Cover Image: Out of Focus

Out of Focus

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Member Reviews

I feel like a typical review of a deeply personal memoir such as this one isn’t necessarily applicable. This is more of a reflection than a review, I suppose.

This memoir follows the author’s life from early childhood to her adult life in the present day, and focuses on her religious upbringing in the cult that is Christian Fundamentalism. Her father was a prominent figure in Focus on the Family, a tool created by n*z*s to further their oppressive agenda against anyone who isn't straight, white, and heteronormative. Notably, her father produced the radio show Adventures in Odyssey, among others. This show was an amazing tool of propaganda played right into the ears of many impressionable kids, myself included. Childhood me loved this show, and when I saw Amber’s memoir showed that she had grown up queer in that oppressive era, steeped in that fundie dream, I was drawn in.

This book is informative, and I'm glad it exists. If you’ve ever wondered why we’re all so f’ed up about this church thing, this could be a great stepping off point. It introduces the culture we were embroiled in so deeply, and Amber succinctly draws the lines between it and the mental health issues, trauma, and internalized homophobia it causes.

I think it would also be a great resource for someone on the beginning of their deconstruction journey, or to share with people still in the church who may have queer family members. Amber approaches her queerness within the faith she still has, and seeing that could be of value to help change some people’s minds.

Ultimately, I found my own journey had taken me too far from the religion to get a lot out of this story. It was difficult to read such a familiar experience despite our wildly different families, and difficult to hear their church culture language again. I no longer feel as though the Christian church has anything valuable enough to trade myself for. It was rough being surrounded by that culture again and hearing even the positive stories didn't sit well with me.

Amber has a lot of love in her heart, and my salty soul admires that, as well as her bravery for sharing this story.

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I don’t remember exactly when it was that I learned the truth about Focus on the Family. What I do remember is that it was before I had any idea I was a lesbian, and that very organization is part of the reason it took me so long to come to that conclusion. Still, when I found out exactly what they stood for, I felt betrayed for a reason I couldn’t yet understand.

My parents had received magazines from Focus on the Family for as long as I could remember. When I got old enough, my sister and I received their kids’ magazine, Clubhouse. Inside, among other things, were references to the Adventures in Odyssey radio show, which the author of this book's father worked on. For whatever reason, we never actually listened to it, but the moral of the story is that FotF had a foothold in my life. Saying this now, I am at once making ties between the values the author described and certain interactions with my parents, and now I’m almost certain those ideas must have come directly from FotF.

In my early teens, there were a couple of books about purity that my mom read with my sister and me. One included a journal where we would answer questions related to the reading. They even bought us purity rings. For whatever reason, while I later found my sister’s in her jewelry box, I never got mine, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because my sister eventually began dating and I did not. Maybe they knew something I didn’t. I also remember riding home from a music lesson with my father, who usually did not transport me to and from such things. All of a sudden, he started talking about how the highest responsibility a woman could have for Christ was having children because if Christians didn’t have more children, other religions would surpass us in number. It shocked me deeply. And I can’t even bear to type some of the things I was told about gay people.

With time, my parents’ connection to these ideas has lessened. It has been years since a FotF magazine arrived at our house. My father, a lifelong Republican, has turned away from most of the Republican candidates. And when it came time for me to come out, I was only a little afraid I’d lose everything.

But the fear was still there. The damage was still done. I spent 22 years of my life in the closet, most of them in the closet to myself too, because for so long I felt that I wasn’t even allowed to think about homosexuality as a concept, interact with media about it, associate with people who were gay, and most certainly not be gay myself. When my feelings and doubts began to assert themselves, I would beat them down, fearing that if I allowed them to persist, something bad would happen to me, some sort of cosmic retribution. As such, getting to a point where I was really exploring that part of myself and not fearing that an important concert was going to be a failure as a result was huge for me.

Months later, I would come out as an act of love, and at first, it was difficult. While I wasn’t kicked out or yelled at or disowned or necessarily preached at, the response threatened to overshadow a time in my life that should have only been marked by joy. All of that pain began to drain away as soon as I was in my girlfriend’s arms, and experiencing this love has been an integral part of my healing. Still, I resent the ways in which these ideas tried to dull one of the most beautiful things in my life.

