Book Review: “Boy Erased”

Garrard Conley’s book delves into the struggles of coming out

Rachael Jaeger
Staff Writer

Boy Erased treads a dangerous line between safe and rough waters when it comes down to opening up about sexual orientation in a fundamentally religious household. While in reading some parts of the book, my heart broke for Garrad Conley, the author, as he related to his agony in his attempts to be a Christian and yet not ignoring the authenticity of who he truly was/is.

Garrad’s dad, a Baptist pastor firm in his religious convictions, one of which that he should start his own car dealership and hand out tracks to those he is convinced are unsaved. He catered to lost souls put away in prison and would tease them through peanut m&m’s as a tactic to promise them he would help their physical needs as long as the spiritual needs first were fulfilled. But what is revealed midway in Boy Erased is that Garrad’s own dad wrestled with his demons and swept them under the mask of religious pretense.

Soon after he breaks up with his longterm serious girlfriend Chloe, Garrad confesses his attraction for other men. Consequently, his parents send him to therapy to an institution called Love in Action in high hopes he will be cured. But the psychological trauma that seeps into his life is horrifying in the exercises the head leader, Smidt, forced the participants to partake in. One of the exercises was Garrad backtracking his family history to pinpoint where the sin had originated, including alcoholism and loss of a previous baby.

Throughout the book, Garrad keeps a prayer simple but deep: Lord, make me pure.

But in Garrad’s honest in himself alone, he discovered that he fell short. He even snapped to a point where he cursed God and yet he also realized how unhealthy the attitudes were directed towards him and the other participants.

On a spiritual level for me, I was raised in a similar tradition as Garrad but over the years, I have also I am in the process in breaking free. Like I see from what Garrad especially experienced is damaging because not necessarily true belief but from an oppressive environment that drove him mad—not the crazy mad, but the frustrated kind of mad.

From what I have gone through myself, if personal belief relies on present or past actions, it throws you into a dark prison and what is called faith is really despair. At the conclusion of the book, tension sounds like it still lingered in the air but the dedication to his parents in the beginning implies that their relationship has improved. His mom went out of her way to reach out and understand him better.

Boy Erased is also a movie which was also released on Nov. 2 but although I have religiously checked for a showing, no theater in the area has put it on. I still hold out faith and hope that the movie still might appear in theaters around here sometime soon. Lucas Hedges acts as Garrad, Russell Crowe as his dad, and Nicole Kidman as his mom, with the names somewhat altered.

I am not able to read a book straight through in weeks like I have with Boy Erased and what I enjoy about memoirs is the assuring feeling that you are not alone. This memoir had such an ability to put me in Garrad’s shoes from the emotional guilt he struggled with his identity as a pastor’s son and yet he embraced his authenticity of his personal and gender identity. That is a brave action and should not be condoned.

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