Review: The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely

Title: The Gospel of Winter
Author: Brendan Kiely
Series: Standalone
Genres: YA, Contemporary, Abuse
A fearless debut novel about the restorative power of truth and love after the trauma of abuse.

As sixteen-year-old Aidan Donovan’s fractured family disintegrates around him, he searches for solace in a few bumps of Adderall, his father’s wet bar, and the attentions of his local priest, Father Greg—the only adult who actually listens to him.

When Christmas hits, Aidan’s world collapses in a crisis of trust when he recognizes the darkness of Father Greg’s affections. He turns to a crew of new friends to help make sense of his life: Josie, the girl he just might love; Sophie, who’s a little wild; and Mark, the charismatic swim team captain whose own secret agonies converge with Aidan’s.

The Gospel of Winter maps the ways love can be used as a weapon against the innocent—but can also, in the right hands, restore hope and even faith. Brendan Kiely’s unflinching and courageous debut novel exposes the damage from the secrets we keep and proves that in truth, there is power. And real love.

I want you all to give a huge welcome to Taylor, a new guest reviewer on the blog! 

Victims are often nameless statistics on the news, shown as numbers and percentages instead of names, faces and stories of loss and hardship.

Young adult author Brendan Kiely challenges this notion in his debut novel The Gospel of Winter, which tells the story of Aidan Donovan, who is struggling to find the courage to speak up about the abuse he suffered from a local priest.

It is the story of a teenage boy who finds the courage to speak up, and the story of that boy’s realization that the only source of affection in his life was in reality twisted and sick. It is a brave attempt to shed light on the struggles of victims showing that telling the truth is usually the hardest thing to do.

The novel is set in an affluent neighborhood in Connecticut. Aidan’s father has abandoned the family for his European mistress and his mother is determined to maintain the family’s name and reputation in the small town, where even the tiniest bit of gossip seems to spread like wildfire. Overall, the setting comes across as detailed without being overly and descriptive and feels real to the reader. While some may be completely disgusted by the pretentious residents in Aidan’s town, it is a well-developed and naturalistic neighborhood that seems to come to life of the page.

Her mother throws extravagant parties, and it is at one of these affairs on Christmas Eve that the story begins. Aidan is discontented with the artificiality of all of it. While his narration borders on whiny and at times seems way too wise for a confused sixteen-year-old boy, these small faults are overshadowed by the honest, vulnerable and undeniably emotional quality of his prose. Readers will be brought to tears of laughter and sadness throughout Aidan’s narration.
It is clear he is intelligent and while he won’t admit it to anyone else, feeling a broad spectrum of feelings that he doesn’t know how to begin to feel or understand. As he navigates a series of complicated relationships in his life, from the fraught relationship with a mother he’s not used to being mothered by to Mark, a friend who might just be able to understand what he’s experiencing to Josie, a girl he might actually have true feelings of adoration for, Aidan doesn’t fail to describe what he’s feeling at every turn. With the help of Kiely’s poetic prose that flows beautifully, this is a story about unpleasant events that is definitely pleasant to read.

However, Kiely’s novel is not without its minor weaknesses. The abundant drug and alcohol use by the teenagers is realistic, but only to a point. It is true that affluent teenagers have wider access to drugs like Adderall, Vicodin and marijuana in addition to alcohol, which they often take from their parents. That being said, the mixing of these drugs and the sheer quantity that they consume seem completely unrealistic and remove the reader a bit from the story. Snorting Adderall, drinking and popping the occasional Vicodin simultaneously, Aidan should be in the hospital getting his stomach pumped instead of passing out at his friend’s house.

Another of the few weaknesses about the book is the way started conflicts between characters or storylines in the novel remain untouched for chapters and chapters, or in some cases, completely unresolved. Aidan’s unusually close relationship with his nanny Elena is largely left untouched and more scenes with his friends Mark, Josie and Sophie would have appreciated to show the development of the bonds between the friends.

Overall, Kiely’s novel was exceptionally well written and the interesting story was engaging from start to finish. The overall pace was good, though the story lagged in some scenes and seemed to fly by in others. However, The Gospel of Winter is a novel that shows that young adult novels can possess a very literary quality while also telling a story that is heart wrenching, relatable and shockingly honest.

This is a novel that will appeal to adults and teens, men and women alike. It is a story that everyone should read, and a story everyone should think about when they see those numbers and percentages on the news. People are stories behind the statistics.

Have you read The Gospel of Winter? What did you think of it? Do you intend to read it? Let us know in the comments below!


  1. Hi Taylor! Wow, what a fantastic way to start! This book sounds like a fantastic read and a quite different YA contemporary from the fluff that is much more abundant! I'm surely gonna be adding this one to my wish list! Great review!

  2. Amanda P. @ Of Specs and Books20 July 2014 at 00:29

    Everyone has a reading story, and it's interesting that you really can't pin point it. But honestly, I will just have to chalk it up to the author Tamora Pierce. I hated reading right up until I read her books come freshman year of high school No one else was really inspiring for me. :)

    Amanda @ Of Spectacles and Books

  3. I am member of netgalley and I think they are great. I just do not accept ebook so have done very little reviewing with them.

  4. It sounds interesting...I might read it!

  5. I'm wondering about the reading order for this and Midnight Thief, should it be read before or after? I have Poison Dance in my Kindle now and I'm awaiting Midnight Thief in the mail, and I don't know what to read first!
    Thanks for recommending the novella, I've heard some not so good reviews for it!