Take this on faith: Religion and confessions in essay collection Sweet Baby Jesus!

by Nicole Shelby / Beacon Correspondent • April 26, 2012

Praderio shines when telling potentially embarrassing stories.
Praderio shines when telling potentially embarrassing stories.

Every semester, the Beacon invites the editors of The Emerson Review to critique the latest work from The Undergraduate Students for Publishing and interview the author.

If you have ever been bothered by the fact that your thighs touch or you aren’t sure whether to go to church with your parents anymore, Caroline Praderio has good news for you — you aren’t alone. 

Praderio’s Sweet Baby Jesus!, the Undergraduate Students for Publishing’s spring 2012 project, is a collection of seven essays that touch on the author’s teenage and childhood experiences, with recurring themes of faith and the tumultuous years of adolescence. The anthology’s honesty will resonate especially well with college students.

“The first time I ever went to church, I dropped the goddamn Bible on the floor,” begins the first story in the collection, “Bible Thumper.” Praderio, who is also a Beacon columnist, writes in a simple, straightforward manner and never fails to inject a bit of humor into her subject matter. Even when discussing her eventual split from organized religion or her own insecurities, Praderio’s tone retains its lightness, so as not to bog the reader down with too much emotional examination. 

She is at her best when exploring potentially embarrassing subjects, whether it be pounding away at the treadmill — “more treadmill, less thigh!” — or telling of her awkward introduction to the male erection.

The majority of the stories, however, are devoted to the author’s childhood. Praderio paints an vivid picture of her small hometown of Grafton, Mass. and her idyllic-seeming family, choosing to focus on the experiences that brought her to realizations about family, religion, relationships, or herself. 

Her mother’s adoption of Christianity played a large role in shaping Praderio’s childhood and personality. Although she eventually left the church, it’s easy to see (through stories like “Bible Thumpher” and “Trespasses”) that its values stayed with her into adulthood. It’s refreshing to see a liberal 20-year-old college student admitting that she gained a lot from going to church and interacting with the people there, even if Christianity wasn’t ultimately for her.

In the eponymous essay “Sweet Baby Jesus!” and “News to Me,” the reader gets a look at both past and present versions of the author, as she relates her issues with body image and sexuality, respectively. These stories stand out as the sharpest, perhaps because we get a look at a more mature Caroline Praderio, one who has more complex responses and reactions than her childhood self. 

“There, on my kitchen table set for two,” writes Praderio, “in the awkward silence underscored by crunching flakes and spoon-against-bowl clings — I was on my very first date.” 

This scene and its surrounding circumstances is one of the most memorable of the collection, not only because of the excruciatingly awkward sexual tension, but because of the confusion and hesitant delight that the 15-year-old author experienced afterward.

For all of the richness that memories provide, the writing does falter when it comes to the conclusions of a few of the stories. Praderio has a habit of falling into language that highlights an overt “meaning” to the story. In “Trespasses,” she writes, “But I can still thank my mother for the magical childhood she gave me, for the way she wrapped me up tight in faith but loved me no matter how unraveled I’d become.” 

When a good part of all of Praderio’s stories are spent describing (or even protesting, as in “Under the Taurus”) her fortunate and comfortable childhood, this kind of conclusion comes off as slightly syrupy in comparison with the otherwise concise prose. 

Sweet Baby Jesus! is a thoroughly entertaining read, and one that will appeal to other students struggling with ideas of faith, adulthood, and responsibility. Praderio’s writing is unfailingly relatable – by the end of the book, readers will feel like they know her personally. This collection will hopefully inspire students to look back on their own lives and discover the stories and memories that shaped them.