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Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family

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A beautiful, raw and compassionate memoir about identity, love and understanding. Now a major motion picture starring Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and Lucas Hedges, directed by Joel Edgerton..

The son of a Baptist pastor and deeply embedded in church life in small town Arkansas, as a young man Garrard Conley was terrified and conflicted about his sexuality.

When Garrard was a nineteen-year-old college student, he was outed to his parents, and was forced to make a life-changing decision: either agree to attend a church-supported conversion therapy program that promised to “cure” him of homosexuality; or risk losing family, friends, and the God he had prayed to every day of his life. Through an institutionalized Twelve-Step Program heavy on Bible study, he was supposed to emerge heterosexual, ex-gay, cleansed of impure urges and stronger in his faith in God for his brush with sin. Instead, even when faced with a harrowing and brutal journey, Garrard found the strength and understanding to break out in search of his true self and forgiveness.

By confronting his buried past and the burden of a life lived in shadow, Garrard traces the complex relationships among family, faith, and community. At times heart-breaking, at times triumphant, this memoir is a testament to love that survives despite all odds.

340 pages, Paperback

First published May 10, 2016

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Garrard Conley

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,211 reviews
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,532 followers
November 10, 2018
This book, an account of Garrard Conley’s experiences in a Southern gay conversion therapy program called Love In Action, was a big disappointment.

I’d seen and reviewed the world premiere film adaptation of the book at the Toronto Film Festival, so I was curious to see how it had been adapted to the screen.

In this case, the movie, although it shares some structural problems with the book, is much better. It’s got a sharper dramatic arc and sense of momentum; it illustrates scenes that are merely hinted at on the page; and, of course, it’s got a terrific cast, headed by the sensitive Lucas Hedges as the 19-year-old Jared (named changed) and Oscar winners Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman as Jared’s parents, a Baptist pastor and his wife. The ending, which flashes forward several years, is also more satisfying than the non-ending we get in the book.

The book is earnest, sombre, often overwritten and confusingly structured. Conley can’t walk by a piece of grass without describing it in faux poetic terms and telling us how it reminds him of something that happened to him when he was younger.

And he doesn’t even convey what should be de rigueur for a book like this: what those early inklings of attractions to people of the same sex were like for him growing up, and how that difference separated him from others.

One of the most striking sequences in the film – involving a night time run and seeing a homoerotic bus shelter ad – isn’t even in the book. It’s as if writer/director Joel Edgerton realized something crucial was missing from the book and so added it.

Instead, we’re given rambling passages about seeing The Passion Of The Christ with college friends – two African-American twins who are studying music. We circle around events (like getting his testosterone levels checked by his family doctor), and when he eventually comes to an event all the energy has been drained out of the scene.

I’m disappointed that a section about Conley bonding with the younger brother of his nominal high school girlfriend, Chloe, isn’t included. It may have been hard to capture that on film without seeming icky.

In the book, one thing that Conley does convey successfully is his faith. Religion is instilled in him from an early age, he knows lots of scripture by heart, and much of the book recounts Conley’s questioning of what he’s going through – his desires, his secrets – and God’s plan for him. One of the best written sections involves Conley going with his father to bring religion to prison inmates.

As for the ex-gay conversion therapy sections, not much really happens. And CONLEY WAS ONLY THERE – AS AN OUTPATIENT – FOR EIGHT OR NINE DAYS!

It definitely lacks the kinds of authentic, harrowing details that make memoirs like this memorable.

Conley is an okay writer. But his prose has a fussy, overworked quality, as if it’s been workshopped to death in writing seminars. And it really needs some humour, dark or otherwise. The book feels like what it probably is: padded out journal entries.

Verdict: See the movie instead.
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books909 followers
November 28, 2018
Thank God for Garrard Conley. It must've taken unimaginable strength to write this, to relive the worst of it, and open himself up to the world. It's not a happy story. It's not a story about a boy who had a difficult upbringing but is great now. It's clear from the overt and underlining text that every day is still a challenge. Life gets better, but it doesn't get easy.

I understand why some have critiqued the structure of the memoir. It does jump around in time and is not always as dramatic as the movie will undoubtedly be. Even with a lot of personal experience that's eerily similar, I had to read between the lines at times to feel like I understood what he was feeling.

He does do a great job of showing that, when your family is extremely religious, every day is gay conversion therapy. Even when they aren't calling you sick, or perverted, or an abomination, you know they go to bed every night and pray you'll change. Pray you'll wake up different. Most likely you're going to bed saying the same prayers.

The descriptions of mental abuse from conversion therapy are appalling and terrifying, but I suspect that is only a piece of what continues to haunt Conley. You can read it between the lines, you can even hear it when he speaks at TED talks, the worst thing therapy did was take away God. They beat and beat and beat into his head that God hated him, that he was a walking talking Satan in His eyes. For many these sermons are easy to brush off, but when you have an actual relationship with God it's life-erasing.

As for the book itself, I would give it a timid recommendation. I don't think outsiders to his experience will fully grasp what the big deal is, and those of us who do know are kinda left bummed by the glum conclusion. We know how impossibly hard it is, but we still hope to see him find peace.

