Book title: Rapture Practice
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Author: Aaron Hartzler
Aaron Hartzler grew up gay in a home where he was taught that at any moment Jesus might come down in the twinkling of an eye, and scoop his whole family up to Heaven. As a kid, Aaron was thrilled by the idea that each day might be his last one on planet Earth. He couldn’t wait to blastoff and join Jesus in the sky!
But as he turns sixteen, Aaron finds himself more and more attached to his life on Earth, and curious about all the things his family forsakes for the Lord. He begins to realize he doesn’t want the Rapture to happen, just yet; not before he sees his first movie, stars in the school play, or has his first kiss. Before long, Aaron makes the plunge from conflicted do-gooder to full-fledged teen rebel.
Whether he’s sneaking out, making out, or at the piano playing hymns with a hangover, Aaron learns a few lessons that can’t be found in the Bible. He discovers the best friends aren’t always the ones your mom and dad approve of, and the tricky part about believing is that no one can do it for you.
In this funny and heartfelt coming of age memoir, debut author Aaron Hartzler recalls his teenage journey to find the person he is without losing the family who loves him. It’s a story about losing your faith, finding your place, and learning your very own truth–which is always stranger than fiction.
What type of book is it?
Memoir, autobiography, religious/gay-themed
What is it about?
Rapture Practice is the story of a very normal, very human boy growing up in an evangelical Christian household. Aaron Hartzler labels his book a memoir, but it reads more like a really compelling fictional coming of age story. Having grown up in a fundamentalist Christian environment, I have no reason to doubt that a single word of this account is true. Everything about the family, their belief system, their rationalizations, their core doctrines—all of it rang true. At times it was unnerving, and the story transported me back to a time in my own life when I believed every single bit of the religious dogma.
Aaron and his siblings attended a parochial Christian academy rather than the public school. They went to church at least three times per week. They prayed before every meal, out loud, and even while dining in public. They didn’t dance, drink any alcohol, or go to any movies. In Aaron’s household, they didn’t even own a television, and secular music was strictly forbidden. Even Amy Grant was considered too liberal.
To most people, this type of existence probably seems otherworldly. It seems almost cultic, the way they blindly follow the nonsensical teaching of this ultra-conservative religion. And the parenting methods Aaron’s folks employed would likely be regarded as abusive to most reasonable people.
But the amazing thing about this story was that the parents (and all the characters, really) were not portrayed as evil monsters. I believed wholeheartedly that they genuinely loved their children and sincerely thought they were doing everything they could to steer them in the right direction. Still it was heartbreaking to witness the bizarre forms of discipline they chose. I was appalled by the father’s absurd, asinine actions and by the way he always used scripture (more accurately, Baptist doctrine) to justify the parenting choices he made.
To the author’s credit is his honest self-portrayal. The story did not feel like he’d cast himself as being a perfect little angel. He did what a lot of teenagers do, especially those who are under the thumb of controlling parents. He rebelled. He partied, drank alcohol, hid things from his parents. He learned how to maneuver through a minefield, somehow managing to pull off a double life. To his parents and church, he was an upstanding Christian, yet he found ways to strike out on his own.
This story really wasn’t about Aaron’s sexual orientation. The book began in Aaron’s early childhood and concluded shortly after his high school graduation. He hadn’t come out yet, but he was by this time aware of who he was. My hope is that he writes a follow up.
For those who are unfamiliar with evangelical Christianity, the title of the book is most appropriate. Born again Christians believe that Jesus is due to return at any moment, and when He comes back to earth, He’ll descend from sky and call up all believers who will be whisked away. It will happen in the twinkling of an eye as a trumpet blast sounds. Aaron grew up believing this wholeheartedly, and every single day of his childhood he waited expectantly, praying for Christ’s imminent return.
The best bit was…
The story was laced with humor, yet at times it was also heart-wrenching. I sometimes felt anger and revulsion. I actually found myself rooting for him to rebel against his parents. I found the author’s ability to evoke this kind of emotion uncanny. The prose was magnificently written, and the editing was flawless.
I also loved how layered the characters were. I didn’t see anyone as being purely good or absolutely evil. I understood why Aaron loved and respected his folks, in spite of their flaws. And I didn’t see him as being perfect either.
Who would you recommend this for?
Readers who are familiar with Christian fundamentalism will appreciate this book, and those who want to understand it better may find this to be a beneficial resource. But honestly, it’s just a really good read, regardless of one’s religious views.
Have you read any other books by this author?
Reviewed by: Trevor