"Never been a sinner, I've never sinned
I've got a friend in Jesus
So you know that when I die
He's gonna set me up with the Spirit in the sky"
-- Norman Greenbaum (1969)
"'So Are You Going to Fix My Mom?'
'I'm sure going to try,' said Jesus.
"'Pretty soon. Just let me get my
bearings. Carry on. Don't pay any
attention to me. Act like I'm not here.'
"Walker tried. He sat at the table and ate
the last of his breakfast. He read the back
of the cereal box, or pretended to. Jesus
walked around the room, picking things
up. Staring at them. Smelling them.
"When Walker finished eating, he took
his bowl and spoon to the sink.
"He washed and dried them both. Sun
shot through the window at just the right
angle and illuminated everything -- his red
bowl, the rooster saltshaker, the orange box of cereal.
"He wondered if Jesus would still be
there when he turned around.
"'Wheaties?' said Jesus.
"'Breakfast of champions,' Walker explained.
'Do you want some?'
"'Wouldn't say no.'
"'You have to wash up afterward.
Mom has enough to do.'
"Walker filled a bowl with Wheaties.
Jesus picked up a spoon."
Two months ago, the same night fourteen year-old Walker angrily confronted
him on his behavior, Walker's big brother Noah succumbed to his drug
addiction. Their mother, who runs a nursing home here in Coaltown, Illinois
called Bissell House, has not yet begun to recover from losing her older
Walker asks for help, and Jesus shows up.
Jesus, who can only be seen by Walker and a few others (like a baby we
briefly encounter), is very cool. Piece after piece in this really excellent
verse novel is frequently funny and constantly thought-provoking.
And Jesus wears size 11 red Chucks just like I do!
"'You missed me. Admit it.'
"'I just wondered where you were.'
"'Same thing. Jesus pointed to the snack machine.
'How do you work this contraption? I'm buying.'
"'Mom doesn't want me to eat too much of that stuff.'
"'Let me ask my mom. 'Hail, Holy Queen, Mother
of Mercy, Our Life, Our Sweetness, and Our Hope.
Can I have a candy bar?'
"Jesus waited a bit. 'She said fine, but brush
afterward. Loan me seventy-five cents.
I don't have any pockets in this robe.'"
Allusions to Biblical passages mix with philosophical questions about why
things happen and fold really nicely into this quick but really memorable
story of a family in desperate need of healing.
"ALA spies tell me about Cynthia Rylant's 'God Got a Dog.' Her 'God went
to Beauty School' made me want to write 'Coaltown Jesus.'"
-- Ron Koertge tweet, 6/30/13
COALTOWN JESUS is actually much less folksy and more hip in a YA way than
is Cynthia Rylant's GOD WENT TO BEAUTY SCHOOL (which I liked a lot). There
is no language or sex here – young-end YA -- so you can put it in a middle
school and not worry about it.
Except, of course, that somewhere in America there will be one of those
parent groups -- like the one I recently read about that advocated banning
CHARLOTTE'S WEB because a book featuring two talking animals must be the work
of the devil -- that will have a field day with the irreverence of this
All I can say is God bless them.
128 pages Ages 12 and up 978-0763662288
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS. Librarian, California USA