I have not seen the movie yet, but I suspect it will provide more effective storytelling and be more impactful to a wider audience. We shall see! Still worth picking up for a powerful story and quick read.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,007 reviews36k followers
July 20, 2017
5 strong stars -- Geeeee!!! I am sorry this took place in the Bay Area!!!! Shame on us for allowing such a 'sick-program'!!

THE AUDIOBOOK HELD MY ATTENTION-- I was literally shocked at some of the things that went on in this 12 step program- to FIX GAY PEOPLE! I had NO IDEA that these institutions REALLY existed.

Garrard Conley: I'm soooo sorry for what you went through! Your memoir is completely engaging- shocking and heart wrenching-- my god-- yuck: so disturbing...
Thanks for sharing so truthfully!

Terrific walking audiobook companion.
Profile Image for Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac).
667 reviews587 followers
July 10, 2016
I do not come from a fundamentalist Christian background, but as a gay man who has dabbled in queer journalism over the years, I have done quite a bit of reading, research, and writing about the ex-gay movement. It goes without saying that I loath everything about it; I've been delighted to see the various exposes and disbandings of late.

So I was very much looking forward to reading this fresh new memoir about a young gay guy in the American South and his experience in the ex-gay movement. Now that I've finished it, I have to say that it started out brilliantly, dragged horribly in the middle, and packed a real emotional wallop in its conclusion.

Garrard Conley is a talented writer. I expect to see more books from him, probably novels. He admits early on – in the introduction, maybe? – that he is reconstructing these events that occurred a decade or more ago from memory. I suspect he did so with a novelist's flair. For better and for worse.

As a 19-year-old college student, he gets outed to his parents. At the time, his father is just about to be ordained as a Southern Baptist preacher. This is not good timing. Garrard agrees to get some counseling and to enter an outpatient ex-gay program, Love In Action.

The way Conley begins the memoir, I was immediately engrossed. But one of the first things that started to unsettle me was the random way the narrative was ordered. Moving back-and-forth from the recent past to the "now" of the memoir to things farther back seemed arbitrary and confusing.

The near-fatal flaw of the memoir, however, is that the heart of it is Conley's eight days in the outpatient ex-gay program before he realizes it ain't working for him at all, and triumphantly walks out the door. It's not just that nothing he recounts about his experience of ex-gay therapy seems all that traumatizing. Sure, the so-called therapists were jerks, the program odious, but all he recounts having done there was art projects, journaling, and group therapy sessions.

But even more than that, it was only EIGHT FUCKING DAYS! As an OUTPATIENT. Returning each night to the hotel room he was staying in with his mother! This is far too flimsy an experience to build a memoir around. A fifteen or twenty page essay, maybe. But not a 350-page book.

Nonetheless, I woke up from the horribly boring middle of this book, came alive, and cheered him on as he exultantly walked out that door!

The problem is, I had suffered through ponderous chapter-upon-chapter of the most overwritten, florid prose I've read since, um, since having had to reread my own writing. Sure, he gives a slightly larger biographical context to his eight days in the program, but he does so by focusing on and drawing out over several chapters completely unrelated experiences, such as accompanying his father to a jail ministry event, or watching the Mel Gibson Jesus movie with some African-American friends at college. And then trying to link these events to his inner struggle with cloying turns of phrase and cringeworthy analogies.

I found the middle 50% of this book to be completely and utterly annoying, and the inner life depicted to be eye-rollingly angsty. It was my only emotional response all of that time, despite my heart having gone out to Conley at the beginning, and bursting open to him again at the end.

The only person in the tale who was truly alive for me was his father. I give Conley a lot of credit for creating such a multifaceted portrait of this fascinating man. By the end, his mother had come alive on the page as well and I absolutely loved her as she made her first baby steps towards supporting her son.

The epilogue – which I'd recommend you read after skipping over or skimming the midsection of the book – briefly refers to subsequent traumatic events related to Conley's coming to terms with his sexuality. Suicide attempts, etc. Clearly, his journey out of the Bible Belt towards becoming an out and proud gay man was a life-and-death struggle. A hero's journey. I can relate to a lot of that, as any LGBT person probably can.

The problem is, this book doesn't show that journey. In centering the tale on such a brief period, with no evidence that it was at all central to his larger struggle, he's done what Thomas Hardy accused Henry James of: chewing more than he bit off.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,459 reviews8,561 followers
August 8, 2016
4.5 stars

A compelling, compassionate memoir about Garrard Conley's struggle with his homosexuality while growing up in an ultra-religious town and family. He writes about undergoing ex-gay conversion therapy, disappointing his father - a Baptist pastor - and his church as a whole, and using writing itself to cope with his emotional wounds. Though he tells his story in a consistent personal narrative style, Conley connects his journey to the pain that many LGBTQ youth endure when raised in intolerant, oftentimes religious communities.

I loved the love Conley shows in Boy Erased. So many people treated him with hate and homophobia as he grew up, and instead of stooping to their level, he humanizes them and treats them as three-dimensional characters. He seeks to understand without minimizing his own pain; with unflinching candor, he shares the shame and doubt he felt, emotions instilled by the bigoted people around him. Conley's kindness shines most when he details his relationships with his parents. Their family's love for one another, while tested and complicated by homophobia, never gets broken.

