Chelsea Bieker’s debut novel, Godshot, is the story of Lacey May Herd, a 14-year-old girl stuck in Peaches, a drought-stricken, God-forsaken town in California’s Central Valley.
Most of the town’s residents follow Pastor Vern, the caped and glitter-adorned leader of Gifts of the Spirit Church, who promises to bring back the rains—as he’s reputed to have done before—so long as his worshippers remain faithful. When Lacey May’s alcoholic mother is banished from the church, the teen goes to live with her grandmother, Cherry, and discovers the dark personal assignment Vern has in store for her.
Bieker’s novel sparkles with vivid descriptions of the sun-scorched landscape Lacey May inhabits. Water is so scarce, the church performs baptisms in warm soda. Flies swarm incessantly around Cherry’s house, a plague reminiscent of Amityville. Lawn painters spray the dirt neon green. Fresh fruits and vegetables have disappeared, replaced by bologna sandwiches and pigs’ feet from a can.
It’s bleak. But Lacey May’s grit and resilience shine through, and she eventually decides to go on a quest and find her mother, no matter the consequences. She meets memorable characters along the way, and the novel takes a decidedly feminist twist as Lacy learns to trust her instincts, question authority and embrace her inner strength.
Bieker’s book reminded me a bit of Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling or Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing—another in a long line of novels that feature young girls in peril. But Godshot explores issues of girlhood, motherhood, heartbreak and faith with a fast-paced plot and characters who will stick with you long after you turn the last page.