice for this reason alone – Kiely allows the themes of betrayal and tradition and intense hurt to define the story and with it, the audience’s reactions. Such controlled use of themes is difficult for even a seasoned author, so it’s a promising sign for any of Kiely’s future publications.

A compelling, well-drawn cast of characters Of course, characters are just as significant of elements in a book, a fact Kiely recognizes as he develops the protagonist, Aidan, and the individuals in Aidan’s life: his mom, who keeps a facade up for the rest of society; his housekeeper, who struggles to choose between what she believes and what is right; his newfound friends, all of whom have problems of their own that plague them. I have a soft spot for characters from highbrow society – I find the culture fascinating to read about – but even my bias doesn’t discount the alluring nature of their respective stories. Aidan’s narration isn’t perfect, but it does invite you into the plot and offers a method in which to experience his pain, faith, and eventually, hope.

+ Story often weighed down by sophisticated vocabulary and structure Where my enjoyment falters is in the book’s language. It’s verbose, oddly refined for what is supposed to be the voice of a teenage boy. Unfortunately, the jarring nature – what is written versus what is expected – can pull the reader from the story; you’re less focused on Aidan’s haunting narration as you are on deciphering exactly what is being said. Fortunately, however, after reading Kiely’s All-American Boys {a novel he shares with author Jason Reynolds}, I’ve come to think it was a skill that only required some practice – and one that is sure to be further improved in his third release, The Last True Love Story, when it hits shelves in September.

Happy Monday – make it a wonderful one! :)

Psst. Book recommendations are my middle name. Here are a few more powerful contemporary favorites: All the Rage by Courtney SummersThe Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds, and Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert.


2 thoughts on “Pros and Cons / The Gospel of Winter

  1. […] The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely | “Kiely allows the themes of betrayal and tradition and intense hurt to define the story and with it, the audience’s reactions. Such controlled use of themes is difficult for even a seasoned author, so it’s a promising sign for any of Kiely’s future publications.” […]


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