TONY DUSHANE'S debut novel Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk is a disarmingly sweet collection of scenes from the life of Gabe, a fictional Jehovah's Witness boy surging with teenaged lust and guilt. Gabe's desire for any kind of sexual knowledge constantly battles with the Witnesses' belief that the apocalypse is coming any day and that sinners (including masturbators and non-married fornicators) will be killed by God, missing a chance to live eternally in the "new system"—a post-Armageddon earth of untold riches and jungle cats as pets.
The world that Dushane exposes is simultaneously funny and heartbreaking: The adult Brothers and Sisters overcompensate for deep wells of shame with stern adherence to the edicts of monthly religious publication The Watchtower, while their teenage children yearn for the answers to forbidden questions. But what could be bitter caricatures prove themselves deeper as Gabe's worldview too deepens.
As the novel progresses, underlying sadness threatens to overwhelm its wit. Thankfully, though, Gabe's interior dialogue is constantly funny, a fevered litany of PG-13 desires. Despite Jesus Jerk's religious trappings, its center is the universal theme of growing up awkward and horny. The humor that emerges is familiar and painfully honest—less Porky's, more The Squid and the Whale. By keeping his focus small, Dushane does the hard work of making Jehovah's Witnesses perfectly relatable before making you damn glad you didn't grow up as one.