Hell Is a World Without You
January 20, 2024 3:57 PM - Subscribe

(Kirkus) "In Kirk’s debut novel, an American teen traverses his high school years while struggling to hold on to his Christian faith."

Marketing copy: "Rarely has an Evangelical upbringing been depicted with the relentless honesty, wide-ranging empathy, and Superbad-meets-Siddhartha playfulness of Hell Is a World Without You. During the time of Pizza Hut buffets, 9/11, and all-night Mario Kart parties, a grieving teenager faces a mortal crossroads: fire-and-brimstone certainty vs. forbidden love. And whether or not you’ve ever begged God to delay the Rapture (so you could have time to lose your virginity), that kid’s story is about you."

Written by "Jason Kirk, a longtime sports journalist, co-hosts the Vacation Bible School Podcast and the Shutdown Fullcast. He’s contributed to The Athletic, This American Life, Slate, Penguin Random House’s Hazlitt Magazine, USA Today, Vox, and many others. An Atlanta native, he grew up as a maximum-effort Southern Baptist and is now a lazy Christian pantheist.”

Note: The author will donate 100% of pre-2/12/2024 proceeds to the Trevor Project.

How about some editorial reviews:
"Although the author layers this story with humor, he meticulously examines Christianity as well. Blends sublimely. Hilariously blunt. Endearing. Get it." - Kirkus Reviews

"Brutal honesty and extensive empathy. Tear-inducing. A resonant novel, briskly told, with laugh-out-loud comedy and poignant insight.” - Publishers Weekly's BookLife

"Joyous and sobering. Fluent, taboo-shirking, and moving. Readers will be swept away with its poignance and intellectual rigor. A wonderful novel." - Independent Book Review

"Deeply fascinating. Witty, sad, and compassionate. A bitingly funny and insightful coming-of-age tale. Highly recommend." - Readers' Favorite

"Ripped me apart and put me back together." - Literary Transgressions
And how about some other reviews:
“I grew up in one of the most Evangelical places on the planet. Jason Kirk’s hilarious, big-hearted, and deeply humane novel transported me right back into life as a teenager in that world, with its heady mix of wide-eyed absurdity, Machiavellian cunning, sincere kindness, and tragic yearning. This is a world in which transcendent spiritual crises can be faced down at Pizza Hut, and the miracle of HELL IS A WORLD WITHOUT YOU is that it sees both sides of that equation with equal clarity and tenderness. It’s funny, absolutely, but it’s the kind of funny that comes from recognizing that the search for meaning is no joke.”

— Brian Phillips, author, Impossible Owls

“Jason Kirk’s HELL IS A WORLD WITHOUT YOU is funny, but it’s also compassionate, romantic, and optimistic, all without making a big fuss about it. It exemplifies what should be the most Christian of all attributes: It’s open-hearted and curious about the world, giving space for everyone’s place in it. It rings with the specificity of the personal while evoking the universal. Whoever you are, you’ll find some of yourself in it.”

— Will Leitch, author, How Lucky and The Time Has Come

“No book I've read has better or more lovingly depicted the experiences of youth group, teen Evangelical terror, and growing up in the world of nondenominational Christianity in the early 2000s. I loved it, even when it made me remember times I wish I could forget.”

— Jane Coaston, Opinion writer, The New York Times

“Kirk’s story of the modern American Evangelical experience is unsparingly honest, at points almost astonishingly accurate, and at different points comical, endearing, and purely hideous. Most importantly, it stands firmly apart from both the dismissive condescension of outsiders and the understandably bitter attitudes of many who’ve left that life. Instead, it is unlike anything I’ve read about the Evangelical church: unshakably critical, yet just as unshakably empathetic, toward both those caught in the fundamentally bewildering crisis of false spirituality and those perpetuating it. After all, as narrator Isaac chronicles, they’re one and the same. HELL IS A WORLD WITHOUT YOU beautifully accounts for a wealth of structures and systems that have long needed that accounting, but above all, it offers the human beings in this story the unconditional love they aren’t quite able to afford themselves.”

— Jon Bois, creator, 17776

"Normally, 'funny' novels are either ones written for middle schoolers or for overly literate snobs who confuse their own smugness with having a sense of humor. But Jason Kirk has written a genuinely funny novel, with real laughs to be found in both its characters and in its painfully accurate depiction of growing up in a pious world that you're not entirely certain you believe in. It's a deeply funny book, which is the best kind of book."

— Drew Magary, author, The Night the Lights Went Out
More (author-spotlighted) reviews here.

Goodreads page here for semi-regular-person reviews.

104 very Evangelical references in my novel
posted by General Malaise (4 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This book may be the best (not-Moby-Dick) book I've read in a really, really long time. I wish I could have written it, but alas I am not as good a writer as the author, who writes intense empathy and humor. It's laugh-out-loud funny; it's also tears-falling-on-paper heart wrenching.

It feels like it could have been about me. While I didn't grow up in this specific movement, I did grow up so closely adjacent that I felt every reference and joke viscerally.

You'd probably not expect how much he loves these characters, and how good these characters are, and how much you will love these characters, despite, well, who they are.

If you've been in this world, you'll probably go "holy shit/shoot" all the way throughout. If you haven't been in this world before, you'll be surprised by what you learn. You'll also be surprised how much Christian ska permeated the scene in the early 2000s.

I appreciated that he acknowledged that in most age cohorts, people have the same names, so we have the Calebs and the Graces. Then we have new batches as time goes on.

I could probably go on, but I literally just finished it and I feel like it's going to live with me for a long time.
posted by General Malaise at 4:05 PM on January 20 [4 favorites]

Oh, this sounds really good! Adding it to my TBR list...
posted by maryellenreads at 9:31 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]

This novel isn't about my community, but I gave it a go because the Fullcast is my favorite podcast. It's everything the reviewers say it is, and it gives you a really clear picture of early-2000s evangelical culture. It's comes from a place of love but is critical when it needs to be. I don't know if I really understand religion any better or not, but I do feel like I understand certain religious people in my life better than I did before. Highly recommended.
posted by wintermind at 5:07 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]

Thank you for posting this! I never would have heard of it, probably, and now I've checked it out of the library.
posted by alligatorpear at 2:47 PM on February 16

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