Overall, recommended to anyone interested in the intersections of LGBTQ identity, religion, and personal narrative. Conley's writing, while lyrical and eloquent, never romanticizes the suffering he and so many others have faced. As a nonreligious person, I gained a deeper empathy for LGBTQ individuals who grow up in religious households and communities, as well as for those who raise them. A bittersweet feeling struck me so many times while reading Boy Erased, a combination of sadness for all the potential romantic relationships ruined by internalized homophobia, as well as hope that books like this one can help people accept themselves more fully. I am grateful Garrard Conley had the courage to write and to publish it.
Profile Image for April.
461 reviews7 followers
June 30, 2016
Not sure if it was too long, too boring, too religious, or too repetitive, but I didn't like it...clearly I am in the minority. I just never got a feeling for the character.
Profile Image for Doug.
1,983 reviews703 followers
March 3, 2019
Update, 3/1/19: So I finally got around to seeing the film, purportedly based on this book, now that it's out on DVD, and, as I originally prophesied in the comments below, very, VERY little of the book made it into the movie ... at most, I'd say 25%. The film has some other problems of its own, but is certainly well intentioned and well acted - it just isn't much like its source material.

Surprised at all the glowing reviews, since this book is unfortunately not only woefully overwritten, but at the same time underdeveloped. It strains for a lyricism that is not only inappropriate for the subject, but actually works against its message. And for a book supposedly focused on the author's experiences with Love in Action (LIA), an ex-gay ministry, that is a rather minor part of the whole, since A. he was only in the program for 8 days (in which not much happens other than journaling and art projects and group therapy sessions), and B. the writer has apparently repressed much of even that, and can't remember much detail about those experiences anyway. What you get is a LOT of extraneous details about what happened before he got to that week, including a purported 'rape', although from what little he says, there appears to have been some coercion, but little or no resistance. The only really interesting section is the 8 page 'Epilogue' in which he quickly glosses over the 12 years since his 'therapy'. If you want a more informative look at LIA, I would strongly recommend instead the documentary film 'This is What Love in Action Looks Like', available on DVD.
Profile Image for Libby.
581 reviews157 followers
February 12, 2022
‘Boy Erased: A Memoir’ by Garrard Conley is about the painful experience the author had at age nineteen of attending ex-gay therapy at a Love in Action (LIA) center. The focus of his treatment plan was to convert him from homosexuality to heterosexuality. Based on the concepts of Alcoholics Anonymous, LIA followed the 12 step program. Complicating this young man’s life even more was his upbringing in a deeply religious environment. Around this same time, Conley’s father was becoming a Baptist minister. Because of his family’s beliefs, Conley became very conflicted about God, religion, and his own sexuality.

LIA tried to erase not only Conley’s sexuality but intrinsic parts of his personality, like his love of literature. Participants could only read approved literature, and were not allowed to journal. Many of the counselors only preparation for ‘treating’ others was the fact that they themselves had been through the ex-gay program, sometimes repeatedly. One counselor had been a marriage counselor. Conley’s mother rightly questions his ability to counsel people whom the center considered sexual deviants.

At Conley’s father’s ordination ceremony, the pastor asks him a series of questions to ensure his passion for the Lord. One of the questions is “Will you do everything you can to fight against the sin of homosexuality in the church?” Conley’s father answers, “Yes.” At birth, his father had etched a Z onto the sole of his newborn son’s foot, to mark him so his parents would know him, should the nurses bring them the wrong baby. Conley writes,

“My parents never had any reason to worry about the nurses. In the end, it had been them, not the hospital staff, who had switched my identity.”

Conley took steps to become his own person at age nineteen, out from under the shadow of his parents and the church. Bravo! This narrative chronicles the painful path that he took during the weeks he spent at LIA, and is well worth reading. A gifted writer, Conley’s love for his family shines through, even though the journey was painful for all of them.
Profile Image for Mackey.
1,057 reviews364 followers
March 29, 2019
I rarely, almost never watch a movie or television but over spring break the kids were home and they insisted. My only request was that it had to be based on a book. My review here is based on both the book and the movie and is relatively intertwined because, while truncated, the movie follows along with the book pretty well.

I am a HUGE Russell Crowe fan and I absolutely had to see this one. Nicole Kidman, despite the worst wig in all of Hollywood, was amazing as well. This must see film is based on the memoirs of Garrard Conley, a true account of a young southern male, the son of a preacher in Arkansas, who came out of the closet to his parents. His parents, after praying with church elders, promptly sent him away to a “conversion camp.” In the memoirs the process is longer, the details much deeper and the story goes further into the family dynamics but the movie is based primarily on Garrard’s horrific time spent at the hands of the abusive people at this camp. I use the word abuse when really I should be using words like torture, sadism, and worse. The details in the books are graphic, realistic and gut-wrenching. My heart was broken for Garrard and all others who ever have and still are forced into these horrifying torture camps in the name of religion.

