Title: Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family
Author: Garrard Conley
My Rating: ★★★★
Summary: “As a young man Garrard Conley was terrified and conflicted about his sexuality, growing up the son of a Baptist pastor and deeply embedded in church life in small-town Arkansas. When Garrard was a nineteen-year-old college student, he was outed to his parents, and was forced to make a life-changing decision: either agree to attend a church-supported conversion therapy program that promised to ‘cure’ him of homosexuality; or risk losing family, friends, and the God he had prayed to every day of his life. He was supposed to to emerge heterosexual, ex-gay, cleansed of of impure urges and, because of his brush with sin, stronger in his faith in God. Instead, when faced with a harrowing and brutal journey, Garrard found the strength and understanding to survive and step out from a life lived in shadow and to search for his true self, empathy, and forgiveness.
At times heartbreaking, at times triumphant, this memoir is a testament to love — of family, faith, and community — that survives despite all odds.”
From the first page, I was drawn to this book. Conley jumps right into the story, which makes it intriguing. The reader starts with his conversion therapy experience, which is an intense but captivating beginning. Not having a lead up to this makes the reader understand the ideology and process of organizations like Love in Action (where Conley received “treatment”) from the beginning. This is helpful for people like me who didn’t grow up Southern Baptist and don’t know anyone with the mindset Conley was surrounded by and believed himself. I was as interested from the first pages as I was for the last. Every time I sat down to read, I found myself reading a lot. This book was a fast read (except for the fact that I read some of it during finals week when I had very little time to do anything except study and write an essay for English).
I was able to stay invested in the story because of Conley’s beautiful writing. He got his emotions across so clearly and phrased those feelings in such poetic ways. For example…
“I had prayed for purification, but the minute I felt its icy baptismal waters…”
Or this one…
“That night, I made the quiet decision to agree to whatever they had in mind, the shame and rage settling in my chest, filling up spaces I had previously reserved for love, spreading beneath my skin like invisible bruises.”
Conley writes with the kind of emotion and in a poetic way I hope to be able to replicate in my own writing someday. I did, however, have one issue with his writing. Conley jumped from his past before his conversion therapy at Love in Action to his time there. Occasionally, it wasn’t clear when something had occurred because of this. Generally though, this was clear.
I experienced many different emotions while reading Boy Erased. I felt heartbroken, angry and sometimes shocked. I couldn’t believe people could treat their own child the way Conley’s parents did. I found myself near tears multiple times reading of his deep shame and emotions over being gay. I wanted so badly to be able to reach through the book to the boy so close to my own age (which is hard to think about) and tell him nothing was wrong with him. I have read a few other books on conversion therapy, the most memorable being The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which I loved. However, knowing the people experiencing such pain were not real helped, as did the humor. I could put a little more distance between me and the characters. But knowing a real person grew up believing he was wrong and doomed is hard to read and think about.
At the end of the book, Conley writes about his life much later. I found this part of the book especially impactful, because he showed how conversion therapy affects people for a long time. He writes about the immense repercussions it has had on him and others, as well as his family. This shows how harmful groups like Love in Action are and why they are so dangerous.
Lastly, I saw the movie and it was really good. I would highly recommend both the book and movie (but I am always biased towards books).
Thank you for reading ❤