Rapture Practice: My One-Way Ticket to Salvation, a True Story by Aaron Hartzler; Little, Brown, 400 pages ($17.99) Ages 14 and up.
This fascinating memoir by Aaron Hartzler, now an actor and writer living with his partner in California, offers a rare peek at what it was like growing up gay in a fundamentalist Christian household living in expectation of the Rapture – that Jesus at any moment will return and take the faithful to heaven. Re-creating dialogue and events from memory (and changing names of people outside his immediate family), Hartzler offers spellbinding storytelling as he paints an affectionate portrait of loving parents who were generous with hugs but so strict he was not allowed to go to movies (even “E.T.”), watch television or listen to rock music. His early memories were happy ones. He discovered a love of acting at age 4 – playing a boy run over by a chariot while running across a street to meet Jesus. He joyfully participated in “rapture practice” at age 6, a countdown culminating in jumping in the air at a Bible club run by his mother. But as he grew older, his need to express himself and his growing doubts that a loving God would consign anyone to eternal torment increasingly collided with his parents’ rules. Punishment was swift and often severe. At 11, he was threatened with a spanking for rebelling at his father’s demand that he wear socks with his boat shoes to church. In high school, his father made him destroy his music cassettes with a hammer. For buying his girlfriend the “Pretty Woman” soundtrack, Aaron had to give up the lead in the school play and transfer to conservative Tri Christian School. Aaron found himself constantly lying to his parents as he embraced the world outside his family circle – through experiences as a camp counselor and skating instructor, and especially a friendship with a classmate whose divorced parents led a thoroughly secular lifestyle. The author writes frankly about his dawning awareness of his sexuality and ends his memoir rather abruptly, although on a hopeful note. Perhaps a sequel will elaborate on the next chapter in his life.
– Jean Westmoore
Scratchgravel Road by Tricia Fields; Minotaur (320 pages, $24.99)
This is Indiana author Tricia Fields’ second novel featuring Josie Gray, police chief in the economically strapped West Texas town of Artemis. She battled Mexican drug cartels in Fields’ debut mystery “The Territory,” which won the Tony Hillerman Prize.
In “Scratchgravel Road,” Gray must investigate a dead body with unusual wounds found in the desert. The trail leads to a former uranium processing facility now run by a private contractor hired to deal with the radioactive waste left behind. But is something other than cleanup going on at the plant?
The dead body isn’t the chief’s only problem. Heavy rains are coming – perhaps even a hundred-year flood.
The author has populated Artemis with a believable cast of small-town characters. The town and its struggles feel real, too, whether Fields is depicting the understaffed hospital or the casual heroism of the county road crew.
Some readers might think they have the mystery figured out early on, but they should keep reading. – By Shawna Seed, Dallas Morning News