Well, the local library remains closed, so today we’re raiding my husband’s books again! This time, we’re analyzing a Young Adult Fiction book he had to read in high school. I stumbled across the curiously titled The Gospel According to Larry and had to figure out why a private Christian school would assign this book. Let’s look at faith and philosophy in The Gospel According to Larry by Janet Tashjian.
“The Gospel According to Larry” by Janet Tashjian
First and foremost, I really liked Tashjian’s structure for the book. She wrote it as if the main character, Josh, had authored the book, and she merely published it. As part of Josh’s highly intellectual character, the book follows Chicago style formatting with footnotes and designated “parts” rather than numbered chapters. Honestly, the footnotes create some of the funniest moments in this book. (The Princess Bride uses this same author/note structure for humor, and it’s one of my favorites.) Because Josh excels in academics, the first person perspective still reflects Tashjian’s knowledge of writing craft. Every detail matters, words aren’t wasted, and tension ratchets higher than I ever expected.
Unfortunately, that’s about where my love of The Gospel According to Larry ends. I’ll be honest, this book reminded me why I don’t like the Young Adult genre. (Must all YA books reference sex every couple of chapters?) However, I’ll chalk that up to hormones and not fault Tashjian for including the subject that occupies the minds of many high schoolers. (Note: many, not all.) I had several friends in high school who, if they didn’t entirely match Josh’s description, definitely leaned that direction. So, Tashjian very accurately reflected how many students with high IQs responded to high school society.
Faith and Philosophy
Perhaps philosophy influenced why I felt so many mixed emotions reading The Gospel According to Larry. I just don’t hold as strictly anti-consumerist views as Josh perpetuated. Admittedly, Tashjian shows Josh learn how fighting against advertising destroyed the livelihoods of hard-working people, including his step-father. While I liked the lesson Josh ultimately learns, I really struggled reading through his blazing “sermons” on consumerism and celebrity worship. (Especially when they were passive-aggressive jabs at his best friend.)
Faith in The Gospel According to Larry conflicted me even more. Each part of the book begins with a verse from one of the Gospels referencing Jesus as Messiah or His teachings. However, Josh really leans towards Hindu or Native American religions if he embraces religion at all. He prays to his dead mother and seeks signs from her. He reads Thoreau as if it were his holy book. On the one hand, I admired how Tashjian pulled the best teachings from multiple genres to create a compassionate philosophy. However, linking Josh to the terms “Messiah” and “Gospel” really bothered me. It felt like it diminished my Christian beliefs while promoting faithless philosophy.
Since I threw my husband’s education under the bus at the beginning of the post, I have to add that I admire his school for assigning The Gospel According to Larry. As a Christian, this book challenges me to think through my beliefs and how they relate to the real world. Providing a space to critically analyze their beliefs at an early age prepares students for when they face antagonistic philosophies later in life. All of that said, I would recommend students read this book if they have a wise mentor to help them process their thoughts and feelings. Without someone to discuss the book with, I fear the struggle and confusion the book could cause some students.