Author: Pete Hautman
Type: Fiction, novel
I read it: April 2010
First of all, I read this book in one day. Woo! That doesn’t happen too often. Anyway…
Godless is funny and irreverent in all the ways you’d expect. Plus, it’s just a damn good story. Jason Bock is a bored teenager who has a “religious experience” during the middle of summer. He decides to start his own religion based on that experience, and the new god is the “Ten-legged One”–the town’s water tower. He recruits a motley group of schoolmates to hold different offices and they become Chutengodians. One night, they decide to ascend the water tower to hold midnight mass (on Tuesday, which is their Sabbath). The religion begins to spiral quickly away from Jason, and as the big Kahuna he does his best to keep all his disciples happy and safe, with mixed results.
There’s something to be said for the Philip Larkin lines, “If I were called in/ To construct a religion/ I should make use of water.” At every chapter head in Godless, you get a snippet of the Chutengodians’ Genesis account, in which the ocean is the prime mover of all things in the universe. The themes are powerful and the characters are at turns serious and goofy. Hautman makes sure to pull no punches, and the language seems real enough for teens, with swears and lies peppered throughout. It’s a fun look at what could happen when people get bored: they gather around a charismatic leader, they make up stories that some believe and some don’t, they follow folly just for the sake of following it. Oh, religion. Let’s praise these types of excellent young adult novels that keep important conversations wide, wide open.