Gospel According to St. Rage, The, By Karen Eisenbrey, 388 pgs.

Dec 13, 2019

St. Rage is a fictional high school punk/pop/garage/country band led by a girl, Barbara, who thought she was invisible until a guy she barely knew gave her a hat. She then starts a very long journey of self-discovery in this coming-of-age novel about music, teenage relationships, gun violence, and super powers. There’s a touch of the magical realism here, though I don’t quite see why as it only tends to show up when the author needs to show how it works. Basically, if Barbara gets angry enough, she can do things like low level flying, cause car tires to blow out, shoot sparks out of her finger, and flip someone “the bird” and they will get covered in bird shit.

Her biggest challenge, besides getting a grip on her super powers, is something way harder than that: making friends. She sings in the church choir and is a mousy, quiet, easily overlooked teenager living in Seattle. But when Jackson places a hat on her that inspires her to stand out and be seen. She starts slowly making friends and inviting them to shows to see real life local bands like Dead Bars, who make several appearances in the book. So she finally puts together a band and it’s made up of an indie/folk girl who plays acoustic guitar, a half-Japanese, half-black (I’m assuming all the other characters are Caucasian, since race never comes up unless someone is not white) punk rock drummer, the popular girl who bullied her in middle school on tambourine, and a troubled, depressed teen boy who brought a gun to school on bass.

The story seems interesting enough, and I do enjoy the occasional young adult novel (especially with punk band references), though I found myself slogging through it. None of the characters ever feel well developed, and a lot of the dialogue feels forced or sometimes comes off as an adult trying to sound like a teen (“She tends bar on the weekends.” “I’m a little miffed...”). There are also two queer characters who both start same-sex relationships relatively easily, which I appreciate the visibility of.

A lot of pieces feel like they’re only there in order to justify them being included. Like, “I exist, therefore I belong.” So none of the threads feel very connected for me. And there are infrequent POV shifts that I don’t think are necessary. Sometimes we get four different POVs of the same exact scene, which is meant to showcase each character’s personality, but just feels redundant and confusing.

I realize that I am not the target audience for this book, and I do feel it’s far too long and the characters felt flat. If you’re interested in test driving it, Eisenbrey wrote and recorded all the fictional St. Rage songs, which are available on Bandcamp. It’s certainly an impressive project and a big undertaking, but definitely fell short of the mark for me. –Kayla Greet (Not A Pipe Publishing, PO Box 184, Independence, OR 97351)