Coaltown Jesus

Coaltown Jesus

3.0 1
by Ron Koertge, Nick Podehl

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When Jesus shows up in Walker’s life, healing triumphs over heartbreak in Koertge’s finest and funniest novel yet.

Walker shouldn’t have been so surprised to find Jesus standing in the middle of his bedroom. After all, he’d prayed for whoever was up there to help him, and to help his mom, who hadn’t stopped crying since Noah died


When Jesus shows up in Walker’s life, healing triumphs over heartbreak in Koertge’s finest and funniest novel yet.

Walker shouldn’t have been so surprised to find Jesus standing in the middle of his bedroom. After all, he’d prayed for whoever was up there to help him, and to help his mom, who hadn’t stopped crying since Noah died two months ago. But since when have prayers actually been answered? And since when has Jesus been so . . . irreverent? But as astounding as Jesus’ sudden appearance is, it’s going to take more than divine intervention for Walker to come to terms with his brother’s sudden death. Why would God take seventeen-year-old Noah when half of the residents in his mom’s nursing home were waiting to die? And why would he send Jesus to Coaltown, Illinois, to pick up the pieces? In a spare and often humorous text, renowned poet Ron Koertge tackles some of life’s biggest questions — and humanizes the divine savior in a way that highlights the divinity in all of us.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Writing in free verse, Koertge (Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses) shows how a personal relationship with Jesus aids a guilt-stricken 14-year-old. It isn’t just a turn of phrase—Jesus actually manifests in Walker’s bedroom after the boy makes a desperate prayer on behalf of his grieving mother. Walker thinks he’s going crazy (no one else can see Jesus, though his laughter can shake a building), yet their irreverently funny conversations begin to help in ways that readers will gradually pick up on. Koertge’s Jesus is one who considers a smile to be something holy and who tells Walker, “There are limit to even my miracles,” when the teen asks to become a better basketball player. “In the Bible, you’re always so serious,” Walker says. “You’re serious enough for both of us,” Jesus responds. Koertge parcels out details about Noah’s death, and the question of “why” looms over the story, as does the idea that God helps those who help themselves. It’s a fast read, but one with substance—the conversations linger, and the healing that takes place is subtle. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
Koertge’s verse novel ... is a good vehicle for meditations on life, loss, and faith. A spare and memorable work.
—The Horn Book (starred review)
VOYA - Christina Miller
Koertge tackles tough subjects in his award-winning books and stories (The Brimstone Journals [Candlewick, 2001/VOYA August 2001]; Stoner & Spaz [Candlewick, 2002/VOYA April 2002]; Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses [Candlewick, 2012/VOYA June 2012] and many more). Coaltown Jesus, written in verse like several of his other books, is no exception. Following the recent death of his older brother, fourteen-year-old Walker and his mother are in the throes of grief and despair. In desperation one night, Walker looks up to the dark sky and says, "If you're up there, help my mom, ok?" Later that evening, Jesus appears in Walker's bedroom. Jesus, though contemporary, sarcastic, and snide, helps Walker sort out his feelings and appreciate the miracles of everyday life, that life goes on, and love is all. This book's poetic form is a well-chosen vehicle for its emotional content, strong message, and powerful ending. The story is an excellent portrayal of grief, letting go, healing, hope, and coming to terms with loss. In spite of its title and Jesus character, this book will appeal to teens, Christian or not, experiencing grief and loss. Reviewer: Christina Miller
Children's Literature - Janice DeLong
A novel in verse, this story tackles the difficult topic of the death of a sibling and the depth of pain experienced within a family reeling from grief, self-recrimination, and withdrawal from each other. Into this milieu steps Jesus—yes, that One. Shocked by the appearance of the second person of the Trinity, fourteen-year-old Walker is, although unbelieving at first, ready to acknowledge the companionship of Jesus and an easy rapport is established. The inevitable question arises of why has Walker’s brother Noah died instead of some of the old people in his mom’s nursing home, followed by other poignant and piercing probes. Through speaking Walker’s language, Jesus enables the teen to trust and also to realize that neither he nor his mom could have prevented Noah’s death. Every person is responsible for his own actions and their consequences. Although people of faith may find the book irreverent, those who have never come “face to face” with Jesus may discover deeper truth here than in many a sermon. In the end, Koertge offers food for thought and discussion for any reader, regardless of religious background. Reviewer: Janice DeLong; Ages 12 up.