Reviewed by Me for TeensReadToo.com
There is a reason that GODLESS won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, and I don't believe it's because author Pete Hautman wrote a book he intended to be satire, as other reviews have suggested. To me, GODLESS is the epitome of everything that is both bad and good about organized religion--it is, in effect, an entreaty to the leaders of religions around the world to look at how blind faith funds their coffers.
Yes, maybe I'm reading more into the book than the author intended. If so, I can only hope that he appreciates the fact that I've obviously thought about the words he wrote long after they were published, and that he'd be happy about that fact. Now, though, on to the story...
Fifteen-year old Jason Bock is an agnostic ("I'll believe in God when I see Him") bordering on being an atheist ("There is no God"). His mother is obsessed over his health, coming up weekly with a new ailment that he just has to be suffering from. His father, though, is more concerned with his son's soul. That's why Jason, regardless of his personal beliefs, finds himself attending weekly Sunday Mass at the Church of the Good Shepherd, and even occasionally joins in at Thursday night TPO (Teen Power Outreach) meetings. The fact that he's ordered to attend the meetings more frequently when he's in trouble doesn't escape his notice.
Until one day, agnostic slash atheist Jason wonders what would happen if he started his own religion. Along with his best friend, Shin, fellow TPO attendee Magda, preacher's son Dan, and town rebel Henry, Jason creates the Chutengodians, a religion who worships the Ten-Legged One. That the Ten-Legged One is the town's water tower doesn't seem to deter them.
I know what you're thinking--who in their right mind would worship a water tower, even if they are teenagers? The answer, of course, is pretty simple. Why do people worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost? Why are there Buddhists, Muslims, Scientologists, Mormons, Protestants, or Latter Day Saints? Why does anyone worship anything? They do it because someone came up with their own ideas, made up some rules, implemented some commandments, created posts of leadership, and recruited parishioners.
Jason does the same, with some of the same consequences other organized religions have faced over the centuries--infighting, backstabbing, persecution, and doubts. When one Chutengodian almost ends up dead in an accident, and another seems determined to take his own life, and the others doubt the wisdom of associating with the creator of their religion, things start to fall apart. Sounds to me a lot like what happens in most "normal" organized religions found throughout the world today.
GODLESS is, without a doubt, one of the most thought-provoking books I've ever read. I highly recommend it to anyone searching for their own truths, regarding not only religion but finding your sense of self. You won't be disappointed--I know I wasn't.
Fed up with your parents' boring old religion, agnostic-going-on-atheist Jason Bock invents a new god-the towns water tower. He recruits an unlikely group of worshippers: his snail-farming best friend, Shin, cute as a button, Magda Price. and the violent and unpredictable Henry Stagg. As their religion grows, it takes on a life of its own. While Jason struggles to keep the faith pure, Shin obsesses over writing their bible, and the explosive Henry schemes to make the new faith even more exciting- and dangerous.
When the Chutengodians hold their first ceremony high atop the dome of the water tower, things quickly go from merely dangerous to terrifying and deadly.Jason soon realizes that inventing a religion is a lot easier than controlling it, but control it he must, before his creation destroys both his friends and himself.
Each of us struggles with our belief in ourselves and our belief in a higher power, especially during our teen years. This book gives voice to an often taboo subject. Read it, and let your older teens read it, then have a discussion.