Review: The Whole Language by Gregory Boyle

The Whole Language by Gregory Boyle

The Whole Language
Gregory Boyle
Avid Reader Press
Published October 19, 2021

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About The Whole Language

Over the past thirty years, Gregory Boyle has transformed thousands of lives through his work as the founder of Homeboy Industries, the largest and most successful gang-intervention program in the world. Boyle’s new book, THE WHOLE LANGUAGE, follows the acclaimed bestsellers TATTOOS ON THE HEART, hailed as an “astounding literary and spiritual feat” (Publishers Weekly) that is “destined to become a classic of both urban reportage and contemporary spirituality” (Los Angeles Times), and BARKING TO THE CHOIR, deemed “a beautiful and important and soul-transporting book” by Elizabeth Gilbert and declared by Ann Patchett to be “a book that shows what the platitudes of faith look like when they’re put into action.”

In a community struggling to overcome systemic poverty and violence, THE WHOLE LANGUAGE shows how those at Homeboy Industries fight despair and remain generous, hopeful, and tender. When Saul was thirteen years old, he killed his abusive stepfather in self-defense; after spending twenty-three years in juvenile and adult jail, he enters the Homeboy Industries training and healing programs and embraces their mission. Declaring, “I’ve decided to grow up to be somebody I always needed as a child,” Saul shows tenderness toward the young men in his former shoes, treating them all like his sons and helping them to find their way.

Before coming to Homeboy Industries, a young man named Abel was shot thirty-three times, landing him in a coma for six months followed by a year and a half recuperating in the hospital. He now travels on speaking tours with Boyle and gives guided tours around the Homeboy offices. One day a new trainee joins Abel as a shadow, and Abel recognizes him as the young man who had put him in a coma. “You give good tours,” the trainee tells Abel. They both have embarked on a path to wholeness.

Boyle’s moving stories challenge our ideas about God and about people, providing a window into a world filled with fellowship, compassion, and fewer barriers. Bursting with encouragement, humor, and hope, THE WHOLE LANGUAGE invites us to treat others—and ourselves—with acceptance and tenderness.

The Whole Language on Goodreads

My Review

Until maybe a couple months ago, I’d never read anything by Gregory Boyle. It only took a few pages of his story to get me completely hooked. I’ve never read anything that resonated so deeply or called me forward in faith and in love for others.

While this is a book anchored in Christian faith, the author is a mystic, so you’ll find quotes from the Bible, other Christian teachers, as well as Muslim poets and Buddhist teachers to illustrate a point. The theology is sometimes different than what I grew up with (I was raised in what would probably be described as an Evangelical/Fundamental Christian church), so that gave me some things to think about. On some things I immediately agreed with Fr. Boyle’s assessment, and on others, I’m kind of still letting those ideas percolate.

The book is truly about how to love others in a way that means forging a connection with them. Meeting them where they are and opening yourself up to learning from them rather than standing on a high perch thinking you’re there to simply help out or hand out.

It’s been really good reading all three of his books. (My review of his second book, BARKING TO THE CHOIR won’t post until later due to my overbooked calendar). I feel like this is or these are messages that I can’t possibly get enough of. I’m in a situation right now where my family is trying to support another family that’s going through something really rough. And I know how I would have acted in the past. Now, though, I’m acting with the lessons and values in TATTOOS ON THE HEART and THE WHOLE LANGUAGE bouncing around in my head and my heart. It doesn’t mean having no boundaries, but it has changed what I’m hoping to achieve (connection, relationship).

I have all three books as e-books and audio books. I suspect that I’ll be listening through them again going into the holidays. In case it’s not obvious, I absolutely recommend all three books (you don’t have to read them in order) to anyone who’s either a Christian figuring out how to have relationships and craft meaningful community, or anyone interested in the intersection between faith and social justice. If you’re interested in gang recovery programs, you don’t want to miss these books. Homeboy Industries is the largest and most successful gang intervention program in the world.

The Whole Language on Bookshop

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Fr. Boyle is a white man. He features stories of Latinx, Black and Asian gang members.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used regularly.

Romance/Sexual Content
Some brief mentions of sexual abuse and rape.

Spiritual Content
Fr. Boyle is a Jesuit priest and he shares his faith openly throughout the book. He considers himself a mystic Christian. The core of his message is about loving others no matter who they are or what they’ve done, and being able to see them as valuable and good.

Violent Content
Brief mentions of gang violence, domestic violence, and child abuse.

Drug Content
References to drug and alcohol use.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of THE WHOLE LANGUAGE in exchange for my honest review.

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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