Review: Idolism by Marcus Herzig

Idolism Book Cover Idolism
Marcus Herzig

Seventeen-year-old Julian Monk never expected to be a famous singer, but when opportunity strikes, he strikes back and throws himself headfirst into that new, exciting world of record deals, TV interviews and screaming fan girls.

His band mates are rather less enthusiastic about that new life they never really asked for. Dealing with their newly acquired fame and fortune is one thing; dealing with Julian is quite another. His sudden and unexpected metamorphosis from the shy and timid creature they have known all their lives into a surprisingly charismatic public speaker and global superstar takes everyone aback, and when Julian sets off on a very public crusade to replace faith and bigotry with reason and compassion, he raises more than just a few eyebrows. He raises hell, and his friends are no longer having any of it.

Meanwhile at the Vatican, a former televangelist is elected Pope. Hell-bent on transforming the Church into a modern, ‘hip’ institution, Pius XIII is giving his PR advisor a headache or two. Intrigued by Julian’s radical way of inspiring some people while antagonizing others – including his own friends – simply by preaching love and understanding, the new pope can’t help but wonder where he heard that storyline before. They say God has a plan for every man, but this man has a plan of his own - and it involves a teenage atheist pop star.

Review:

My enjoyment of Idolism depends on how I choose to view it. If I look at it as a book about a band’s sudden rise to fame and fortune and how their friendships and relationships change as a result, I really like it. If I look at it as a book about a young man’s religious revolution, it leaves something to be desired.

The book focuses on four British teenagers – Julian, Ginger, Tummy, and Michael – whose amateur band Puerity is selected to play at their school’s anniversary ceremony. Shortly before the gig, the teens uncover a secret government plan to mandate religious education classes in public schools. Julian uses the anniversary ceremony as an opportunity to unmask and oppose the plan, and scandal erupts, drawing media attention and thrusting Julian and the rest of Puerity into the public eye.

The band’s musical talent and Julian’s penchant for making dramatic speeches catapults Puerity into the spotlight, making them famous practically overnight. As you might imagine, this unexpected lifestyle change requires some adjustments for the band members. As iTunes sales soar, tours are scheduled, and bank accounts fill, the dynamic among the band mates noticeably shifts.

Julian, aware that his newfound fame gives him the means to make his voice heard on the subject of religion, takes full advantage of the spotlight. Tirelessly touring, making TV appearances, and staging incendiary music videos, Julian uses his music as a platform to speak out against what he refers to as the dangers of religion. He considers it a hindrance to humanity, standing in the way of true decency and enlightenment, and he won’t rest until he sets the world free from these supposedly harmful paradigms.

Julian’s approach makes his friends a little uneasy. They aren’t completely comfortable with Julian’s provocative methods of spreading his beliefs and stirring people up. They never expected – or wanted – to become famous rock stars, and the fact that this fame comes with the transformation of their normally shy, awkward friend into someone unrecognizable makes them even more wary. Add to this the many complications of fame, such as never-ending scrutiny, lack of privacy, and familial differences of opinion, and you’ve got the recipe for drama.

This is the aspect of the book that really appealed to me. I enjoyed watching how the teens’ lives were transformed by their sudden stardom. It was interesting to see how each individual handled fame differently, with secret relationships, family tension, and even time in an Italian jail all figuring into the plot.

Another strength of Idolism is that it features some great wording and humor. At one point, Ginger is aghast at her concert outfit, which consists of a purple satin jacket with feathers growing out of the pocket. She describes herself as “looking like a prostitute walking Sesame Street,” which amused me to no end. Another sentence I found particularly wonderful was, “You’re a deer in the headlights of enlightenment, wisdom, and reason; startled and scared.” These are just a couple of examples of Herzig’s great wit and descriptive abilities, which pleased me greatly.

As much as I appreciated Idolism’s positive elements, though, I had a big problem with one aspect of the book: I just couldn’t get behind Julian as a character. For one thing, he’s awkward and strange. As Ginger puts it, “On a normal day Julian displayed all the regular mental and emotional features of your average seven-year-old[…].” Although he’s highly intelligent, Julian’s not great at interacting with people and is described in several situations as being almost retarded. He gets so caught up in his own head that he becomes blind to those around him. He can ramble on about a given topic for hours, becoming so enrapt in his speech that he doesn’t even notice when his audience sneaks out of the room. He simply continues to prattle on, obliviously preaching to an empty room.

One of Julian’s favorite topics about which to speak is religion. He vehemently opposes any and all forms of religion, eschewing believers as ignorant and cowardly. He views religion as a tool wielded by authorities to control the masses and keep people compliant and tractable. He also disagrees with faith and prayer, seeing them as excuses for people to absolve themselves of all responsibility, instead relying on a non-existent god to solve their problems for them.

Although I consider myself a Christian, I was surprisingly not bothered much by Julian’s ideology. There are one or two passages in the book that did offend me, but for the most part I was able to tolerate Julian’s disdain for religion. If anything, it inspired me to more carefully examine my own beliefs. Am I a Christian simply because I was raised that way, or because I actually believe in Christ and what He stands for? Do I have valid reasons for being defensive towards Julian’s statements, or is my frustration simply a knee-jerk reaction not backed up by a logical argument? In this way, reading Idolism was a very helpful exercise in self-awareness.

So, if Julian’s beliefs aren’t necessarily what bothered me, what was my problem with him? I think what rubbed me the wrong way was that I saw no evidence that Julian practiced what he preached. Ginger, Tummy, and Michael refer to Julian as heroic and glorious and wise, campaigning for love and kindness over bigotry and hypocrisy. They consider him a role model, fighting for a better world, but I just couldn’t see him that way.

Julian talks a big game, but I never once witnessed him doing anything that could be considered loving or kind. This is the kid who laughed when an old man fell down the stairs and died, which doesn’t strike me as being particularly compassionate. He supposedly loves all of mankind, so I expected him to try to help the downtrodden, such as feeding the hungry, providing aid, donating money, etc. This never happened, though. For all that Julian talks about how people should be like Jesus – who he saw as a good example of love and kindness, if not as the son of God – he sure doesn’t follow his own advice. Jesus fed the hungry, healed the lame and blind, and provided comfort to the outcasts of the world; Julian can’t even be bothered to donate any of his vast, newly acquired rock-star wealth to charity.

All in all, I just wasn’t a fan of Julian, which is what kept Idolism from earning a 4- or 5-star rating. Still, I definitely enjoyed the other, non-Julian elements of the book, such as the relationships between the other band members and the whole televangelist-turned-media-mogul-turned-Pope twist. And so, my final recommendation? It’s worth reading, as long as you’re not particularly sensitive about religion.

A free copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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