Fascinating and heart-breaking, this wonderful immersive look at the true-life experiences of a gypsy gospel child, raised in the deeply restrictive Pentecostal faith by ordained pastor parents, both of them musically talented, who practice their faith primarily through the participation and organization of traveling musical revivals that celebrate and promote local religious zeal.
The constant moving across state lines; the lack of consistent friends, toys, possessions or rootedness; with what reads as, sadly, an aloof and narcissitic mother who is coddled by her doting evangelistic husband – contribute to a lonely and dysfunctional childhood, for both Nita Faye, our narrator, and her older (and more rebellious) brother, Leslie Ray.
“We were old enough by then to know that not everyone lived the way we did, not even all true believers did. Oddities, that’s what we were.”
Nita Faye, a headstrong but confrontration-avoidant child, learns to outwardly obey the strictures laid down by her father, as she moves further and further away from a belief system that, to her, represents alienation and appears to be in direct competition with parental love and affection.
Most troubling of all is the family’s strict adherence to faith-based healing, which denies the children access to any and all professional health care, (even in the case of medical emergencies) – as they come to the traumatic and soul-crushing realization that their parents religious beliefs are stronger than their love for their children (but hypocritically and even more alarmingly, could it be that these beliefs are not to be as strictly upheld in the case of each other?)
“Proving to us that daddy would risk our lives for some deal between him and his God, something he’d committed us to”.
Without giving the plot away (no spoilers here), this fascinating foray into a world I knew little about was hard to put down. The author’s immersive descriptions of the Pentecostal church, the revival world, and the southern gospel music community (in which the children are essentially held captive) in and around the late 1950’s is richly textured, deeply authentic and totally absorbing.
It would be hard not to be moved (and saddened) by much of the world of Nita Faye and her brother, and it’s equally challenging to remain open and receptive to a world in which a parent could wield religious faith and musical ambition without regard and at such great cost to the physical and mental health of their children.
I’m grateful to the author for the opportunity to read her story and the glimpse it provided into a slice of musical history and the lives touched by it.
A great big thank you to the author and the publisher for an ARC of this book.
All thoughts provided are my own.