This “fiercely written and endlessly readable” novel of a teenage girl in thrall to a magnetic—and terrifying—preacher who promises to save her dying town is “a godsend” (Entertainment Weekly).
Drought has settled on the town of Peaches, California. The area of the Central Valley where fourteen-year-old Lacey May and her alcoholic mother live was once an agricultural paradise. Now it’s an environmental disaster, a place of cracked earth and barren raisin farms. In their desperation, residents have turned to a cult leader named Pastor Vern for guidance. He promises, through secret “assignments,” to bring the rain everybody is praying for.
Lacey has no reason to doubt the pastor. But then her life explodes in a single unimaginable act of abandonment: her mother, exiled from the community for her sins, leaves Lacey and runs off with a man she barely knows. Abandoned and distraught, Lacey May moves in with her widowed grandma, Cherry, who is more concerned with her taxidermy mouse collection than her own granddaughter. As Lacey May endures the increasingly appalling acts of men who want to write all the rules and begins to uncover the full extent of Pastor Vern’s shocking plan to bring fertility back to the land, she decides she must go on a quest to find her mother no matter what it takes. With her only guidance coming from the romance novels she reads and the unlikely companionship of the women who knew her mother, she must find her own way through unthinkable circumstances.
Possessed of an unstoppable plot and a brilliantly soulful voice, Godshot is a book of grit and humor and heart, a debut novel about female friendship and resilience, mother-loss and motherhood, and seeking salvation in unexpected places. It introduces a writer who gives Flannery O’Connor’s Gothic parables a Californian twist and who emerges with a miracle that is all her own.
“[A] haunting debut . . . This is a harrowing tale, which Bieker smartly writes through the lens of a teenager on the cusp of understanding the often fraught relationship between religion and sexuality . . . It's a timely and disturbing portrait of how easily men can take advantage of vulnerable women—and the consequences sink in more deeply with each page."—Annabel Gutterman, Time
“Drawn in brilliant, bizarre detail—baptism in warm soda, wisdom from romance novels—Lacey's twin crises of faith and femininity tangle powerfully. Fiercely written and endlessly readable, a novel like this is a godsend. A-.”—Mary Sollosi, Entertainment Weekly
“[An] absolute masterpiece . . . Imagine if Annie Proulx wrote something like White Oleander crossed with Geek Love or Cruddy, and then add cults, God, motherhood, girlhood, class, deserts, witches, the divinity of women . . . Terrifying, resplendent, and profoundly moving, this book will leave you changed." —T Kira Madden, author of Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls
“Godshot is wise, tough, electrifying, beautiful―every raw detail sings true. Chelsea Bieker writes about pain and resilience like nobody else.” ―Leni Zumas, author of Red Clocks
"Godshot is the kind of book you find yourself thinking about incessantly. By turns desolate and rich, Chelsea Bieker's novel lets a parched tongue find relief in its pages. It is a book about the kind of salvation we can find in other people, but also about the miracle of finding that kind of all-consuming love inside ourselves. It is tenderness and trauma. It is violence. It's sorting through the mess, looking for answers. Bieker is a dynamo, and Godshot is a beautiful blow to the heart." ―Kristen Arnett, author of Mostly Dead Things
"I cried as I finished reading Godshot. It's a novel of rebirth: baptism and heartbreak, daughterhood and motherhood. Lacey May is a yearning, whip-smart, brokenhearted believer, and I miss her now that the novel has ended. Chelsea Bieker has written a wholly real and beautifully written coming-of-age tale that is sure to be an instant classic." ―Lindsay Hunter, author of Eat Only When You're Hungry
"Filled with the raw need of zealotry, Godshot embodies all the glitter and despair of a tent revival. Lacey May is its voice, a girl whose adolescence is amplified by desperation. Her mother has run off and she’s stuck in Peaches, California: more of a memory than a place, and gripped by both a ruinous drought and a homespun cult. Pastor Vern has a plan for her and all the girls, a grimly ridiculous teen pregnancy-based scheme to induce the rain that will save their town. And she has always been an obedient follower—until she isn’t. As strange as it all sounds, Chelsea Bieker achieves a perfect balance of camp, darkness, and beauty so that this is a book to be taken seriously. It’s a gorgeously melancholy exploration of girlhood, feminine power, and our search for salvation and I can’t stop thinking about it." —Lauren Peugh, Bookseller, Elliott Bay Book Company (Seattle, WA)