I grew up in Arkansas. There wasn’t anything in this film that was new to me. I was raised in a church exactly the same as this family’s church. I knew poor souls who were forced to go to these “camps.” Far too many of my friends in high school committed suicide rather than face coming out to their families. I just cannot believe that as a nation we have not progressed any further than we have. The movie made me physically ill. The book even more so. If it were not for the epilogue that told about Garrard and his husband, I’m not sure I could have withstood it at all. But it IS a movie and a book that must be shown, seen and read. We have stood by in silence for far too long. If you haven’t already read the book or seen the movie, I hope you will join me in doing so. If you have, let me know what you thought about them.
Profile Image for Gabby.
1,236 reviews26.6k followers
August 3, 2018
Well, no surprise here but this book was sad. It’s a true story about a 19 year old gay boy who gets unexpectedly outted to his religious parents and they force him to go to ex gay conversion therapy.

I listened to the audiobook for this (which was fantastic by the way) and I was constantly surprised by the horrific things this young man experienced. It makes me sick to my stomach to think these ex gay conversion places existed at all, even as recently as 2004???? 😱😩

The beginning of this book was really strong and emotional, the middle of it started to drag a lot and I started to get bored, but then the epilogue is really really good and powerful. I feel like this memoir could have been even stronger if he expanded on the things he talked about in the epilogue instead of only focusing the entire book on the week he spent in ex gay.

But wow, this was incredibly sad and heart breaking. The amount of homophobia some religious people have is disgusting and crazy to me and it’s really sad to read about it.

Book 3 for the Booktubeathon is complete! This completes the challenge for reading a book with green on the cover! Also, I can’t wait to see how they turn this into a film this Fall.
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,433 reviews813 followers
November 3, 2021
“Why hadn’t I noticed this before? It was telling people the truth that got you in trouble.”

Isn’t that so often the way if you’re even slightly out of step with whatever your particular group considers ‘normal’?

Trigger warning for anyone who’s been through (or threatened with) some kind of sexual orientation reprogramming (brainwashing). It isn’t necessarily through religious groups, but I imagine it’s a common starting point. SSA (Same-Sex Attraction) is offensive to whichever god reigns over the church or organisation to which the family of a gay kid belongs, so gay conversion therapy is their answer. (In this book, the Baptists disapprove of Pentacostals. I need a score-card, I'm afraid.)

I’ll use the term gay as a handy catch-all, since the author does. He is outing a particularly offensive Ex-Gay program run by Love In Action (LIA). Love In Action. I prefer to think of it as Love Inaction. There doesn’t seem to be anything loving about it, and in fact, some years ago, apparently, advice had been given to young men that they’d be better off dead than homosexual, so they’d suicided.

The author goes back and forth in a manner that is very easy to follow. We move between his time at LIA, his time visiting at home, and sometimes his adult life now.

The author’s father was a passionate, loud, popular preacher after a career in car sales. Garrard was a good Baptist boy who started getting worried about himself when he realised that he was trying to avoid kissing his girlfriend of 18 months whom the locals assumed he would marry in the future.

He was very close to his mother, who was frightened of his ‘problems’ but not so close to his dad, although he was quite devoted to him. Dad was a bit rough around the edges. Garrard was sent for therapy to a kind of camp for Love In Action, and one of the activities was to draw a family tree and make a note of the weaknesses of each ancestor.

“It was hard to conjure a family tree out of early childhood memories. My father’s life had, from the moment of his calling to be a preacher, filled a vacuum within our family mythology. His importance in our town and community seemed to override everything we knew about ourselves. I was His Son. My mother was His Wife.”

But he persevered, alongside his friend, J, who was doing his own.

‘Just think who you are,’ J said, adding the finishing touches to his poster. . . ‘Then trace it back to your family history.’

I began by writing the names of my great-grandparents at the top of the poster, followed by my grandparents, then my parents. Next to my parents I added aunts and uncles an all of my cousins. At the very bottom, in slightly smaller print, I added my own name.”

A was for alcoholic, a diagonal line denoted a Divorce, an X was for those who’d died in crashes or misadventure, and the dollar sign, $, was for a gambler. By the time he’d finished, he had a look at the number of transgressions of various grandparents and greats, and figured he’d probably come by his affliction - H - through them. What hope did he have of being ‘normal’, with ancestors like that?

“If I wondered why I was sitting on this carpeted floor with a group of strangers, I could count up the list of familial sins, shrug, and move on to the next activity without asking further questions. All of this confusion about who I was and why my life had led me to this moment could be folded up with my finished genogram, slipped inside a folder, and tucked away in one of LIA’s many filing cabinets.”

He’d just have to pray harder and work through the LIA workbooks harder. Then there was sports therapy (my terminology). A recovering alcoholic, a very straight sportsmen, addresses the boys.

‘Men, I’m talking to you. . . Some of you have idolized other men’s bodies because you didn’t have enough physical contact when you were younger. Maybe you thought you were bad at sports. Maybe you thought you were different. . . . You’ve labeled yourself as the type of person who doesn’t play sports. Sadly, we grow into our labels. But we can grow out of them, too.’

Yeah, right. That may be true for overcoming some kinds of shyness or awkwardness or even phobias, but sexual orientation is not that.

Things have changed a lot in mainstream society since this story took place in 2004, but still, 15 years ago seems sadly recent for this kind of torture being perpetuated on kids, but I imagine it’s still happening.

