Two profound events change teenager Hope Cassidy’s life. First, she catches her dad jamming out to classic rock ’n’ roll, an explicit violation of her mother’s strict religious code of conduct. In that moment, Hope is introduced not only to rock music but also to rebellion.
Second, Hope’s older sister, Faith, runs away from home. After their younger sister, Charity, hears that Faith has been locking lips with the cute girl who works at the record shop, she tells their mom, who decides to send Faith to a camp that practices so-called conversion therapy. Faith’s disappearance paralyzes Hope’s entire family. As weeks turn into months and eventually an entire year without Faith, their home becomes a pit of despair.
Hope, who describes herself as “born full of swear words,” spews rage as she rebels in her sister’s absence, while remaining hopeful that she might be able to find Faith. She gets a questionable tattoo from a questionable but cute boy, finds catharsis in a private karaoke room where she hones her Janis Joplinesque pipes, and most consequently, invites her longtime crush, Danny, to move in after he is kicked out of his house for revealing to his family that he is gay. When Danny discovers that Hope can sing, he talks her into forming a rock band.
And that’s just the beginning. Alt-Rite, a hate-fueled band fronted by Danny’s twin brother, is favored to win the annual battle of the bands, but not if Hope Cassidy and the Sundance Kids have anything to say about it. Hope discovers a lesbian sci-fi novella that has been going viral online but seems very familiar. And at home, Hope’s mom accepts Danny with open arms in an effort to relearn what it means to be a “good Christian.”
Preston Norton’s Hopepunk is perhaps the most foulmouthed, punk rock book to ever be written about religion and forgiveness. It’s stellar. Jampacked with plot and overflowing with characters who turn from hilarious to downhearted on a dime, it is a wonder that instead of seeming dense and manic, Hopepunk is instead clever and precise.
Norton pulls off several impressive hat tricks. He tells a layered and complex story about forgiveness and family. They also write a surprisingly emotional sci-fi romance story-within-a-story and original songs that you can practically hear through the page. Hope is emotional, funny and crass, like a wounded insult comic who, instead of landing punchlines, wails melodies to speak her truth. Norton surrounds her with a cast of diverse and interesting friends and allies who want to help her find Faith and her own voice.
Hopepunk is both a balm and a call to action. “Art means nothing without the people who experience it,” says one of Hope’s bandmates. When it comes to reading Hopepunk, oh, what an experience!