My review of Wanted by Chris Hoke first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it here today with their permission. I also interviewed Chris and you can read that here. This book is the most powerful book I've read so far this year, and while it is early in the year, it's going to be hard to top. I hope you'll check it out.
First line: "Someone called the cops on Ricardo Meja as soon as he was born."
In the Introduction to his humbly powerful debut work, Chris Hoke says he is trying to "paint God" through a series of "WANTED posters." These posters share the vulnerable and human side of individuals written off by society and cast aside--to prisons, deportations, even locked trash dumpsters. The character sketches also illustrate Hoke's own spiritual awakening.
Drawn to prayer early in life--but not in a way that was easy to define and pursue--Hoke tries formal college studies and informal conversations with church leaders, but it isn't until he undertakes a volunteer position with Tierra Nueva, a Christian ministry in Washington State, that he finds the fulfillment he is seeking.
At Tierra Nueva Hoke helps migrant workers navigate the legal system and serves as chaplain in a men's correctional institution. He meets with hardened criminals in Bible study groups and one-on-one prayer sessions, learning who they are beyond the tattoos and rap sheets. As this young man, dubbed "pastor" by his flock, grows in the role, he experiences amazing connections--both emotionally and mystically--that continually drive and devastate him.
Wanted is Chris Hoke's story of self-discovery as defined by the people he encounters. It is a beacon of faith and hope, but it's also a compelling commentary on the US penal system and the callous disregard for the bodies and souls crushed by it. Hoke notes a parallel between his life and that of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of safe travels, but readers are likely to identify a parallel with another famous shepherd--and wanted man--in Christianity.
Wanted is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0062321367) from HarperOne. While there is no audiobook version of Wanted (at least at this point), Chris Hoke has done some NPR shows that feature him telling stories that appear in the book. I encourage you to check them out here. Hearing him tell these stories is quite amazing.