Reviewed by Ashton Borden

Godshot by Chelsea Bieker, New York: Catapult, 336 pages, $26.00

How does one weave a complex web of tales? How does one knit together the threads of transition, growing up, and the relationships between women? Between mothers and daughters and friendships? Godshot is a bildungsroman novel by Chelsea Bieker. It is her debut novel, and she has another story coming out in 2022 entitled HEARTBROKE. This novel was longlisted for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize and is the first of (hopefully) many novels to come by this promising new voice. Bieker currently teaches in Portland, Oregon, where she dwells with her family. According to Chelsea Bieker, the answer lies in a cult-like religion, abandonment, and the everlasting search for something more. The characters of this novel grapple with the unknown and balancing their faith in God. How does one keep faith in God when the land is dry as the desert and the harvest has failed? The answer seemingly lies in Pastor Vern, a charismatic leader of the Gifts of the Spirit Church. Lacey May Herd, the protagonist of this story, searches for the answers to all of life’s pressing questions in a plethora of places: she searches in God’s name through her church, through a man who claims to be the next messiah who will bring rain upon the drought-plagued town of Peaches, California, she searches in the dubbed “Devil’s den” for her mother, and she searches among old romance novels for some semblance of herself in the hopes of connecting with her mother.

This is a tale of discovering one’s self and balancing religion, love, and family, told from a new perspective of a young girl who has an unstable relationship with her mother (one that perhaps many of us can relate to). She is deceived by many and must learn to forge her own path and make her own decisions. This is a tale of discovering truth, and the evil that rests in the hearts of others, the good that lies in the hearts of those we least expect, and the good and the bad that comes out of everyone. Godshot is a feminist tale, one that weaves webs around women and creates support structures – which directly opposes the relationships she forms with various men and women poisoned by misogyny. Lacey May, while a bit naïve, is an explorer in her own right: she makes discoveries daily, and treads through life on her own, with the illusion of support – until she meets the women that will change her world forever and enlighten her with true strength.  

Bieker’s work can be approached with any amount of knowledge about feminism and cult religion; the tale speaks for itself within the present tropes and themes. The story begs readers to fall into its pages and absorb the goings-on just as Lacey May must. This will enrich the experience of the reader and provide a passenger-seat-like perspective from it all. The story begs readers to be present, in the moment and experience it all as Lacey May does. This way, the reader is thrust into the story at full-speed and makes discoveries alongside the young protagonist – about religion, relationships, trust, faith, and love – about what it all means.

This debut novel unpacks many intricacies within the world of young girls and the role feminism may play into their lives. The story adds a sense of newness to a long-discussed topic while using ages-old concepts – particularly those of religious leaders and congregations abusing women, failing women, and attempting to control women. This is a tale unlike any other; Lacey May is young and vibrant and fails to lose her spark throughout the novel – if anything, her fire only increases with her revelations, and as she grows older and (slightly) wiser. This is a story that adds to the feminist conversation; young girls across the world may be interested in reading this novel so that they can learn of deceptions and betrayals and of proper support structures and the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships. The author is successful in creating an environment in which every character has a particular role that they fulfill, but they feel three-dimensional. Everyone has a purpose, even the most minor of characters, and they all feel like real people you might encounter in the real world, which is essential in furthering the feminist cause and taking control over one’s self.

Overall, the book discusses important topics regarding family, friendship, and feminism and relies heavily on popular themes. However, Bieker utilizes these popular themes in ways that are new and creative. Readers are bound to feel inspired after reading her work, either to participate in activist movements or to put pen to paper and flesh out their own feminist works. The tale of desperation and craving, of faith and hypocrisy, of love and distaste, is one to remember. Bieker has laid a foundation for modern critique on systems and social movements other authors will be sure to utilize.