Young Adult Education A Religious Experience: ‘Rapture Practice' by Aaron Hartzler Kerry Winfrey

Can you imagine an adolescence in which seeing a movie is an act of rebellion? Or what about one where listening to Amy Grant is cause for punishment (for those of you who don’t know who Amy Grant is, first off I’m sorry, and second off go listen to this)? It may sound crazy, but those were the rules Aaron Hartzler lived by in his ultra-religious family. In his memoir Rapture Practice, Aaron details what it was like to grow up with a preacher dad and a ton of restrictions.

I didn’t grow up in a religious family (my mom grew up going to church multiple times a week and she always says she went to church enough for one lifetime), but my town was very Christian. I always wondered about what day-to-day life was like for the most religious kids at my school. The girls who wore denim skirts and didn’t cut their hair, the kids who couldn’t go Trick-or-Treating because Halloween was about devil-worship, the kids who had promise rings and went to church lock-ins and summer camps…what were their lives like? In Rapture Practice, I got my answers, and I could not get enough. Seriously, I sped through this book in a day, not just because it all seems so absurd (he couldn’t even go see E.T.! THE MOVIE ABOUT THE ADORABLE EXTRATERRESTRIAL AND ALSO BABY DREW BARRYMORE!), but because Aaron Hartzler’s voice is so gently funny and earnest.

If my description of this book makes it sound like it’s some sort of judgmental takedown of religion or a spite-filled screed meant to insult his family, rest assured, it isn’t. Somehow, Aaron never comes off as judgmental, even when he’s relating the truly bananas sounding moments, like when his parents take him out for dinner to give him a promise ring, and his dad says, “Son, we want to consecrate your young adult life to the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Olive Garden seemed like just the special place to do that.”

Throughout the book, even when Aaron is filled with rage at his parents for smashing his Peter Cetera tapes and basically ruining his attempts at teenage rebellion, it’s always clear that he really and truly loves them. Yeah, okay, so some of his parents’ ideas might be a little out there, but it doesn’t mean they’re bad people, and it doesn’t mean that they aren’t loving him and trying to protect him the best that they know how. It’s that challenge of growing up that I think the book does such a great job of highlighting–yes, it’s hard to get older and figure out what you believe, but it’s even harder to learn how to love and accept the people in your life even though they’re flawed.

My only complaint is that Rapture Practice isn’t longer. Although Aaron realizes that he’s gay in the book, it ends before he ever has a conversation with his parents about it (Aaron discusses this more in this interview with Lambda Literary, and he also explains why more gay content didn’t necessarily fit into the scope of his memoir). I’m definitely hoping Aaron writes another book detailing what happens as he leaves adolescence and enters adulthood, because I’d love to read about what was surely a difficult transition.

I loved this book so much. It was funny, sweet, and insanely compelling. Not every book has the power to make you laugh, cringe and tear up a little. Go read it right now!

SOME HIGHLIGHTS:

-This book isn’t just about Aaron’s struggle to reconcile his family’s faith and his lifestyle…it’s also about the beginnings of his journey towards a creative career. He knows he feels called towards acting and he always kicks ass in his church plays, but he has to figure out how convince the people around him that he’s serious about acting, and not just using it as a way to spread the Good News. I loved the scene when a friend told him he needs a Plan B, and Aaron seriously responds, “I don’t have a Plan B. I’m not planning to fail.” Seriously, if we all had that much confidence in ourselves, we’d probably get a lot more done.

-Rapture Practice is funny. Even though Aaron’s dealing with some tough stuff, he still manages to be super-witty. When his mom finds his copies of GQ, she points to a scantily dressed woman in a fashion spread and asks, “Would you want Miriam [Aaron's sister] to walk around in a dress like this?”
Aaron’s response: “No, Mom. She’s far too tall for that dress. It would look awful on her.”
TEENAGE AARON, PLEASE COME LIVE INSIDE MY HEAD AND MAKE ME AS FUNNY AS YOU.

What about you guys? Have you read Rapture Practice? Let me know in the comments! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, email me at youngadulteducation@gmail.com or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.

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  1. Funny. I grew up in a religious household where TV and movies were censored as well as some music (not because it was secular, mind you, but because it was either violent or full of fowl language – which I didn’t care for either). But even though my sister and I had to go to church each Sunday, books were never censored. In fact, my mom’s philosophy was this: it doesn’t matter what the kids read, so long as they enjoying reading. So I wonder how this book would have impacted me in my youth?