Title: THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY
Author: Stephanie Oakes
Publication Information: Dial, 2015
Source: Library — read for class/reread
Genre: Young Adult — Contemporary
Warnings: Violence, emotional abuse, forced child marriage, racism, brief mention of suicide
Rating: 4.5 stars
Recommended For: People who like their books a little more on the twisted side, people who liked IF YOU FIND ME by Emily Murdoch.
The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, her ability to trust. And when she rebelled, they took away her hands, too.
Now their Prophet has been murdered and their camp set aflame, and it’s clear that Minnow knows something—but she’s not talking. As she languishes in juvenile detention, she struggles to un-learn everything she has been taught to believe, adjusting to a life behind bars and recounting the events that led up to her incarceration. But when an FBI detective approaches her about making a deal, Minnow sees she can have the freedom she always dreamed of—if she’s willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.
(Summary from Goodreads)
I don’t want to say I enjoyed this book because the subject matter wasn’t really something to be enjoyed, but I definitely had a hard time putting it down. It was gruesome and terrifying but also fascinating to read. While I didn’t enjoy it as much this second time around because I already knew all the twists, I still found that THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY still packed quite the emotional punch.
One thing I found interesting was both of this book’s settings, since neither is one I’ve seen a lot of in YA. The book alternates between the present-day in a juvenile detention facility as Minnow adjusts both to being out in the world again and not having hands, with flashbacks to her time in the Kevinian cult interspersed throughout the story. The use of flashbacks was particularly interesting, because they’re given as Minnow’s testimony to the FBI agent asking her about what happened the night the cult’s compound burned to the ground and the cult’s leader, the Prophet, was found dead. As such, we’re never really getting the whole picture, and there’s a definite sense that Minnow is holding something back. Is she ever really being truthful? Who knows.
Something that comes across really effectively in this book is the sense that there’s something missing. In this case, the something missing is Minnow’s entire childhood, since her parents joined the Kevinians when she was 5 and she didn’t escape until she was 17…only to be immediately sent to juvenile detention for an unrelated crime. In the flashbacks, we see that the girls are only ever raised to be the eventual wives to men much older than them. This is juxtaposed with the present-day events, in which Minnow (re)discovers things she missed out on in her time with the Kevinians, such as reading, television, and friendship. This juxtaposition only makes the sense of loss and finding oneself more striking.
While there are religious themes in this book, they aren’t overpowering, and there is a great deal of questioning of faith as the book goes on. Minnow spent most of her live among people who blindly followed the Prophet, and she spends a lot of the second half of the book trying to figure out if she even believes the things she was taught about God and, if so, what her relationship to Him is. This is a theme I think a lot of teens could relate to, and I thought it was handled respectfully.
Overall, I found this book complex and impactful. I highly recommend it.