Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
James Baldwin has long been on my list of authors to read. And Go Tell It on the Mountain is on TIME’s 100 novels list. I thought I’d start there. I also want to read Giovanni’s Room, which is considered prominent in LGBT fiction, but first I need to get through the books in my library stack and on my shelf. But I’ll say this: Go Tell It on the Mountain is a terrific place to start.
Go Tell It on the Mountain is the story of a spiritual, sexual, and emotional awakening in a Harlem Pentecostal Church. Our protagonist is John Grimes, a 14-year-old boy, somewhat based on Baldwin himself. His stepfather is a religious fanatic and preacher. He is confused about his place in the world, his feelings towards Christianity, and his fascination for Elisha, an older boy in the church. The novel explores this moment in time, as well as the histories of his aunt, stepfather, mother, and biological father amidst the frame of prayer and biblical imagery.
This is not just a novel but an experience. Baldwin is a master of language and plot, and he weaves in themes of religious identity and sexual awakening seamlessly against the frame of prayer meeting and charismatic worship. There are undertones of homosexuality and bisexuality, which add an interesting layer to the religious structure and practice of the Grimes family. Further, hearing the women’s stories, along with Gabriel’s, provides a really complex family dynamic that gives context to some of the characters’ extreme choices. I wish more time had been spent on John, but otherwise, this is an interesting novel by an incredibly talented writer.