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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Hell is a World Without You by Jason Kirk is a starkly comical look at the life of a teenage evangelical Christian. It is the early 2000s when a 13.9-year-old teenage boy begins to seriously question the church lifestyle he has been brought up in. He constantly struggled with the question of whether his father had died in a genuine car accident some six and a half years earlier or whether he’d committed suicide and had spent the previous 2,360 days in eternal conscious torment. With his elder brother Eli earnestly heading down the road of becoming a pastor and his mother constantly trying to steer him toward the path of righteousness, he was a mess of doubt, angst, and confusion but spurred on by a desire to do the right thing and bring his classmates and friends to salvation. Wracked with sexual desire and desperate that the rapture be delayed at least long enough for him to lose his virginity, he is a lost soul, searching for answers. This story explores what it is like to grow up in a religious and deeply conservative family environment in the United States.
I found Hell is a World Without You deeply fascinating and informative. Having heard the term evangelical Christian bandied about for years, especially in politics, I was nonetheless at a loss to understand what this denoted. Author Jason Kirk does an exceptional job of exposing the lifestyle behind this catch-all phrase in the witty, sad, and yet compassionate relaying of what was essentially the diary of a young teenage boy. The main character was molded by his upbringing and his constant immersion in the religious Christian world and yet maintained deep doubts about its correctness that caused him angst and pain. I particularly appreciated his sense of failure that he wasn’t doing enough of what was expected of him to ensure he earnestly witnessed his faith to his classmates and attempted to bring them to salvation. I was also fascinated at the number of children in this community who were being homeschooled, presumably to protect their delicate, naïve minds from the truths of the world. An overall takeaway from this story, for me, would be that every evangelical Christian church is as filled with flawed human beings and their shortcomings as the general population and holds onto its congregation through fear, mysticism, and an overwhelming belief that the rest of humanity (the non-believers) is destined for the fiery pits of hell. The narrative introduces us to a wide variety of “church people” who many will recognize and identify with. This is a bitingly funny and insightful coming-of-age tale that I thoroughly enjoyed and can highly recommend.