Friday, August 7, 2020

Godshot by Chelsea Bieker

by Chelsea Bieker
Published March 31st 2020 by Catapult

Drought has settled on the town of Peaches, California. The area of the Central Valley where fourteen-year-old Lacey May and her alcoholic mother live was once an agricultural paradise. Now it’s an environmental disaster, a place of cracked earth and barren raisin farms. In their desperation, residents have turned to a cult leader named Pastor Vern for guidance. He promises, through secret “assignments,” to bring the rain everybody is praying for.

Lacey has no reason to doubt the pastor. But then her life explodes in a single unimaginable act of abandonment: her mother, exiled from the community for her sins, leaves Lacey and runs off with a man she barely knows. Abandoned and distraught, Lacey May moves in with her widowed grandma, Cherry, who is more concerned with her taxidermy mice collection than her own granddaughter. As Lacey May endures the increasingly appalling acts of men who want to write all the rules, and begins to uncover the full extent of Pastor Vern’s shocking plan to bring fertility back to the land, she decides she must go on a quest to find her mother, no matter what it takes. With her only guidance coming from the romance novels she reads and the unlikely companionship of the women who knew her mother, she must find her own way through unthinkable circumstances.

Possessed of an unstoppable plot and a brilliantly soulful voice, Godshot is a book of grit and humor and heart, a debut novel about female friendship and resilience, mother-loss and motherhood, and seeking salvation in unexpected places. It introduces a writer who gives Flannery O’Connor’s Gothic parables a Californian twist and who emerges with a miracle that is all her own.

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5 Stars
Lacey Mae's mother brought her into the church, the followers believe their pastor will bring the rain, but with his teachings come assignments, assignments that draw Lacey May's mother away. Drawn to the bottle and pursuing a new life with a new man, her mother leaves Lacey May behind, just as her first blood appears. The pastor believes he can bestow fertility upon the land, but the assignments he gives the young girls and boys is beyond what you can imagine. Desperate to hold onto anything she can of her mother, Lacey May turns to her mother's old romance novels and her previous job as a telephone companion. A story of grief, hope, fear, and love, Godshot is Chelsea Bieker's debut novel about a young girl and the resilience all women share.

“I loved watching her. My mother was the sun in a dark room.”

Oh my cult fascinated soul was so happy with this book. Maybe it was due to my familiarity with the landscape in dry Central California, maybe it was the desperation in Lacey May, maybe it was the religious cult story line, I don't know that I can pinpoint it to just one thing, but Godshot absolutely gutted me. It's a coming-of-age story filled with all the fears mother's express for their young girls, all experienced by and told from the perspective of 14-year-old Lacey May. Naive, impressionable, and yet so smart, Lacey May reads exactly as I would expect a 14 year old teen to. She's both young and old at the same time, her experiences beyond her age. The story is a difficult one, this is not the family love you want, and yet it's the truth of many mother-daughter relationships. Her mother has not protected her, she's selfish and yet there's a complexity to her that you only discover by learning about her just as Lacey May does. You come to sympathize with her, even more so with Lacey May, as Chelsea Bieker describes the life they've each been given.

"Whatever's happened to you can either make you beautiful, or it will ruin you forever. You decide."

Okay, yes there's a cult story line and I really enjoyed it, especially from the perspective of the youth. It's the most perfect example of someone taking advantage of age, upbringing, and opportunity. He preys on youth, enforces gender-roles, and teaches to church members that do not have any proper education. Beyond that though, Godshot is about relationships. Lacey May, at just 14, has some incredible experiences with relationships. Her family, her mother's friends, the old and new friends she makes both inside and outside the church, her own with herself. We see her move from childlike relationships to those that serve her, to friendships where she desires more for others, to understanding her own needs and desires. I so loved Lacey May stepping into her own, learning her own powers and strengths, the resiliency in herself, the power in forgiving and loving.

Disturbing, surprising, and as magnificent as the cover it boasts, Godshot is easily one of my top reads for 2020. Chelsea Bieker has written an engrossing, honest novel with distinctive prose. This is a book you do not forget. It now lives on my bookshelf alongside White Oleander.

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