And If I Fall is a re-released work by Robin Reardon, formerly titled The Revelations of Jude Connor. In the Forward, the author is quick to point out that this is not a revision of the original, but merely a title change of a work she feels is one of her most important. The story is told by the now grown version of Jude Connor. He relates what it is to grow up in the ultra-religious and conservative Christian church. Jude’s church experience borders on a cult-like situation where everything from with whom you associate and how you enter the dating phase in your teen years is scrutinized and “guided” with a fairly rigid standard. The pastor, Amos King, is the ruler of the flock where the supplicants refer to each other as brothers and sisters, and mandatory attendance at bible studies, Sunday services, and weekend church events is expected and most definitely noted.
At the onset of the story, Jude has already lost his father who left the family. It is alluded to that Jude’s dad left because of his wife’s strict adherence to everything church related and his inability to measure up. Within just a few pages, Jude also loses his mother to cancer; now he and his brother are left alone and the flock moves in to care for them. Jude’s brother appreciates the help of Reverend King and his wife when they offer to care for Jude after school several days a week in order to keep the boys together as a family. As time moves on, Jude is molded by Reverend King to be the son he never had.
With constant admonitions to pray, repent, and pray again, plus stay clear of the damned unsaved people in the town, Jude begins to accept the religious fervor that constantly surrounds him every moment of the day. Jude is swallowed up in the continual deluge of scriptures that point out his sin and the need to be saved or rot for all eternity in the hell fires that await those who have fallen short. Everything comes to a head when Jude begins to feel oddly about his best friend, Tim, and is suddenly confronted with the fact that all homosexuals will go to a fiery grave. Terrified that he will never be able to put the sin of desiring a boy away from him, Jude falls headlong into the tyrannical fervor that is Amos King and loses not only his friends, but himself. Then a horrible secret is revealed and the world that Jude has clung to flips completely upside down, causing him to question not only his faith, but what he has become as a result of it.
This novel is a marathon, not a sprint. Reading it is a rather intense job—one that pays off in the end, but is tough to get through nonetheless. With precision, clarity, and laser focus, author Robin Reardon unpacks the tenets of a soul crushing faith that denies the individual in order to promote the “family of believers.” Mark my words, there is chapter and verse in this story of why this particular church community believes the narrow minded and rigid interpretation of the bible that it embraces. Amos King, as pastor, is almost maniacal in his determination that his flock will toe the proverbial Christian line. Every step of a parishioner’s life is scrutinized and most fall short. He uses the pulpit to reach into the lives of his believers and control their every move—it is rather scary how much this group resembles a cult. Poor Jude is an impressionable 11-year-old at the beginning of this novel and we walk through his life right up until he is able to finally escape. With unflinching precision, we watch this boy be dismantled, reshaped, and molded into a tightly wound bundle of nerves whose every other thought is the idea that he will go to hell if he doesn’t do what is demanded of him. It is rather horrifying to watch as there is constant emotional manipulation and fear delivered in the guise of love by just about everyone around Jude.
I would love to have rated this novel five stars, but the ending kept me from doing so. This story was compelling and thoughtfully written. However, after years of what essentially is brainwashing, to have Jude be so calm and reflective in the final chapter seemed a bit off. Yes, I did get the idea of how wrenching it was for him to finally leave his home town in order to be the man he needed to be, but I truly felt the way in which the author tied up his life so neatly just didn’t do service to the impact his teen years had to have on him. After chapters and chapters of painful soul searching and fear of being exposed and ostracized for being gay, it was hard for me to accept that the adult Jude was not more scarred and adrift. Perhaps I am off base here, but I felt that Jude would have carried his past into his future in a much more impactful way—particularly when it came to accepting that being gay was not the horrific sin he had been taught to believe.
Suffice it to say that this was not an easy read, but one I feel is very important nonetheless. Author Robin Reardon exposes ultra conservative religion for the lie it is. And If I Fall is a book that is essentially an ageless expose on how fanaticism can consume and destroy lives. It rings with hope that those exposed to such a life can come through, not unscathed, but with a future that can be full of love and truth.