Of course, the recent film of "Boy Erased" with Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and Lucas Hedges brings this straight into current conversation. I see it was nominated for some awards, so let’s hope it opens some more eyes and lets these kids out of their closets.

Well-written and easy to read, except for my wanting to punch somebody all the time! I can’t believe people still think it’s a lifestyle choice. (Well, sadly I can.)

I’ve always enjoyed hearing a gay person ask someone “So, when did you choose to be straight?”
Profile Image for Kyle.
375 reviews558 followers
July 27, 2018
Actual rating: 2.5

I picked up this memoir under the impression that it would entail a lengthy/important conversation on conversion therapy programs, as well as the author’s long, arduous journey through the process therein, and, eventually, on to his post-therapy years. What I got was merely a fleeting glimpse of that.

Here’s the thing: this book is sorely underdeveloped.

Mr. Conley writes from a wobbly memory of his eight-day stay at LIA (Love in Action)— an über-religious gay conversion program. I understand how difficult it is, years later, to attempt to recall correctly and in full detail, things experienced somewhere as damagingly traumatic as an inpatient program. I spent a week in a hospital ward over a decade ago, and recall only vague memories (not to say that the two experiences are whatsoever related, as no one there was attempting to change/“cure” my identity). So, yes, I get that it couldn’t have necessarily accounted for a large portion of the book itself, but I was expecting it to be more substantial.

I had assumed Garrard’s stint at conversion therapy was going to be weeks/months-long... but it was so brief and almost inconsequential to the rest of the plot. I feel like nothing really happened, if I’m being honest. A significant portion of the book consists of disparate memories from Garrard’s pre-LIA years: a relationship with a girl from church, a trip to a jailhouse with his father, going to see The Passion of the Christ with his two friends, various angst-y college days— and most hold such threadbare ties to the actual story/message. It’s as if Mr. Conley was trying too hard to connect all these random experiences to the overlying plot, and it just seemed forced.

The one passage that truly gutted me was . It is truly heartbreaking to hear him speak about his life following the assault, and all the ways it broke pieces of him and shaped his coming days.

The epilogue is only a few pages long, but I feel that it should’ve been the centerpiece to the whole memoir. We should’ve been given more insight into Garrard’s life after leaving Love in Action; it could’ve been valuable, affirming passages about his life now and the people mentioned throughout the book. I wanted to know more: has David been held accountable? Does Garrard ever see Charles and Dominique again? What happened to those from the ex-gay program: J, S, and T?— we hear briefly about Smid in the epilogue, and how his name resurfacing affects Garrard, but that’s over and done so quickly. He speaks to his mother still, but how’s their relationship holding up? More answers would’ve been essential; more elaboration on the AFTER LIA could’ve helped improve the overall impact.

In the end, there was not enough of the LIA program, or the years post-conversion therapy, and just too much of the tone-deaf, prose-filled passages on seemingly immaterial past events.
Profile Image for Roumy Mihaylova.
2 reviews4 followers
January 17, 2016
I had started reading Garrard Conley's beautiful memoir when, one night, I had the strangest dream. I was in a library, and on the highest shelf, the one out of reach, there were piles of different books. I saw three copies of Boy Erased: A Memoir on that highest shelf. When I asked the librarian how I could get one, I was told that if I could jump high enough to reach it, the book would be mine forever. So I started jumping, and jumping, and jumping, and when jumping did not help, I leaned against the bookcase, and stretched my body, supported by the solid wooden construction, and by everything that wasn't air, and, on my toes, I whispered, "You can support so many books, I hope you can support so many books as well as one human body. Either I get what I want, or I fall." And I did get what I wanted. I took my copy of Boy Erased, knowing I could keep it forever. And this made me happy.

There are so many great storytellers who can never find the courage to write a memoir. A memoir is a vow of sincerity, a tribute to vulnerability, a bow to everything in us that can bleed and shed tears, laugh in moments of distress, overcome hardships proudly, seek answers, find questions, not give up, and live for life's sake. Boy Erased is so much more than a beautifully written memoir. Boy Erased is a lesson on love, or rather - on how, against all odds, we can discover that we love ourselves, and how we can continue loving the very ones who made us doubt our worth, because, after all, they did it out of love. And if many memoirs are often soaked with the author's ego, this one is different. This book is pure. For those of us who still believe in a loving and merciful God, maybe this book is God's answer to Garrard's constantly repeated prayer: "Please help me to be pure."

Reading Boy Erased has been a cathartic experience for me.
Profile Image for Eric Hausman-Houston.
Author 1 book12 followers
February 9, 2018
I just finished BOY ERASED, and I'm so glad this book is out there. Not only because this horrific story, beautifully written with humor and gut wrenching honesty, is so important to be told, but also because it means this wonderful young man has survived, though with scars that may take a lifetime to heal.

I had the good fortune of hearing Garrard discuss BOY ERASED at the The National Arts Club in NYC. His speaks as well as he writes. He's as down to earth, warm, funny, intelligent as one would imagine from his writing. If you get a chance to hear him speak, you will not be disappointed. It was a truly engaging evening. I will be looking forward to anything else he writes.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,397 followers
September 22, 2016
When I first heard about this book I had a vague feeling that I didn't really need to read it. After all, I was raised Catholic, so I felt like I already knew all about "faith-based" homophobia. After a bit of contemplation, though, I realized that I actually had no idea what goes on in "gay conversion therapy." While I could certainly speculate, in reality everything about it was a mystery to me. So I picked up Boy Erased and decided to find out.

