Title: Thorns of Chester Street
Author: Shawn Alex Nemeth
At seven years old, Shawn Nemeth walks into the little, white church in his hometown all alone, desperately yearning for the love so lacking at home and finding it in a relationship with God. From a very young age, he’s known that he’s gay, which he’s been taught is a sin. This, combined with years of emotional and physical abuse at the hands of his stepfather, family members, and other bullies as a child, leaves Shawn confused and insecure despite eventually becoming an ordained pastor and chosen to lead a nationally-acclaimed worship band.
Thorns of Chester Street is the painful, yet inspiring story of Shawn’s resilience. It recounts the abuse he endured as a child and the horrific mistreatment he witnessed his mother suffer at the hands of her husbands. It describes the untrustworthy characters who betray and exploit Shawn because he’s gay, but it also celebrates how he uncovers his talent for making music, singing, and public speaking and honors the mentors who encourage him along the way.
Unlike the typical memoir, Thorns of Chester Street is not written chronologically. Instead, Shawn jumps around in time, and this drives his story, as questions from earlier chapters are resolved in the later chapters. For the most part, the structure of the memoir is largely successful in keeping the reader interested in what will happen next. However, there are instances where the sudden movement in time can be jarring, especially when it is unclear where the story is picking up again. This interrupts the flow of the story and makes it difficult to focus on the main point, especially when the writing is excessively descriptive.
However, what makes Thorns of Chester Street so successful is Shawn’s honesty as he narrates his life story. His vulnerability in sharing the lowest points of his life is both courageous and inspiring. The stories of the abuse he suffers from people who should have protected him must have been difficult to relive, yet he shows the reader just how challenging it was for him after leaving the ministry and his wife. Shawn is completely transparent with his life, his feelings, his thoughts, and his relationship with God.
Thorns of Chester Street provides a somewhat balanced perspective on being a Christian who is gay. Shawn tackles this controversial topic without being defensive or apologetic. Instead, he describes how he’s struggled with his feelings from a very young age, often praying to find girls attractive, and, later in life, how he seeks help from a reparative therapist. Shawn shares his heart through his own personal story as a gay Christian.
Well-written and courageously honest, Thorns of Chester Street is a good fit for anyone looking to read an inspiring story. Even though Shawn’s life story is filled with great heartache, it’s also one of hope. It is about the power of forgiveness and Shawn’s refusal to give up. The only way to discover how Shawn Nemeth finds peace and healing is to read Thorns of Chester Street.
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