So that’s my story, and frankly, as bad as it was at times, it’s nothing compared to the struggle for so many. It can be hard for people raised outside of a religious bubble to understand exactly how soul-crushing it can be, although religious influence certainly poisons those outside of that bubble as members of a society governed by it. For that reason, I’m grateful that the author has chosen to share her own story, as difficult as it is. It is proof of our resilience, proof of the fact that we really can be anyone, anywhere, and a window into the life of those raised under Evangelical influence that many would benefit from peeking into.

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Out of Focus is a very relatable book for those of us in the lgbtq+ community who grew up evangelical.

It's a struggle that many of us who have grown up with in strict religious households. The constant fear and pressure to conform to a certain set of beliefs and behaviors can have a lasting impact on our mental health and self-esteem. It can be difficult to break away from those ingrained beliefs and find our own truth and identity. Amber's story is a reminder that it's okay to question and challenge the beliefs we were raised with and to find our own path, even if it means going against what we were taught. Her courage to speak out and share her experiences can give hope to others who may be struggling with similar challenges. It's important to recognize that we are not alone in our struggles and that there is strength in breaking away from toxic beliefs and finding our own inner peace and understanding. Amber's journey is a testament to the power of resilience and the human spirit, and serves as a reminder that we are capable of overcoming even the most difficult of obstacles.

Please read trigger warnings before reading, as this is a heavy book.

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"Out of Focus" by Amber Cantorna-Wylde is a poignant and brave memoir that unveils the intersection of sexuality, shame, and toxic evangelicalism. With honesty and vulnerability, Cantorna-Wylde shares her personal journey of coming out within the confines of a conservative religious community. The narrative is not just about self-discovery but also a testament to resilience in the face of societal expectations and judgment.

The author's writing is both engaging and sincere, pulling readers into the rollercoaster of emotions that accompany self-realization in a judgmental environment. Cantorna-Wylde skillfully weaves her story, shedding light on the struggles faced by LGBTQ individuals within religious circles while maintaining a hopeful tone throughout. The book doesn't just focus on the challenges but also on the triumph of self-acceptance and embracing one's identity.

"Out of Focus" is an important addition to the conversation on sexuality, faith, and personal authenticity. It serves as a compassionate guide for those navigating similar journeys and offers a bridge for understanding and empathy. Cantorna-Wylde's courage to share her story contributes to a growing movement of openness, fostering dialogue and understanding in the quest for acceptance.

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Focus on the Family was a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I loved Adventures in Odessey as a child and remember listening to many Focus on the Family programs in my mom's mini van. As someone who has struggled with my own deconstruction and reconstruction of faith, I found Cantorna-Wylde's experience both relatable and cathartic. Her struggle to breakdown her entire world view-knowing that doing so would separate her from her family is brave, nuanced, and resonate for me. This is a well-written, deeply personal account of one woman's journey to discover her sexuality, face the myths of her childhood religion, and truly live. It is rare to find such a true and insightful story. Fans of Still Stace by Stacey Chomiak and Disobedient Women by Sarah Stankorb will enjoy this.

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Out of Focus is a memoir that guides the reader through the author’s journey of healing and self-acceptance. Coming from a household headed by a focus on the family employee, Amber Cantorna-Wylde was taught evangelical Christian values that resulted in years of self-harm and suppression of her true self.

This memoir is open and honest. Amber shares her vulnerable story surrounding family, faith, and love.

Stylistically, there’s elements of this that I didn’t enjoy, but that didn’t take away from the story being written.

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Cantorna-Wylde's memoir shares her story of being raised in a Christian conservative family and her journey to find her identity and accept her sexuality was emotional. We don't get the ending that we want and we feel her pain the whole way through, but that is what makes it real and relatable. My heart breaks for Cantorna-Wylde and the things she goes through. With that being said, her own growth and personal development is so inspiring. Cantorna-Wylde has to deal with more trauma than many will in her life, but through it all she grows as an individual, discovers her found family, and strengthens her personal faith.