I won't provide a lot of details on the therapy here; you can read the book and learn about them yourself. What I will say is that I did not anticipate how difficult it would be to read about this sort of thing. The idea that your family and community would greet your homosexuality as a grave, serious defect with the potential to wreck not just your own life, but your family's lives as well. The idea that you would want so badly to change or suppress this aspect of yourself that you would try anything. And the idea that there are groups out there taking advantage of these beliefs and emotions and doing so much damage in the name of supposedly helping people get closer to God. Conley does a very, very effective job of portraying all of this, and a sympathetic reader will feel what he feels (or at least, I did--although of course not at the same order of magnitude). Be prepared for that if you pick this up. This book is an experience.

If I had one criticism it's that I felt the writing was a bit overly descriptive and the story would have been better served by cutting back a bit. But that's a minor complaint. I learned a lot from Boy Erased and I hope it finds a wide audience.

8/31/2016: This book makes me think I need a shelf labeled "traumatic." Review to come.
Profile Image for Ria.
430 reviews60 followers
December 9, 2021
Lord, make me pure.

‘’LIA staff, along with my parents would determine what kind of hiatus was necessary in my case. As his name suggested, the Source was the fountainhead of a long and difficult journey.’’
I’ll say what I basically said in my Cameron Post review. These scams are extremely expensive, don’t work and will tell the parents almost always ‘’oh your kid needs to stay here because he/she isn’t cured yet.’’. Bruh, no matter how much you hate gay people you can’t turn them straight. Not how it works. Grow the fuck up and read a book or something. Garrard’s parents took him to a doctor for fuck’s sake. You can’t get tested to see if you have the gay. This poor woman went to medical school. Don’t do this to her. Your testosterone levels won’t be low because you wanna suck a dick.

I’m too tired to bitch about conversion therapy and religion *I blame work*. I mean like Jesus also known as Miley Cyrus once said ‘Alright this is really fuckin' fucked up’. Look I don’t believe in heaven or hell but even if I did, God is supposed to be this loving guy so why the fuck would he condemn gay people to eternal suffering and damnation. Also Linda who are you to judge who goes to hell and who doesn’t? Let people fuck in peace.
1 review
June 11, 2018
The best thing about this book is the title. The narrative is confused by leaps in time, very little of consequence actually happens, given that the climax is that the author walks out of the first step of a 12-step program to "cure" him of his homosexuality.

There are pointless insertions: visiting a prison with his fundamentalist preacher father; time spent cleaning cars in his dad's business and being tested on his Bible knowledge. Neither of these narratives seemed to flesh out a decidedly bloodless tale which amounts to little more than "parents mortified by gay son send him to get the gay prayed away and it doesn't take".

There are several annoying attempts at literary cleverness. Do you really need a simile for someone's arm freckles? No.

Perhaps the movie will give the story the cojones and conviction that it needs.
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 19 books188 followers
October 23, 2015
I love so much about this book, and am envious of so much. The clear, beautiful sentences that catch you unawares with the emotional depth they contain. The weavy structure. The lack of goopy sentimentality coupled with total emotional vulnerability. The sense of movement throughout, and the sense of capital-G God looming in the cosmic background radiation while all of this goes on. If you may permit me: GC puts the "pow" in powerful.

December 14, 2022
This was such a underwhelming book, that I don't even know where to begin. I will first mention that prior to my reading of this, I did indeed watch the film adaptation of this a year or so ago, so I knew what to expect. The topic was and is extremely important, and I was looking forward to the author's personal experience, but the execution was disappointing.

I knew conversion therapy existed, but I had no idea that it is still used, and that in itself is complete lunacy. It is another form of controlling minors, which actually, I personally would categorise as child abuse. To be ashamed of your own child because of their sexuality is ludicrous, but to attempt to eradicate it like it is nothing more than a passing phase, is unbelievable. I praise the author for being so open about his experiences.

However, I'm not a fan of Conley's writing style. It felt a little disjointed, and scenes were constantly jumping back and forth, causing much confusion and resulting in putting distance between me, and the actual story. It didn't read like a memoir.

I never normally say this, especially when one of the actors was Russell Crowe (terribly overrated in my humble opinion) but on this occasion, I think I enjoyed the film adaptation a little better than this book.
Profile Image for Zora.
1,223 reviews51 followers
January 7, 2018
Gay conversion therapy is evil, as any sensible person knows. But this is a badly-written book on it. The writing simply isn't good, the thing is unfocused, and a week in day treatment at a pricey out-patient ex-gay brainwashing retreat might be enough topic for a 5000-word essay, but not for a book.

I also detected a real lack of (...well, I know of no other way to say it, but) truthfulness here. Maybe that's typical for people raised in extremist religions that smack of snake oil selling. Or of sons of used car salesmen. Maybe the author was pandering to his "mentors" and publisher here and gave them what he thought they wanted to hear. Maybe he needed to rewrite his own history to make himself feel less of a bad person...I can't say. But whatever the reason, I kept getting the whiff of a personal history rewritten, at best. My b.s. meter was going off big-time. If I'm wrong, sorry. But I'd bet good money I'm not wrong. Enough truth peeked out that the obfuscation was glaringly clear.

