Godless by Pete Hautman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Only introduced to Pete Hautman's writing this past week after diving into two reading books by Nanci Atwell and Donalyn Miller. The prevailing opinion is that Hautman rates high with adolescent male readers--well, after flying through Godless, I have to admit that he rates pretty high with me too.
Godless completely entertained me.
On the surface the idea seems silly enough--a small group of adolescents decide to worship the town's water tower as its god...its almighty deity. The ensuing mess they find themselves in with their parents and the law reads true and believable.
What starts out as something tongue-in-cheek and in good humor quickly unravels into a brush with death for one boy, and a potentially psychological nightmare for another. Questions of faith, self-image, and friendship buoy the fast-paced plot through any sense of heaviness or ideological debate.
As the protagonist states, after his father attempts to force feed him theological texts during his grounding:
"I read as much as I could. They're all pretty much the same."
"Oh? You're telling me that Teen Jesus is indistinguishable from Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain?"
"They all require a belief in a supreme being. If you don't believe in God, then the books don't mean much."
And this is where Hautman handles the polarizing topic of religion magically. He allows the teenage protagonist to envy those with faith even though he has no idea what he believes in himself:
"I'm not sure what I am."
This is about as deep as it gets. Hautman offers the opportunity for some interesting discussion, but in terms of bang for your buck, you're getting this book for your classroom library for the sheer fact that it is an entertaining book for adolescents--who wouldn't love to read about their climb up onto, and then in, the monolithic water tower for a midnight swim? Outlandish, daring, and stupid pretty much sums up some of the chances I took as a teenager...and Hautman doesn't ever forget that that magic is part of the privilege of being young.
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