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I think that reading this book helped heal part of me. I am so thankful that there are now books written by people who grew up similar enough to the ways that I did, so I can now point friends at the book and say, "Look, this is how I grew up. This is where I come from."

As an Awana kid who grew up on Focus on the Family and Adventures in Odyssey, I recognize the teachings that Cantorna-Wylde writes about. She talks about the conservatism of Colorado Springs, and I can only imagine the pain of growing up queer in that city. Out of Focus is the memoir of the daughter of a Focus on the Family executive, and I think that her journey and her painful leading have contributed to today's more open environment. It's the story of a life - Purity Culture, early crushes and gay experiences, the cracks showing, a break, and a rebuilding. She came out and got through it, and now she is helping other queer Christians (and the people who love them).

For me as a reader, books like this are helpful with labeling my own experiences. As anyone else who grew up evangelical knows, it's terrifying trying to break away and forge your own path. We need writers like Cantorna-Wylde to go before us, name the toxicity, and reassure us that we're not crazy. Confirmation that "yes, Focus on the Family actually does believe this" and "yes, that was wrong of that person to say that" is a sweet for the soul and healing to the bones. I would recommend this book to anyone else who grew up evangelical or who wants to understand more about how their evangelical friends grew up.

CW: There are mentions of self-harm and suicidal thoughts, which the author has thoughtfully asterisked to make it easier for readers to skip unsafe paragraphs. Big thank you to the author and publisher for doing this.

Thank you to Netgalley and Westminster John Knox Press for the e-ARC of this book.

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This is a tough memoir to read as a queer person who grew up surrounded by Christian evangelism. Necessary and thoughtful, but tough and personal.

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This book is beautiful, thoughtful and authentic. As a millennial who grew up in evangelical Christian culture, I found myself nodding along and screaming YES as I read. Courageous piece of writing, thank you for sharing your story with the world, Amber.

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Out of Focus is a heart wrenching, shocking story of resilience, fortitude, and self love. As someone fascinated by evangelical culture (specifically in the south), I had never heard of Focus on the Family. It was very interesting to learn more about.

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I grew up listening to Adventures in Odyssey and Focus on the Family was a large part of my life. But Amber Cantorna-Wylde REALLY lived it. Memoirs that portray living family members in a negative light are always tough to read; that being said, the author walked that line of tenderness quite well. I think this book can be helpful to a number of people who have left or are leaving evangelicalism, regardless of whether or not LGBTQIA+ sexuality is part of their story.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an honest review of this book. Unfortunately when I downloaded it, it was in a format I was unable to read/view. I tried downloading an app that said I would be able to view it and that did not work either. I look forward to this books release date as it sounded interesting reading from the perspective of someone who is church adjacent.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

While I did not grow up in an evangelical Christian household, I do enjoy reading about those who have. I found this memoir to be very raw and often upsetting. It somehow amazes me that parents can be so rigid in their belief systems that they are willing to break off a relationship with their child. I hope Amber finds peace and love outside of her immediate family.

This was a well-written memoir. The only thing that annoyed me (and I feel this way when I see it in any book), is the use of ?! or !? instead of ! or ? . I know this is picky, but it just strikes me as something that is more suited for a casual text between friends than a published memoir. I understand it's for emphasis, but it still annoys me.

My only other slight complaint is that at times, I felt the author was repeating herself.

Overall, I enjoyed this memoir, and definitely learned more (sadly) about Focus on the Family and their very anti-LGBTQ belief systems.

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When I read the introduction, and Amber shared that her father was Dave Arnold, the director of Adventures in Odyssey, my entire childhood flashed before my eyes. I'm well into young adulthood and the tumultuous world of my early 20s now, and I almost forgot how Focus on the Family and their self-declarative "family values" had such a chokehold on my world back then.

I was homeschooled under religious exemption to be sheltered from the secular world and the influence of Satan on the American public school system. Shit you not- these are words I heard verbatim as a kid and words I and many of my friends grew up believing. I still know people who believe these words and pray for me to return to myself and God by giving up secular notions like modern dating or building a career as a woman. After all, who needs a career when God will provide you with a husband and household to run if only you believe and pray hard enough?