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—How do siblings and others who remain behind cope with suicide? Walker's world is gray; he's haunted by memories of Noah's anger and the fights that his older brother often had with their mother. Now that he is dead, Mom cries every day. There seems to be no healing possible, no resolution, until Jesus strolls into Coaltown, Missouri. Not exactly the biblical Jesus, but one who appears only to infants, the dying, and to Walker. In this spare free-verse novel, Koertge's Jesus likes his mom's cooking, has a bad back, tells jokes about the old days, performs card tricks, and is happy with his flowing locks. He spends much of his time "going about his father's business" as well as helping Walker rediscover the light and joy surrounding him. At times, the writing is edgy and may tear the envelope that holds the traditional Jesus; but in spirit, the book honors Christianity and the healing power of love. Teens will be delighted with the jokes, the freshness, and the slightly subversive take on what is holy. When Jesus is asked by Walker if he needs a shower, he responds, "I'm pretty much spotless." Christians and others will appreciate the necessary miracle of human love. When Jesus leaves Coaltown, Walker watches "the sky/take off its party clothes and slip into/the comfortable pajamas of dusk."—Teresa Pfeifer, The Springfield Renaissance School, Springfield, MA
School Library Journal - Audio
Gr 8 Up—Fourteen-year-old Walker is still reeling from the death of his older brother, Noah. Though he doesn't expect a response, he prays for help for himself and his mother, and he's stunned when Jesus appears in his bedroom. This Jesus is unlike the man Walker has read about: he's hip, witty, and somewhat irreverent, yet he encompasses a reassuring and gentle benevolence that helps Walker begin to come to terms with his brother's death. Told in sparse verse, Koertge's simple, poetic novel (Candlewick, 2013) translates well to audio. While the themes are serious-coping with the unexpected death of a loved one, strained family dynamics, the nature of friendship-Koertge successfully manages to keep the tone light without sacrificing the story's substance, which is even more impressive since the prose could have very easily slipped into an overly religious or didactic tone. Fortunately, Nick Podehl's narration remains faithful to the text, embodying Walker's fluctuating emotions and Jesus's quick-witted humor with poignancy. Although Walker is the story's protagonist, it's Podehl's portrayal of Jesus that really drives the narrative. With flawless comedic timing and understated compassion, he humanizes Jesus, allowing listeners, regardless of their religious affiliation, to relate to the character on a personal level.—Audrey Sumser, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Mayfield, OH
Kirkus Reviews
Months after his brother's death, an anguished teen finds his prayers for help answered in a surprising way. In this tender free-verse narrative, Koertge explores quite literally the notion of faith as a balm in the wake of devastating loss. Walker and his mother live upstairs in the small-town nursing home she owns and are still racked with grief two months after troubled 17-year-old Noah's sudden passing. Despondent over his mother's sadness, 14-year-old Walker prays for help, and soon after, Jesus shows up, looking--in Walker's estimation--"just like / your pictures" yet acting slightly less godlike than imagined. Koertge's Jesus cracks lame jokes, takes to Wheaties and Almond Joys, and appears to have slightly limited powers. Visible only to Walker and select individuals, Jesus nonetheless exhibits rather classically cryptic omniscience and can't quite answer Walker's central existential question: "Why now?" he demands. "I prayed / to God like a thousand times. And what / happened? Noah died. Didn't God look / downstairs? It's a nursing home. Half / my mom's clients are ready to check / out. But he picks a kid." Koertge's tight, spare verse captures the ineffable qualities of fraught relations and emotions. The generosity of spirit Walker exhibits makes this protagonist one easy for teen readers to not only empathize with, but emulate. Didactic yet not preachy, Koertge's tale offers much food for thought. (Fiction/poetry. 12 & up)

Product Details

Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 6.75(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
12 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

Ron Koertge is the author of many award-winning novels, including Shakespeare Bats Cleanup; Strays; Deadville; Margaux with an X; The Brimstone Journals; and The Arizona Kid. A two-time winner of the PEN Literary Award for Children’s Literature, Ron Koertge lives in South Pasadena, California.

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Coaltown Jesus 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Brunette_Librarian More than 1 year ago
Told in verse, Coaltown Jesus shares the story of a young teen who has just lost his brother to a drug overdose. Praying every night for help because his mother cries so much, Walker is surprised when Jesus appears to him in his bedroom. When he asks Jesus to help his mother, Jesus disagrees and tells him he’s there to help Walker instead. Though Jesus’ methods seem indifferent at times, Walker slowly realizes that he isn’t handling the death of his brother quite as well as he seems to think. Whether Jesus is a real figure in his life or just an imagining of his mind is never clearly stated but either way, Jesus’ time in Coaltown helps both Walker and his mother understand that life isn’t always easy or clean but love and understanding will heal us all.