People, I'm so relieved. Because it would have really sucked to write this post if I wouldn't have liked Matthew's book. Lucky for me, it lived up to all the hype. :)
First things first: I love his writing style. There's not a moment of lag during the entire tale, and you see where his active imagination as a child pays off. Without even trying you are in his childhood kitchen as he tries so diligently to avoid the sin of dillydallying, or sitting on the bus as he turns people away from sitting in the seat he saved for Jesus. Matthew is a storyteller through and through. And he manages to find humor in the things most of us wouldn't.
In truth, Matthew and I couldn't have had more different religious upbringings. As a member of the Independent Bible Baptist Church, Matthew's family would have been praying for the souls of my Catholic family in hopes we'd become Christians. While we both went to private Christian schools, my textbooks contained information on evolution and his explained that dinosaurs are extinct because Noah couldn't fit them on the ark.
You know, little differences like that.
I think the biggest difference is that, while I knew that hell and the devil were real, they were the side note during the lessons about how much Jesus loves us, forgives us and wants us to choose right because we love him, too.
As Matthew explained, hell was the major component of the belief system he was raised on. That came through brilliantly in his retelling of the boxing matches between his pastor and the devil in red leggings on the altar of the church... or when the Sunday school teacher pulled out a Barbie and lit her on fire to show them how hot and scary hell would be if they ever sinned or smoked. The fact that he managed to tell those stories in a way that didn't belittle anyone and had me laughing out loud means that Matthew has a gift.
What struck me most is that while we lived such different lives, there were so many ways I could still relate. As kids we all have big imaginations and questions. I had my own rules I was nervous about: like the Sunday morning shortly after I had made my first communion and I came to my mom in tears because there was only 45 minutes until church and I had just eaten cereal... breaking the rule of not eating an hour before communion. I was just lucky to have a mom that helped me figure out that communion was a good half hour into the Mass so I had still met the deadline.
There were times in the book when I was laughing out loud on every page, times when I wanted to reach back in time and put my arm around the kid who was scared something horrible would happen to his mother as punishment for forgetting to read his bible passages that morning, and times I could relate to the confusion of a kid that wanted to do right even when he wasn't sure what right was.
Matthew opened my eyes to a world I have never experienced, and did it in a way that allowed me to relate to him... his transparency and sincerity made this a book that taught me something new, took me back to old memories and reminded me that at the end of the day we all want to do our best... some just go about it much differently than others.