Would not be shocked to hear of another book by him in 15 years renouncing his gayness, blaming the coastal elite publishing industry that led him into sin, a book in which again he never says, "I was sometime cruel or irresponsible. I made choices. I take responsibility for those choices."

I want to pity the 19 year old man who had 40 hours of conversion counseling...but, as you can tell, I ended up mistrusting and disliking him.

I only hope there are better advocates for the core message: The cruelty of gay conversion programs must end.
Profile Image for Watch Your Words.
16 reviews7 followers
December 11, 2018
In this beautifully written memoir Garrard Conley illuminates the devastating effects of his experience trying to empty himself of everything he knows to be true in order to satisfy his family, community, and a God that is becoming increasingly distant. His story is one of many thousands that have endured similar conversion therapies and is urgent in its desire to eradicate this pain from anyone else that is asked to smother the honest, complex and loving parts of their humanity. It is also the story of what happens when we feel forced to compartmentalize the many pieces of who we are in order to be accepted. We as human beings have a need to make sense of the world but we can’t do that when we are only exposed to small pockets of it; this book illustrates the dangers that await us if we aren’t exposed to more that our hometown, and our comfort zones. Through his work in activisim for the the LGBTQ community and this novel Garrard Conley rips back the curtain and exposes to the world the harm that is inflicted on people in the name of “love”; making it abundantly clear that the only way we can love each other and ourselves is by accepting every facet of who we are.
Profile Image for Iulia.
203 reviews91 followers
February 3, 2020
"Boy Erased" was very educational. Never having been religious, I held a quite narrow view of religious fundamentalism as it exists in America, especially in the South. Garrard's introspection opened my eyes to the sense of peace and belonging that such a community can instill in its members. (once you accept the constant sacrifice, hatred, and self-denial that come with the package) I think I better understand why such a large number of people do become like the characters in this book. By no means do I believe they are justified, but my perspective has broadened and for that I'm thankful. The major thing that bothered me was the disjointed timeline, it made the events hard to follow and I struggled to keep my interest. All in all, it's an important story and I'm looking forward to seeing if the movie does it justice.
Profile Image for Juan Naranjo.
Author 2 books2,341 followers
January 12, 2020
Las terapias de conversión son una aberración doble: primero porque, falsamente, prometen “curar” a las personas de su homosexualidad; segundo por considerar que la homosexualidad es algo digno de ser curado. “Identidad borrada” es un valioso testimonio real, en primera persona, que narra el internamiento de un joven en una de estas instituciones que (mediante el estudio de la Biblia, la confesión y los ejercicios espirituales) prometían convertirle en el hijo que sus religiosos padres habían deseado. La cosa, como no podía ser de otra manera, sale mal.

El libro está maravillosamente escrito. Conley es excelente explicando el desarrollo mental de sus personajes y esto hace que, contra todo pronóstico, seas capaz de ponerte en el lugar de casi todos los actores de la historia. Pero esa fortaleza del autor se acaba convirtiendo en una debilidad del libro: la segunda mitad me ha resultado demasiado redundante, ya que como lector acabas un poco saturado de reflexiones sobre la religión y el perdón, y esperas el desarrollo de unos episodios que solo se esbozan y por los que se pasa apenas de puntillas.

Sí que es cierto que la ambientación y las relaciones entre los miembros de la familia están muy bien narrados. Y también es verdad que, siendo una historia que a priori podría ser tan descarnada, se agradece que el autor huya del melodrama más lacrimógeno. Pero también es cierto que, por muy buena y bien escrita que me haya parecido la historia, para mi gusto le ha faltado un punto más de verdad.
Profile Image for Jaq.
305 reviews32 followers
May 27, 2021
Nell'ultima pausa una ex-lesbica era venuta da me e mi aveva criticato per la mia postura: ero appoggiato al muro con una mano e tenevo l'altra sul fianco. «Non farò la spia», aveva detto, come se dovessi esserle grato «ma devi assolutamente cambiare questa falsa immagine prima che se ne accorga qualcun altro». [...] Non avrei dato alla ex-lesbica un'altra occasione di correggermi. Alla fine del mio percorso sarei stato io a correggere lei. Ero forte e l'avrei dimostrato a prescindere dalle conseguenze, a prescindere da quanti sentimenti avrei dovuto sacrificare.