"Godshot by Chelsea Bieker has everything I could want in a novel: cults, crazed pastors, and characters questioning what it means to be a girl and mother. Set in a small town in California plagued by drought, a cult-like church has formed around a crazed pastor intent on ending the drought. Abandoned by her mother for a many she barely knows, Lacey May—just fourteen—becomes the focus of Pastor Vern's insane plan to bring rain back to the town. As she embarks on a mission to find her mother, she has to come to terms with the horrible circumstances Vern has put her and the town in. Godshot is dark, fierce, and brilliant, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since I finished it." —Sarah Cassavant, Bookseller, SubText Books (St. Paul, MN)
"Godshot announces the arrival of a powerful new voice. Chelsea Bieker’s debut novel kept me mesmerized till the very end. I felt the heat, the sand, the want, the confusion, and the pain on every page. This is the sundrenched California nightmare of Claire Vaye Watkins and Joan Didion, and yet it is also an incredible story of resilience and rebirth. Godshot is sure to be one of the most talked about novels of the year." —Emily Ballaine, Store Manager/Events Coordinator, Green Apple Books on the Park (San Francisco, CA)
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 132 members
I haven’t read a book I liked as much as Godshot in a long time. Chelsea Bieker’s debut novel lays bare the desperation of a once-thriving California valley town in the time of climate change, where people would do anything - and believe anything - it takes to be delivered from the drought. Enter Pastor Verne, a charismatic leader who presides over the Gifts of the Spirit congregation, promising that if they stick to their assignments and don’t question his divinity, he will perform a miracle and bring back the rain. Lacy Mae is a 14 year old girl whose alcoholic mother ran off with an unknown man and left her in Peaches with her grandmother Cherry and the rest of Verne’s fervent believers. As things begin to break down and Lacey starts to question her faith in Verne, she reckons with what it means to have faith, to be a woman, to be a mother and a part of a family. I don’t want to spoil the novel at all but I will say it is a modern masterpiece of feminist liberation that is in turns deeply troubling and heartbreaking and also empowering and joyful. I’ve already told everyone who will listen that they should preorder this for next April; it’s going to be one of the best books of 2020. One final note - Bieker’s writing is tight and the story strong, but I did feel the flash-forward final chapter tied things up in too neat a bundle that felt a little trite (I think the ending would have been more compelling without it). Thanks Netgalley and Catapult for giving me the opportunity to read this one early! I can’t wait to see the reactions people have to it when it hits the world next spring.
An un-put-downable saga of the raw strength it takes to live in the Californian desert while trying to find the mother that left you in the hands of your grandmother and the local cult. Edgy, harsh, but still beautiful. Godshot is a must read!
4.5 stars. The only reason I didn't give 5 stars was because the ending felt slightly rushed. Otherwise, I thought the writing, pacing, and character development were all great. I will definitely be recommending this title to friends, family, and patrons.
I try to save the phrase "un-put-downable" for certain few books, but this book absolutely deserves it. I read it in almost a single sitting and instantly regretted how quickly I devoured it. This book is required reading for women, but it's *necessary* reading for men. I can't remember the last time a book so viscerally transported me back to what it felt like to be a young woman trying to make her voice heard.
Godshot by Chelsea Bieker is penetrating and addictive. It follows Lacy Mae, a 14 year old girl whose mother ran away, as she is left behind in the desert with her grandmother and culty pastor. This book is a complete reckoning of a young girls identity as she questions faith and womanhood.
Worth the hype it received on social media. This was the book everyone was talking about for great reason.