One of my professors recently commented that religion is probably one of the touchiest subjects in young adult literature. I think that’s why I appreciate Pete Hautman for tackling the taboo head on. I’ll explain:
Jason Bock’s father is devout. He really cares about going to church, and he cares even more about Jason going to church. Jason’s not too sure, himself. He wavers between agnostic and atheist, and the weekly teen youth group meetings are really getting under his skin. When wiry, angry Henry decks him, and knocks him flat on his back under the town water tower, Jason has a revelation.
Why not create his own religion? What if the town water tower is god? And so, Chutengodianism was born. Jason becomes the Head Kahuna, and soon converts a motley group of followers. There’s Magda, the cute girl who works at Wigglesworth, where you can buy the nuclear green soda confection with enough caffeine and sugar to raise the dead. She becomes the High Priestess, with Henry-remember the guy who punched Jason and caused the religious revelation in the first place? Yeah, that’s Henry, and he becomes the High Priest. Shin, Jason’s meek-mannered, snail-obsessed friend joins, as well as ordinary Dan, whom you have to meet six or seven times before you remember his name.
Together they work out the fundamentals of their new religion. However, as the religion grows, it starts to spiral out of control. Some members of the new cult have their own opinions on how they should practice. When they decide to hold their first ceremony on top of the water tower, things go from playful to almost deadly.
Jason has an honest, realistic voice, and a sense of humor that will keep the reader engaged. I like the balance of the book, too. It’s not against religion, and it’s not for it, either. It’s just the story of Jason, who is working through some serious doubts about his beliefs, something that is a universal experience. This book, since it takes place in a lazy, small town during the sweltering months of summer, really feels like a great summer read. This book won the National Book Award and was listed as an ALA Best Book.
Author’s website: http://www.petehautman.com/
Hautman, Pete. Godless. Simon & Schuster, New York: 2004. 198 pp. Ages 14 and up. ISBN: 978-0689862786
If you liked this book, you could try Sweetblood, another book by Hautman. It’s about a diabetic girl who is fascinated with vampires, and Hautman captures her voice just as well as he does Jason’s. You could also check out Feed, by M.T. Anderson.