*falsa immagine: espressioni e comportamenti 'artefatti' (gay)
Profile Image for Tyler Goodson.
171 reviews123 followers
April 25, 2016
Boy Erased is the best kind of memoir: one less interested in looking back and arranging the past than in trying to get as close to truth as possible. It's so heartbreaking and affecting because it is never easy, never black and white--you can't help but recognize the humanity in every person involved. Conley's willingness to complicate every issue and person, and never settle for what might be easier and simpler is what we need now, and make this book necessary.
Profile Image for Pavellit.
227 reviews21 followers
February 23, 2018
This is an important story about a boy who is forced to participate in a church-supported gay conversion program, ironically called 'Love in Action', which in its short time has managed to erased him, perhaps in ways that can't be repaired. It's also about the reality of being a gay son of a baptist preacher in the South in a strictly religious community- full of secrets, full of unsaid words. The Bible belt is more suffocating than ever. The memoir is filled with poetic and vibrant writing and vivid with descriptions that open windows into a different world. I read it because I wanted to be more educated on this topic. And after having read it, I can confidently say that this is a story that needs to be told and needs to reach a wide audience. Hopefully the upcoming movie (starring Nicole Kidman and Russel Crowe , and the lead is going to be ,apprently, the boy from Manchester by the Sea , Lucas Hedges.) will give it the attention that it deserves. All in all, this is a compelling and well-crafted memoir that resonated soundly within my Bulgarian, story-loving heart.
Profile Image for Martina Barlassina.
21 reviews31 followers
November 1, 2018
Non metto in discussione l’importanza della tematica trattata nel libro e non metto in discussione il potere della letteratura di conferire un’eco ad argomenti ancora spesso tabù. Ma.

L’opera di Conley è scritta indubbiamente bene, forse fin troppo: il ricorso a una prosa eccessivamente reboante e ricercata non mi ha permesso di entrare in sintonia con il testo e, ahimè, nemmeno di empatizzare con il protagonista/scrittore.

È sempre difficile commentare un memoir poiché, essendo esso espressione dell’esperienza e del sentimento dell’autore, significherebbe in qualche modo esprimere un giudizio sulla sua stessa vita. Non posso però esimermi dall’affermare di aver provato (a tratti) noia durante la lettura, una noia che ha rasentato il cedimento delle palpebre: troppe divagazioni, troppi arzigogoli e troppi virtuosismi a mio parere non totalmente pertinenti con lo spirito della narrazione.

Una certa lentezza e una piccola mancanza di incisività colmate dal rispetto dovuto al coraggio avuto da Conley nel narrare le sue difficoltà con animo aperto e intelligente.

Profile Image for Lynn.
255 reviews40 followers
December 5, 2018
I decided to read this book as I just went to the movie of the same name. The author was born in Arkansas to conservative Missionary Baptist parents and from a young age, he had same-sex-attractions. His parents found out, were shamed, and sent him to religiously based ex-gay therapy.

The book provides more of the back story but it is not as dramatic as the book. The ending of the movie is more positive and hopeful than the real story. Thank you, Hollywood. This memoir is an excruciating account and blistering condemnation of this therapy and the grave harm it causes. The Reparative therapy is less accepted these days but it is still out there even though the American Psychological Association has condemned it. Sad sad story.
Profile Image for TraceyL.
985 reviews134 followers
June 3, 2019
Great memoir. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I'm fascinated in these Conversion Camps and how popular they are/were. The storytelling was great and I think the author is quite talented. He also did a good job at explaining his family's faith to an outsider like me.
2 reviews
May 23, 2016
The one thing that's undeniable about Garrard Conley's memoir is that it is truly fascinating. As a gay person myself, it is impossible not to wonder what sort of horrors are inflicted upon people that are unfortunate enough to be subjected to one of these "straight camps," if you will. So when I picked this book up at the library, I was excited to finally learn. I was hoping for a story similar to that of Anne Frank- an inspiring tale of a teen's defiant resilience in the face of an oppressive force that wished to snuff him out, but what I got didn't quite live up to that.

Throughout ninety-nine percent of the book, Conley pretty much agreed with everything the church, his family, and the camp were trying to make him do. Of course, Conley was born and raised in this sort of environment, and his parents weren't just church goers- his dad was the PASTOR, so it's not surprising that he believed he was evil for being gay. I think what kept driving me on- ultimately resulting in me finishing the book in two days- was not so much the story itself, but the need to get to the part where Conley has his "Ah-ha" moment- the moment where he finally realizes that this is all crazy- breaking through years of brainwashing, happily joining the rest of us in the land of common sense. One could argue that it comes at the end when (SPOILER ALERT) he finally gets up and walks out, but it's clear, if you read the epilogue, that he still seems lost by the end of the story. I don't blame Conley though. I would imagine it would take years upon years of intensive therapy to fully heal from the type of trauma he endured. The best part of the book comes when Caleb, the art student-love interest, was arguing with him about how it just doesn't make sense that God would be so vindictive, and it had me screaming, "YES! LISTEN TO HIM! RUN AWAY WITH HIM AND NEVER LOOK BACK!" because Caleb's voice was the only voice of reason in the entire story that Conley so desperately needed to hear.

A great memoir, to me anyway, is one that has a problem you can some how connect yourself to, then the author, who has triumphed over the problem and has completely moved on from it, tells the story through this new perspective they've gained from over coming said obstacle, leaving the reader with inspiration, affirmation, hope, or a new perspective on life. I think perhaps Conley just wasn't ready to tell this story. Although he writes beautifully in places and has some deep and moving moments of reflection, they weren't enough to send him into that clarity that authors of more successful memoirs usually have. However, I would still encourage people to read this book because, if anything, it is a testament to the very real and lifelong damage that this sort of abuse can have on LGBT people.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
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