100-Character Breakdown: A heart-shattering memoir about identity and empathy with elegant prose and nonlinear storytelling.
Genre: Memoir, LGBTQ
Publisher: Riverhead Books (May 2016)
With the blend of his elegant prose and nonlinear storytelling, Garrard Conley forms a heart-shattering narrative about his experience in ex-gay therapy. As the son of Missionary Baptist parents — with his father being a leader in the small Arkansas town’s religious community — religion is integral to Conley’s life. His memoir Boy Erased blends the story of his life before college, his freshman year of college, and his experience in ex-gay therapy. After another male at his college rapes him, the man calls Conley’s parents, outing him and leading to Conley’s two-week experience at Love in Action. This twelve-step program is reminiscent of addiction programs, replacing drugs or alcohol with homosexuality.
Rather than just exploring his own struggles through this process, Conley makes an effort to empathize with his parents. His representation of their story and character adds depth and complexity to the narrative; this memoir is as much about family as it is about individual identity. Although the memoir intricately unravels Conley’s experience at Love in Action, it doesn’t devote all that much space to directly describe his time there. Instead, the memoir pieces together all of the moments that bring Conley there, from his family to his time at college to when he was raped. The artful and well-crafted prose drives the reader to empathy. And even the small chunks of the memoir devoted to Love in Action are enough to provide the reader with understanding of the manipulatively therapeutic language the organization uses and the complicated pasts of each of the other people going through the conversion therapy. It is powerful when a book can simultaneously forge empathy while also demonstrating how damaging something like conversion therapy can be. Boy Erased is a phenomenal memoir about an essential topic — it is without a doubt a must-read.