Have you ever had this experience? A book is recommended to you, and you dutifully put it at the bottom of your to-read list. Then, when you finally get around to it, you kick yourself for not putting it right at the top? If not, you are either tearing through your list a lot faster than I am, or you aren’t reading enough books. If it’s the former, buy this one now and put it at the bottom of the pile you are so responsibly cranking through. If it’s the latter, consider yourself lucky that nothing else is in your way, and buy this one today! Karen Eisenbrey’s The Gospel According to St. Rage is so great, you will regret not reading it yesterday.
The Gospel According to St. Rage tells the story of the formation of an almost-all-girl garage band in Seattle. It also accurately depicts the different ways high school students hide challenges ranging from social isolation, to questioning their sexuality, to exploring ethnic identity, to dealing with serious abuse in the home, and it shows how they mask these in distinct ways, by withdrawing, by bullying, bottling it up, and by lashing out. Despite all the heavy content, because the characters also hide behind humor, the book is often laugh-out-loud funny. It will also broaden your ideas about super-powers. Sure, one character might have powers like invisibility, super-strength, flight, telepathy, and telekinesis, but I came away thinking that the other characters manifested even more astounding powers; tolerance, forgiveness, courage, and radical acceptance. Thanks to Eisenbrey’s careful sense of timing and deft use of emotion that manages to avoid sentimentality just when it might get schlocky, one character’s ability to fly or push a moving car off the road with her mind seems like a less impressive (and less desirable) power than her mother’s ability to welcome a young woman who’s been kicked out of her house when she comes out of the closet and reconcile her with her parents. The Gospel According to St. Rage will not only make you want to be a superhero for someone who is lonely or oppressed, it will also make you believe you can.
The characters who make up the band each get different chapters to tell their parts of the story of the band’s formation. This works because Eisenbrey gives them believable and distinct voices. Readers with delicate sensibilities should be warned: Some of these characters occasionally use profanity, and one uses a lot of it. If seeing “bad words” on a page, used in a way that actually reflects the lexicons of most modern American teenagers, hurts your eyes or sullies your spotless soul, stay away from this book. If, on the other hand, you believe you can strengthen your empathy muscles by trying to enter the emotional space of people who are different from you, this book is a perfect fit, since the narrative characters are so varied that you can easily find a character like you to latch onto, but you still have to push yourself to relate to the others. I’m excited to offer this book to the students in my high school creative writing classes as a model of how to write distinct voices, but I will have to warn them that it takes maturity to appreciate the book, not just because of the swear words, but because the novel ends, satisfyingly, in a very real place, out of keeping with the triumphalism that’s common in books for younger readers. By the end of the story, the characters are graduating from high school and entering into their adult lives, all changed by the experience of joining the band St. Rage, and I think that’s a perfect age for readers (though anyone older will enjoy it, too). High school seniors, if they’re lucky, might find themselves changed for the better by spending some time with St. Rage, too.
[Full Disclosure: Karen Eisenbrey sent me a free advance copy to check out and review before the book dropped. Fuller Disclosure: I got behind and didn’t get to it in time. Fullest Disclosure: This means you don’t have to wait any longer than the time it takes the book to ship, because it’s already available! Get yours HERE.]