Amber's story was very similar to my own. Late firsts delayed by crippling religious guilt and shame. Conviction that mental health issues stemmed from a lack of faith in God and not abnormal brain chemistry, let alone PTSD from being told that the world was going to boil and burn on a weekly basis. Amber tackles the toxicity of the brand of Christianity we were raised under and how hard it was to escape when we felt like saving ourselves was simultaneously condemning us to hell.

I wrote at the top of this review that I received this title in exchange for an honest review. It's a bit hard to be objective about something so moving and personal, especially considering how deeply I related to Amber and her journey. Regardless, if you see a little bit of yourself in this review, or in the synopsis of the book, I highly recommend grabbing a copy and a box of tissues. This book healed some wounds I didn't realize I still had.

Thank you, Amber, for being brave enough to share all of this and for creating a space for the rest of us to feel seen.

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A raw, touching memoir about growing up in an evangelical household and her journey in coming out. I really enjoyed this. The whole section leading up to her coming out to her family really had me feeling anxious. I felt like I was in the room with her! I really enjoyed reading how the author navigated the conflicts within her and also externally. I'm glad the author was able to see her worth, and also find a supportive community. I would recommend this for anybody in the religious community who is also struggling with who they are.

Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for an eARC of this book.

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Touching and relatable memoir about growing up in an evangelical family and the impact of coming out. This book is especially important because of the author's ties to Focus on the Family, which had (and still has) a tremendous influence on evangelical Christians. I really connected to her upbringing and the conflict she felt between her religion and sexuality. A must-read for people struggling with this same conflict.

Thank you, NetGalley, for the ARC.

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I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley, all opinions are mine.

A deeply sincere and painfully honest memoir about growing up in conservative Christianity - and specifically involvement in Focus on the Family - and then the author's gradual realisation of her own sexuality.

So this is a very different book to what i usually read, and that's simply because this is quite similar to my own story. I was raised as a Pentecostal Christian, and for most of my childhood at least one of my parents was a pastor at our local church as well. I didn't start to untangle the damage, nor realise that I was gay, until my early adulthood. A few years on now I find a lot of comfort in reading about others like me: their struggles, their strengths. We are not alone, not any one of us.

This book was heartbreaking and encouraging all at once. I really admire the author's unflinching honesty in exactly what went down and how, both externally in her community and internally. There's some great commentary on the actual history of FotF that you won't hear so often, and the importance of looking at issues like this from a place of intersectionality. Any relevant trigger warnings are mentioned up front and then clearly marked throughout.

My only critical comment is that some of the phrasing gets a touch repetitive after a while, but apart from that this is a very solid memoir. Highly recommend if you're interested at all in the intersections of queerness and faith!

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This is a very interesting book by Amber. He is the daughter. of a family. that is involved with focus on the family with James Dobson. there is drama, tragedy, and pain in this book. There are a few trigger warnings. about self harm. This is an amazing story about Amer as she comes out as a gay person. I recommend this book for those who want to lean about the experience of a gay person in a Christian community.

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Thank you so much to the author for writing this. By the time I hit the last part of the book, I had to put it down because I had started to cry. The vulnerability and honesty in this book is heartbreaking yet affirming. I did not grow up in evangelical Christianity, but I was raised very religious, and I heavily related to a lot of what this book discusses (purity culture, misogyny, shame culture, etc.). Also, like the author, I have TTM (Trichotillomania) and hearing from someone else who shares that and knows what the shame is like is so validating. I am currently in a long-term heterosexual relationship, but even so I know I'll never tell my dad I'm biromantic, because I don't want to experience what I know he would say. I'm lucky to be able to hide it, in that sense, but I still deal with shame around purity culture (living with my partner before marriage, for example).

I loved this book and want to send the author all of my best wishes and energy to keep navigating the challenges life has thrown her way. Please know the time and effort (both physical and emotional) in writing this book has made a difference to one person, and I'm sure it will to many more. I know I will be recommending it to others, especially people who grew up in religious households similar to the one the author describes.

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