Trigger warning for the subjects of clerical child abuse and pedophilia.
This is a book in two very distinct parts. The first part unpacks itself slowly, the world seen through a young boy’s eyes, the beautiful descriptions of nature threatened by a very ugly evil that finally bares its face, becoming a secret that is held inside for decades. The second part takes on a more rapid pace, where our protagonist Jake finds a way to start his own healing process and to make a difference. It’s a fictional story, and many of the elements relate to Canada but it is also a story that resonates worldwide.
Father Sweet is the story of an abusive priest who has convinced himself that his sexual abuse of young boys is godly and pure, and one of the children he abuses. Jake loves nature, he loves his small home town, and he loves being a Scout. All of this changes when his parents push him to go on a camping trip with the town’s revered Catholic priest, Father Sweet. Years later, after Jake’s father dies, he discovers boxes of files in his childhood home, the legacy of his father’s hand, as well as the Catholic Church’s, in the abuse and death of many native children. Father Sweet takes us on a sordid journey of a network of abuse, where abusers never face the law, and survivors are left in pieces, some following in their abusers footprints, some abandoning all hope. It also lays open Canada’s terrible history of abuse, racism, kidnapping, and murder of First Nations.
This story was a tough read in terms of subject matter. I appreciated the author’s sensitive approach in their descriptions of events, and their use of metaphors rather than unnecessary details. It made it easier for me to read the darkest parts. At first I had a bit of a hard time getting into the book, as the narration felt a little childlike, which was purposefully so as we are looking at the world through a young boy’s eyes. Once I set my mind to that I enjoyed the tone, and it helped me understand the chain of events better, and ultimately why Jake reacts in the way he does.
The author does a great job of tying in several very tough topics, and laying them out in the open. There is no happy red bow at the end, but a mission towards truth, with a wide view on how deep, and dark the network and covering up of clerical abuse is. I would have liked to see a more detailed approach on how the authorities are tackling the abuse, as there is quite a lot of detail on how the priests cover it up, but not enough on how it is being broken down. That is the only part I think that was slightly lacking in the story itself.
Thanks to Netgalley and Dundurn for the advance copy of this novel!